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A gorgeous manicure can instantly change anyone’s mood. Just like the right makeup, having your nails done in the perfect color and shape can give you an instant boost of confidence.
And today, you don’t need perfect natural nails to get the perfect manicure. There are many options available, whether you want long luscious nails for a specific event or an Instagram-worthy manicure.
But with so many types of manicures, going to the salon can be overwhelming. Some popular choices include gel, acrylic, and dip powder.
Each of these manicure types can give you the gorgeous nails you want. So how do you choose the right one? To help you decide, we look closely at dip vs acrylic vs gel.
Learn more about each type of nail treatment — including how they are done and what nails last the longest — so you can decide which is best for you.
What Are Powder Dip Nails?
Dip powder manicures aren’t new, but they have become quite popular again recently, especially on social media.
This type of manicure is exactly as its name describes: it’s done by dipping the nails in pigmented powder.
The nails are prepared the same way they would be for a regular manicure: cut (if needed), filed, and the cuticles cleaned. If the client wants more length added, nail tips, nail forms, or fake nails can also be used.
Then once the nail is properly cleaned and prepped, the nails are “dipped” into the powder jar and brushed with layers of base coat and activator.
Unlike other manicures, the dip nail powder used is completely dry and doesn’t require curing with a UV or LED light, unless gel coats or gel adhesives are used.
But despite that, a dip manicure is still very durable and can usually last anywhere from four to six weeks, looking shiny and smooth, depending on how well you maintain it and how much you work with your hands.
However, despite being able to last well over a month, it’s still recommended that you remove a dip manicure after the three- to four-week mark to prevent potential bacterial infections.
What Are Gel Nails and Gel Extensions?
On the other hand (not literally, though), gel manicures are usually the go-to for most people when they want a long-lasting mani that retains its color and shine.
There are several types of gel manicures.
Soft Gel Manicure
In this type of gel manicure, the gel polish is applied and cured under a UV light.
This is usually repeated for at least two coats (or more), depending on the opacity of the polish and how deep you want the final color.
Hard Gel Manicure
There is also something called a hard gel manicure. This type of manicure is similar to acrylics in that it allows you to create a nail shape of your choice on top of the natural nail.
In terms of soft gel polish vs hard gel, the difference is that the former is just about getting color while the latter is about creating a preferred nail shape. Both manicures usually last for a minimum of two to three weeks.
For both hard and soft gel manicures and extensions, it’s advisable to go back to the nail technician for removal to ensure the gel nail polish or extension comes off cleanly and that you don’t damage your nails.
Like other types of nail extensions, with gel extensions, you can choose the premade nail shape you prefer, choose your length, and use the polish you want — either regular or gel.
Gel extensions are thinner than other extensions, making them more flexible. But despite them being thinner, they are still durable and long-lasting.
They last two to three weeks, at which point you should get a nail refill or in-fill.
What Are Acrylic Nails and Extensions?
Most people think of acrylics when they think of nail extensions and enhancements. That’s because acrylics are one of the oldest types of nail treatment extensions.
Acrylic nail treatments allow you to extend and change your nail shape. They are made of liquid monomer mixed with a powder polymer.
The nail technicians then take this malleable mixture and build the nail shape on top of the natural nail using removable nail forms as guide. Once the mixture dries, the nail forms are removed.
Nail tips can also be used instead of removable nail forms, and the monomer-polymer mixture is used to color the entire nails after the nail tips are glued on and shaped.
The nail technician, like usual, will apply a base coat, the acrylic mixture, nail art if you’d like, and finally, a top coat.
Acrylics are long-lasting and durable, but they may need to be redone every couple of weeks, depending on how fast your nails grow. This means returning to the nail salon to fill in the gaps from the new nail growth.
Acrylics can last anywhere from two to three weeks, and then they will likely need to be refilled. With touchups, they can last roughly six weeks or longer.
Dip Powder vs Gel Nails
So now that you know more about each type of nail treatment, how do you choose between dip vs acrylic vs gel? Let’s compare them to one another so you have a better idea of how to choose.
First, we look closer at gel vs dip powder. These are the main differences between these two:
Application is the main difference between these two types of manicures.
For gel nails, the polish is brushed onto each nail like regular polish and cured under UV or LED light between coats. Hard gels involve sculpting
For dip powder, the nail tech dips your nails in pigmented powder. There is no UV or LED curing required. After each dip, the powder is sealed onto the nail using an activator, and then it is air-dried.
Each method makes the nails look bright and shiny for several weeks. But between the two, dip nails last longer.
When applied correctly, gel polish can last up to two weeks and look fantastic. You can make it last a little longer if you’re careful.
Dip, however, can last for at least a month. The reason it lasts so long is because of the composition of the powder combined with the activator.
Dip powders are bonded with a compound called cyanoacrylate. This is also the same ingredient in super glue, which may explain why it lasts much longer.
Hygiene and Safety
Of the two, a gel mani is often considered more hygienic. This is because when you have a dip powder manicure, you are dipping your finger into a pot of powder that can be contaminated.
The best way to make dip powders safer is to ensure that the nail tech either pours the dip powder over the nail or that they use a new small pot for each client.
The remaining powder should be disposed of because it can get contaminated. It also shouldn’t be returned to the main jar.
And, of course, all tools should be sterilized for each use.
Both gel and dip are safe if done correctly by a trained nail tech. Most of the safety concerns reported involve the preparation process (over-filing the nail plate) and improper removal.
Additionally, using acetone in the removal process can dry your cuticles, so be sure to rest your nails between manicures and use a good hand cream.
The gel and dip removal process is similar and should be done by a second nail appointment so that a nail tech can safely remove the polish.
Improper removals can lead to damaging the nail beds. Refrain from picking the polish off yourself.
Between the two, gel polish is easier to remove. Removal is done by filing down the top layer and then softening the polish with acetone-soaked cotton buds or pads.
Dip tends to be thicker and harder to remove. The top layer is first filed like gel removal, but then the nails have to be put directly in acetone to soften the dip powder’s components.
Price-wise, both are relatively the same, depending on the salon. Prices may vary depending on additional extensions or nail art.
Dip vs Acrylic Nails
Now let’s look closer at dip powder and acrylic nails. The main difference is that acrylics are a nail enhancement to add length and shape, while dip nails are a long-lasting manicure.
Here’’s a look at the acrylic vs dip nails and pros and cons:
Once again, the application is the main difference between these two types of manicures.
Acrylic application, unlike dip, is done by adding the acrylic extension to the nail at the tip of the nail beds to lengthen your nails.
When they are glued in place, the technician will then shape the tips and fill in the gaps between the tip and your natural nails with liquid monomer and powder polymer. Once that’s done, nails are buffed with a nail drill and then finished with a top coat.
Another way to apply acrylics is by using removable nail forms where the acrylic mixture is sculpted on and then removed once the mixture has dried. The dried acrylics are then shaped, buffed, and finished with a top coat.
On the other hand, dip powder nails involve dipping your nails in colored powder and cured using an activator.
Between the two, dip powder nails last longer. While acrylics can last roughly two to three weeks before a touch-up is required, dip nails can last for a month or longer, depending on how careful you are with them.
Longevity is one of the significant benefits of dip nails.
Hygiene and Safety
Both dip and acrylic nails are not considered dangerous to natural nails when done correctly. Again, any potential harm will happen in the process, like how over-filing may damage your natural nail bed.
Previously, acrylic liquids used to involve monomers that were considered allergens. These have since been replaced with a safer alternative known as ethyl methacrylate (EMA) acrylic liquid.
However, this chemical can still be toxic and is known to burn the eyes or cause allergies.
Because of that, it is recommended to apply acrylics in a salon with a very well-ventilated work table.
The main concern for the dip powder process is sanitary practices in using dip powder jars. Each client should use their own sanitized jar to prevent bacteria from contaminating the powder.
Even though it is possible to remove acrylic and dip manicures yourself, having them removed at the salon is still recommended to prevent damaging your natural nails underneath.
The removal process is similar: a combination of filing and acetone soaking. The procedure takes roughly 35 to 45 minutes.
On average, acrylic nails cost significantly more than dip powder and gel nails, often roughly double. But again, this also depends on other factors like polish used, nail art, and more.
However, between dip and acrylic, acrylics are the only option that can give you long nails and more flexibility in experimenting with different shapes.
Gel vs Acrylic
So now you have a good overview of gel vs dip and dip vs acrylic. Let’s take a closer look at gel vs acrylic.
Here’s a look at the differences and similarities between gel vs acrylic:
Similar to the previous sections, application is one of the main differences between the two.
Soft gel polish is brushed onto each nail like regular polish and cured under UV or LED light for roughly 25 to 30 seconds between coats. You will usually get a base coat, two to three coats of polish, and a top coat.
For acrylic nails, the extension is done by gluing nail tips or using a removable nail form to guide the nail tech as they sculpt and shape the nail with liquid monomer and powder polymer, after which the nail form is removed.
With nail tips, the nail is shaped, buffed, drilled, and colored using liquid monomer and powder polymer. It is then finished with a top coat.
Meanwhile, the gel extension prep process is similar to acrylics, but premade and preshaped gel extensions are used to lengthen the nails, and then hard gel is applied to form the extension and cured under a UV lamp.
Once the extensions are in place, the rest of the manicure is done similarly to gel manicures.
Do gel or acrylic nails last longer? Acrylics win this round. Even though they may begin to peel at the two- to three-week mark, they can be refilled and touched up.
Acrylics are also more rigid than gel, offering a nice protective coat to the natural nails underneath.
However, their hardness is also sometimes the cause of breakage. Gel nails and extensions are more flexible, which makes them less likely to snap off or chip when you hit your hand against something.
Gel nails safely last up to 14 days, maybe longer, depending on natural nail growth. However, between the two, we’d have to give longevity to acrylics.
They can also be refilled and touched up past the three-week mark to make them last even longer.
Hygiene and Safety
Gel manicures are said to be a healthier alternative to acrylics as they are less likely to damage the natural nail bed or cuticle.
They also feel more natural, so you’re less likely to feel discomfort. Plus, gel nails are less likely to snap or break under sudden pressure because they are less rigid.
Unlike gels, acrylic tips are bonded with glues, and chemicals (liquid monomer and powder polymer) are used to sculpt nails.
Application-wise, both manicures are hygienic, provided your nail technician uses properly sanitized tools.
Overall, both methods are relatively safe as long as they are done correctly. Be sure to have them properly applied and removed to reduce the risk of damaging your nails.
Although there are home removal kits for these types of manicures, removing them at the salon or with a professional nail technician is highly recommended.
This ensures the process is gentle and thorough without damaging the natural nail.
The removal process is similar for all three types of manicures: a combination of filing and acetone soaking. The procedure takes roughly 35 to 45 minutes.
Similarly to the above, acrylic nails tend to be more expensive than gel (and dip). However, as mentioned, the price also depends on the salon, the service, and things like polish and nail art.
Additionally, if you want your acrylics touched up and refilled, that will also incur an additional cost.
Dip Powder vs Acrylic vs Gel at a Glance
Still a bit confused about the similarities and differences between gel and dip vs acrylic?
To help you keep track, here is a simple comparison table:
|Easy Application||UV/LED Curing||Liquid Glue / Adhesive||Non-Toxic||Adds Length||Durable||Looks Good||Longevity||Affordable|
|Gel||✔||✔||✘ (hard gel)|
✔ (gel extensions)
|✘||✔ (hard gel)||✔||✔||2 to 3 weeks||✔|
|Dip||✔||✘||✔||✔||✔ (using nail forms)||✔||✔||4 to 6 weeks||✔|
|Acrylic||✘||✘||✔||✘||✔||✔||✔||2 to 3 weeks (can touch up)||✘|
Frequently Asked Questions
Which type of nail treatment can provide length for your nails?
Both acrylic and gel can give you extensions and allow you to shape your nails however you want. If you are going after length, acrylic is your best bet.
What’s the difference between pouring or brushing dip powder and dipping nails into the jar?
Because of the potential for contamination when sharing jars of pigmented powder for dip treatments, it’s recommended to use smaller single-use jars per client or to pour or brush the powder onto the nails directly.
There is no difference in dipping or brushing the powder. It just depends on how your nail salon handles the dip sanitary concerns.
Which manicure is most harmful to your natural nail?
There is always a potential for harm when doing these nail treatments. Both acrylic and gel products include harsh chemicals and toxins. However, they are still safe if done by a trained nail technician.
For dip, on the other hand, there are sanitary issues depending on where you get it done and how it’s done.
And for all three, you can potentially damage your nail bed from over-filing. It’s best to let your nails rest for times between treatments.
Gel, Dip, and Acrylic Nails: Which One Is For You?
To wrap up the differences of dip vs acrylic vs gel, all three types of manicures are definitely worth trying. Selecting which you prefer depends on how you want your nails to look, your personal preference, and your lifestyle.
After all, even though they are all durable, knowing how you use your hands and, consequently, your nails are a factor in choosing the perfect nail treatment for you.
For example, you may want to select the most durable manicure if you know you use your hands a lot.
If you’re still unsure, talk to your nail technician and see which they recommend. Or you can try them all and see which looks good, feels good, and lasts longest for you.
Whichever one you try, you’re sure to get gorgeous IG-worthy nails!
Do you have a preference between dip vs gel vs acrylic? Tell us why in the comments!
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