How to Decide Between Gel Polish and Dip Powder

Is one healthier than the other? Which one lasts longer? We tapped nail experts for all the answers.

Gel Polish Vs. Dip Powder - Which is Better?

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There are few things we love as much as a fresh manicure. Something about rocking a red almond-shaped mani just does it for us. It's crisp, makes us look put-together, and feels clean.

With that said, there are so many ways to achieve a polished manicure that it can be tricky to pick which way to go. Of course, you can always opt for your go-to nail polish and paint your tips at home, but if you want your manicure to last longer than traditional lacquer, you'll probably have to pay a visit to the salon. And once you get there, you have to make a decision: gel polish or dip powder?

Is one formula better than the other? Which one lasts longer? And in the long-term, are they healthy for your nails? To answer these questions, we tapped two nail experts to get their insights on the never-ending gel polish vs. dip powder debate. Their answers, below.

What is gel polish?

Similarly to nail polish, gel polish looks the same: it comes in a lacquer bottle and the polish is applied with a brush. However, it's the formula that's different. "Gel polish is a nail coating containing acrylic monomers and oligomers that bond together when exposed to UV light," explains Tamara Di Lullo, CND Education Ambassador.

What is dip powder?

As the name suggests, dip powder comes in powder form and it's applied by dipping the nail into the container. "Dip powder is often similar to acrylic powder. In some cases, however, the application is different," says Lia Smith, OPI North America Education Manager. "Unlike acrylic, dip systems do not use the strong smelling liquid monomer. Instead, a nail resin (aka nail glue), activator and resin top coat is applied with the dip powder to provide the finished, layered nail coating."

What are the benefits of using gel polish?

  • Flexible. Due to its flexible formula that resists breakage, Di Lullo says it will rarely crack through to the natural nail and cause trauma.
  • Sanitary. She says that gel is arguably more sanitary than dipping practices since sometimes the powder comes in direct contact with the client's skin and is then re-used on other clients — gel polish doesn't have this problem. "It’s important to note that many responsible salons have modified their service protocol to reduce bacterial contamination caused by 'double-dipping,' but I strongly recommend checking the application protocol if you choose a dip manicure at any salon," the CND expert adds.
  • Long-lasting. Depending on the brand and product, Smith says gel polish can last anywhere between two to four weeks.
  • Even-toned pigment. Di Lullo says that gel polish provides an even-toned color as the pigment is finer and suspended in the gel. "Dipping powders, especially lower quality brands, are known for pigment dots, fading, and inconsistent shades," she explains.

What are the benefits of using dip powder?

  • Extra-strong formula. Dip powder is harder and more durable than gel. As such, it's a great option for those with weak nails or people who do a lot of labor with their hands.
  • No UV lamp. While gel polish requires UV lamps to harden, Di Lullo explains that dip powders are air-dried for roughly two minutes per coat and do not require any exposure to UV light. "However, most dip powder manis often end with a UV gel topcoat regardless, so you may still be required to cure in a UV light," she adds.
  • Long-lasting. Di Lullo explains that dip powder can last longer than gel because of its strength.

What are the side effects of gel polish?

For the most part, negative side effects happen at the time of removal. Ripping off the gel inherently causes damage to the nail, which is why it's so important to get it professionally removed or to use a DIY system created specifically for gel polish removal.

"Another possible side effect with gels is the risk of irritation and/or allergy," adds Di Lullo. "While allergies to both dip and gel products are rare, you never want to expose your skin to uncured products for prolonged periods of time."

What are the side effects of dip powder?

As with gel polish, the negative side effects of dip powder are likely caused by improper removal or irritation. "These products do not damage the natural nail, improper removal will," confirms Smith. "Peeling off the gel or powder product, prying it off, incorrect use of an e-file, and not maintaining regular nail care are all ways that the nail plate could sustain damage."

How to pick which is best for you:

Lifestyle, nail condition, and how you want your nails to look like should be the determining factors when deciding between gel polish and dip powder.

"Gel polish provides flexibility which may feel more natural and is great on healthy natural nails. Weak or damaged nails that need more strength may prefer the hardness of dip powder," says Di Lullo. So, if you're using your hands a lot, dip powder should be your go-to as it's also more scratch-resistant than gel.

In terms of looks, Smith says gel polish manicures have a natural look while dip powder has a thicker application. Additionally, she says gel offers more shine and flexibility.

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