Gel Tips vs. Acrylics — Which Are Better For Your Nails?

According to experts.

Gel Tips vs. Acrylics — Which Is Better?

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We love all things nail-related — whether we're staying on top of the latest manicure trends, learning how to take care of our natural nails, or discovering new terminology. And despite the many ways we can wear our nails, a popular theme that regularly comes up is that of length.

We all know there are many nail shapes we can choose between: square, oval, almond, squoval, coffin, etc. For most of those, though, a certain nail length is required. And if you have a nail-biting habit or your nails are naturally weak and tend to break off, getting to that length can be a little difficult.

There are ways to fake length, though. For starters, there are a plethora of press-on nails available for purchase, but if you want something a little more permanent and tailored to your nail shape, getting gel tips or acrylic nails is the way to go.

Lia Smith, OPI's North America Education Manager, explains that both of these are plastics. "Plastic is formed through the process of polymerization, a chemical reaction is required to turn the raw materials into plastic," she says. "What does that have to do with nail enhancements? For gel that means taking a thick substance, shaping it, and placing it into a UV light to cure it into the desired shape. For acrylic this means taking a powdered polymer, mixing that with a monomer liquid which effectively bonds the polymer powder that then dries into the desired shape."

That's just the beginning, though. To learn more, we tapped two experts to break down the differences between these types of faux nails to help you understand which is the best option for you. Their answers, below.

What are gel tips?

Contrary to popular belief, these are made with plastic — not gel — and have pre-set shapes. "They are attached to the nail with a gel product that is cured in a UV light," says Smith. Furthermore, she explains that gel tips are usually clear, full-cover nails that come in a variety of sizes, lengths, shapes, and thicknesses. As such, they're quick to apply. Gel tips are are also designed to be removed and replaced, and Smith urges people with them to get them removed professionally so as not to damage the natural nail.

What are acrylic nails?

"Acrylics are made up of a poly powder and monomer liquid which form a matte jelly substance which covers your natural nail to help protect and lengthen," explains celebrity nail artist and KISS ambassador, Gina Edwards. These do not need UV lamps.

Smith furthers that acrylic can be overlayed to the existing nail, a plastic tip can be added for various lengths, and the nails can be sculpted in to any length/shape as well. Unlike gel tips, she says acrylics are not meant to be removed with every nail service, but rather the client should make regular appointments to fill/rebalance the acrylic application.

What are the potential side effects of getting gel tips?

There are no side effects to getting gel — where damage becomes a possibility is at the time of removal if not done correctly, which is why Smith urges people to see a professional for proper removal. The only thing Edwards notes is that depending on whether you have soft or hard gel, the removal time will be longer.

What are the potential side effects of getting acrylic nails?

As with gel tips, the potential side effects come into play at the time of removal. Additionally, Edwards says that side effects are minimal "unless you get an inexperienced nail tech who doesn’t care about the dexterity of the nail, which can lead to infection if the nails are not filled in correctly."

How are gel tips applied?

At a salon, the pre-set form is typically applied under the nail, and once it has been adhered, either soft or hard gel is applied on top and cured. After that, the manicure process looks just like your typical nail appointment: shaping, lacquer, and maybe nail art.

At home, Edwards says full-cover nails, such as the NEW KISS GelPress Starter Kit, are applied with little time and creates a high gel like shine for up to seven days and no wear and tear on your on nails.

How are acrylic nails applied?

At a salon, there are two popular techniques. Either a plastic tip is glued onto your nail and filed down to look like a natural extension of your nail, or a form (like the ones used for gel tips) is used as a base for acrylic before removed.

What's the best way to pick which is best for you?

Ultimately, it boils down to lifestyle and maintenance. "Full-cover tips are initially fairly quick to apply. You can change shape, length each appointment which requires some extra time for removal," begins Smith. "Acrylic does not involve removal at each appointment, does not require a UV light for application, freedom to wear extreme lengths with more support."

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