What’s the difference between acrylic nails and gel nails? And how do those differ from regular polish?

Regular Polish

Let’s start by explaining regular polish. This is simply a see-through gloss, or paint, applied to your nails. It does not strengthen the nail, nor does it extend the length of the nail.

Regular nail polish takes a while to dry properly—up to an hour. While it will appear dry much sooner than that, you need to leave it alone for quite a while to prevent smudging. However, different polishes takes different amounts of time and the procedure can be sped up using a heater, or fan.

Regular nail polish chips easily, but there are ways and means to prevent this—you can read our blog about how to make nail polish last longer here.

The upside with regular nail polish is that new versions contain less harmful chemicals than the original formulas. It is also easy to apply and remove and a lot cheaper than gel and acrylic.

If you don’t mind that a manicure only lasts for about a week and want to keep the shape and length of your regular nails and like changing color often, then this is the polish for you.

Gel Polish

Gel polish is an odorless gel applied to your nails. The gel comes in the colors of the rainbow, as well as see through, just as regular polish.

When applied, gel polish needs to be cured after each layer—this is done by holding your hands under a LED or UV light to activate the gel so that it hardens. However, some gels cure with a gel-activator and no light is needed. Ask your nail technician beforehand what gels she is using.

Gel polish dries extremely fast and won’t smudge, so unlike regular polish, you don’t have to worry about avoiding touch for about an hour after application.

You can have extensions done with gel polish—you just need an overlay to do so. Usually this is done by applying a form under your natural nail. These are so-called tips that are glued on.

Gel nails last about two weeks—longer if you get a top up.

While you can remove gel nails at home, it has to be done properly or you stand a risk of destroying your nails. Gel nails should also not be used continuously—take a break in between using them as otherwise your nails can become brittle.

Acrylic Nails


Acrylic nails are made with a mixture of liquid and powder monomer. This forms a sort of paste that the nail technician shapes as and how you’d like it. If you want to change the shape of your nails, then acrylic is what you need.

Once the nail technician has applied the acrylic nail, it air dries. After that, it’s painted with nail polish.

It’s essential to use the right primer before you apply acrylic nails, as otherwise it can harm your nail bed. Many people are also allergic to the chemicals in the mix and so it’s important not to have it touch the nail bed, or your cuticles.

You can create nail extensions using acrylic, but as with a gel extension, you first attach a tip. As acrylic nails are much harder than gel nails, they are better suited for long extensions.

Acrylic nails need to be removed by a professional or you stand a great chance of seriously injuring your nails.

Just as with gel nails, you need to take breaks ever so often when using acrylic nails to prevent your real nails from becoming brittle.

In Closing

As a general rule gel nails are more flexible and long lasting than acrylics. Both can be used for nail extensions. Acrylics, however, are better suited for long nail extensions as they are harder. Acrylics can also be used to change the shape of your nail, while gel polish cannot. Gel polish comes in various colors, while acrylic nails need to be painted with regular nail polish as a finish. Acrylic nails air dry, while most gels need a UV or LED light to cure. Gels are odorless, while acrylic nails have a chemical odor. Both last a lot longer than regular polish.

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