The Difference Between Gel Extensions and Acrylic Tips

Updated: May 10

Plus, how to decide which one is right for you.

As someone who had relentlessly picked at their nails for more than a decade, the first time I experienced nail extensions — acrylics, to be specific — it was a revelation. Not only did it make it nearly impossible for me to mess with my fingers, but for the first time, I actually loved the way my nails looked. Once I got adjusted to the more frustrating aspects of having long nails (taking contacts out, typing, etc.) I was hooked.

While I couldn't afford them all the time, artificially lengthening my nails was something I did before special occasions like weddings or vacations for many years. As I got older and new nail-extension options became available, I gave gel extensions a whirl — and then I was hooked on those, too.

Now, getting a manicure with gel extensions is a special treat for me. They look natural and keep my nails (and cuticles) uniform and pretty for weeks longer than a regular gel manicure. If you’re new to getting nail extensions, choosing between acrylics or gel extensions can be confusing and overwhelming. It's important to know exactly what you're asking for when you go into a salon.

What's the difference between acrylics and gel extensions?

It's important to understand that the difference between gel extensions and acrylic nails comes down to the polymerization process, ease of removal, and the nail's density. Acrylics tend to be harder than gel. It's typically done by mixing a powder (polymer) and a liquid (monomer) to create that dough-like consistency that can then be filed and molded into shapes.

It may sound complicated, but if you’ve ever used dip powder at a nail salon, then you're more familiar with all of the above than you think, because that, too, is a form of acrylics. However, dip powder tends to be more damaging to the nail, especially as it requires more difficulty in removing it. It's also harder and less flexible.

Gel tends to be softer and more flexible than acrylic, and gel extensions tend to be not as damaging. Some gels are even are removable by soaking. The chemical difference between gel and acrylic is that gel is already mixed and needs to be cured with an LED or UV lamp, while acrylic requires mixing as you go.

Because gel extensions tend to be more flexible and natural-looking (and don’t have the same strong smell that the acrylic nail application comes with), they also are more in price.

Which is more durable?

At LVSH, we often suggest gel to clients due to the flexibility of the nail extension. Think of a plastic cup (gel) versus a glass cup (acrylic). While a glass cup might seem harder, if you drop the glass, it will break, while the plastic cup will be fine.

A good nail technician should not only be able to customize the service to your lifestyle as needed (whether that means using acrylic or gel) but also avoid outdated nail enhancement methods, like using methyl methacrylate (MMA) as acrylic.

While the product is super hard and durable, MMA acrylic was designed to repair teeth and bones. In order for the product to adhere to nails, the technician needs to shred the natural nail.

Which is less damaging to natural nails?

A technician will know what is better for your nail once they assess both your lifestyle and your existing nail damage, if any.

If a client has hard and brittle nails, they need a product to help their nails be flexible enough to avoid nail breakage, especially at the extension edge of the nails. If a client has soft and splitting nails, they need strength, and I would use an acrylic product. If a client wants an overlay on their natural nail without an extension, the same rule applies. I look at the nail health (C-curve and nail bed) to create a custom blend. That's the fun with gel and acrylics — both create masterpieces on ten little palettes.

No matter which type of nail enhancement you choose, if done correctly by an experienced technician at LVSH Beauty Bar, both acrylics and gel extensions should leave you with the same result: long, healthy, beautiful nails.

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