Dip vs. Acrylic vs. Gel: Which Is Which?

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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.

a close up image of a woman's hands painted with almond fall nails color palette under the leaves

But with so many types of manicures, going to the salon can be overwhelming. Some popular choices include gel, acrylic, and dip powder.

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 so you can decide which is best for you!

Fast Facts

  • Of the three, dip powder nails have the potential to last the longest, but the procedure has cross-contamination concerns.
  • Acrylic nails are the most cost-effective but may involve strong odors and fumes.
  • Gel nails offer flexibility and can last as long as acrylic nails but can be the most expensive.
  • Dip powder uses a bonding activator and colored powder; gel nails use soft gel, hard gel, or premade gel extensions and are cured with a UV or LED lamp; and acrylic nails use a liquid monomer and powder polymer that are sculpted.

Dip Powder vs. Acrylic vs. Gel at a Glance

What are the similarities and differences between gel and dip vs. acrylic? For a quick glance, here is a simple comparison table:

Easy ApplicationUV/LED CuringAdhesiveNon-ToxicAdds LengthDurableLooks GoodLongevityAffordable
Gel✔ (soft gel)
✘ (hard gel and gel extensions)
✘ (soft gel)
✔ (hard gel and gel extensions)
2 to 3 weeks (can be filled)
Dip✘ (on its own)
✔ (with nail forms)
✔ (with nail tips)
2 to 4 weeks
Acrylic✔ (nail forms)
✔ (nail tips)
2 to 3 weeks (can be filled)

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.

Dip Powder vs. Gel Nails

First, we look closer at gel vs. dip powder nails. These are the main differences between these two:

FactorDip Powder NailsGel Nails
CuringApplied with a bonding agent, colored powder, activator, and top coatApplied using UV or LED lamps to cure each layer
Lasting PowerCan last 2 to 4 weeks, depending on maintenance and careCan last 2 to 3 weeks, with variations based on the specific type (soft, hard, premade extensions)
PriceOften moderately priced, with costs varying by salon and locationSlightly more expensive than dips due to the use of UV or LED lamps
Hygiene and SafetyRisks of contamination in powder pots when used for different clientsGenerally considered safe, but the use of UV or LED lamps raises some concerns about UV exposure.
RemovalRemoved by soaking in acetone, similar to gel nailsAlso removed by soaking in acetone

Dip vs. Acrylic Nails

Now let’s look closer at dip powder vs. 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:

FactorDip Powder NailsAcrylic Nail Extensions
ApplicationApplied with a bonding agent, colored powder, activator, and top coatUse a liquid and powder mixture that air-dries to create a solid layer
Lasting PowerCan last 2 to 4 weeks, depending on maintenance and careCan also last 2 to 3 weeks or more, depending on care and maintenance
PriceOften moderately priced, with costs varying by salon and locationMore cost-effective and accessible
Hygiene and SafetyRisks of contamination in powder pots when used for different clientsThe liquid monomer used in acrylic nails can produce strong odors and irritating fumes if application is not done in a well-ventilated space.
RemovalRemoved by soaking in acetone, similar to acetone nailsAlso removed by soaking in acetone, but process may take longer due to the harder texture of acrylic.

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:

FactorGel NailsAcrylic Nail Extensions
CuringApplied using UV or LED lamps to cure each layerUse a liquid and powder mixture that air-dries to create a solid layer
Lasting PowerLast 2 to 3 weeks or more, with some variation based on the specific type (soft vs. hard).Can also last 2 to 3 weeks or more, depending on care and maintenance
PriceSlightly more expensive than acrylics due to the use of UV or LED lampsMore cost-effective and accessible
Hygiene and SafetyGenerally considered safe, but the use of UV or LED lamps raises some concerns about UV exposure.The liquid monomer used in acrylic nails can produce strong odors and irritating fumes if application is not done in a well-ventilated space.
RemovalRemoved by soaking in acetone.Also removed by soaking in acetone, but process may take longer due to the harder texture of acrylic.

What Are Dip Powder 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. 

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.

Manicurist dipping fingernail into pink acrylic powder

Dip Powder Nails Application

Here’s how dip powder nails are typically applied:

  1. Preparation of the natural nails: Start by cleaning the natural nails to remove any traces of oils, lotions, or old nail polish. Trim, shape, and buff the nails as desired.
  1. Application of bonding agent: Apply a bonding agent or nail dehydrator to the natural nails. This step helps the dip powder adhere securely.
  1. Base coat application: Brush on a thin layer of a clear or colored base coat. It’s essential to cover the entire nail’s surface evenly.
  1. Dipping the nails: Dip the nails into a container of colored acrylic powder. The powder adheres to the wet base coat. You can repeat this step to achieve the desired color intensity.
  1. Activator application: After dipping, apply an activator or setting solution to harden the acrylic powder and bond it to the nails. It also helps to seal the color and create a durable finish.
  1. Buffing and shaping: Once the nails are dry, buff the surface to smooth out any imperfections and shape the nails to the desired style.
  1. Top coat application: Apply a clear top coat to seal the entire nail, providing shine and extra protection.
  1. Finishing touches: After the nails are completely dry, you can apply cuticle oil or nail strengthener to keep the nails healthy and moisturized.

Dip Powder Nails Lasting Power

A dip manicure is still very durable and can usually last anywhere from two to four weeks, looking shiny and smooth, depending on how well you maintain it and how much you work with your hands.

The reason it lasts as long is because of the composition of the powder combined with the activator.

Dip powders are bonded with a compound called cyanoacrylate, which is also the same ingredient in super glue.

Quick Tip

Despite being able to last well over a month, it’s still recommended that you remove a dip manicure after the two- to three-week mark to prevent potential bacterial infections.

Dip Powder Removal

To remove dip powder nails, gently file the top coat, soak nails in acetone-soaked cotton, and wrap them in foil for 15 to 20 minutes. After soaking, gently push off softened dip powder with a cuticle stick.

Finish with nail cleansing and hydrating your natural nails with cuticle oil.

Hygiene and Safety of Dip Powder Nails

With dip powder manicures, you are dipping your finger into a pot of powder that can be contaminated from previous clients. 

The best way to make dip powders safer is to ensure that the nail tech either pours the dip powder over the nail or uses a new small pot for each client. 

The remaining powder of each new small pot should be disposed of because it can get contaminated. It also shouldn’t be returned to the main jar.

Another way to ensure safety is for you to buy your own dip powder products and have the nail tech work with them for you.

Dip Powder Nails Price

Dip powder nails are moderately priced, falling somewhere in between acrylic and gel nails in terms of cost. The pricing can vary depending on the salon’s location, the complexity of the design, and the expertise of the technician.

While dip powder nails may be more affordable than some high-end gel options, they might still be a bit pricier than basic acrylic nails.

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.

Gel polish contains acrylate monomers, which undergo a chemical reaction to form the durable gel layer when exposed to UV or LED light during curing.

There are several types of gel manicures.

Female hand with beautiful manicure - pink nude nails on pale pink fluffy fabric, textile background

Soft Gel Manicure

Soft gel nail polish is applied in a similar manner to regular nail polish. However, it requires curing or drying under a UV or LED lamp to harden and set the polish. This curing process results in a longer-lasting and more durable manicure.

Soft gel nails are a popular choice for nail enhancements because they offer flexibility, a natural appearance, and just enough strength for short extensions.

Soft Gel Nails Application

  1. Preparation of the natural nails: Begin by cleaning the natural nails to remove any traces of oils, lotions, or old nail polish. Trim, shape, and buff the nails as desired.
  1. Application of bonding agent: Apply a bonding agent or nail dehydrator to the natural nails. This step helps the soft gel adhere securely.
  1. Primer application: Apply a primer to the natural nails. The primer enhances adhesion and ensures the gel stays in place.
  1. Base coat application: Brush on a thin layer of a clear or colored base coat. Ensure it covers the entire nail’s surface evenly.
  1. Curing under UV or LED lamp: Place the nails under a UV or LED lamp for a specific amount of time to cure and harden the base coat. The curing time varies depending on the product used.
  1. Soft gel layer application: Apply a layer of soft gel in the desired color or design. Soft gel is more flexible than hard gel, allowing for a natural look and feel.
  1. Curing under UV or LED lamp: Place the nails back under the UV or LED lamp to cure the soft gel layer. Curing times may vary depending on the gel product and the thickness of the layer.
  1. Repeat for additional layers or design (optional): If you wish to add more layers for thickness or create intricate designs, repeat the soft gel layer application and curing steps.
  1. Top coat application: Apply a clear top coat to seal and protect the soft gel. The top coat provides a glossy finish and extra durability.
  1. Curing under UV or LED lamp: Cure the nails one final time under the UV or LED lamp to harden the top coat.
  1. Finishing touches: After the nails are completely dry and cured, you can apply cuticle oil or nail strengthener to keep the nails healthy and moisturized.

Soft Gel Nails Lasting Power

On average, soft gel nails can last for approximately 10 to 14 days. However, some people may experience longer-lasting results, while others may find that their soft gel manicure starts to show signs of wear and requires maintenance sooner.

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. 

Hard Gel Application

  1. Preparation of the natural nails: Start by cleaning the natural nails and removing any old nail polish. Gently push back the cuticles and use a nail file to create a rough texture on the natural nails for better adhesion.
  1. Application of bonding agent: Apply a bonding agent or nail dehydrator to the prepared natural nails to enhance adhesion.
  1. Attachment of nail forms or tips: Select the appropriate nail forms or tips based on the desired nail shape and length. Attach the nail forms under the free edge of each natural nail or glue the nail tips.
  1. Clear base gel application: Brush on a thin layer of clear base gel over the natural nail and the extension created by the nail form. Ensure it covers the entire surface evenly.
  1. Curing under UV or LED lamp: Cure the clear base gel under a UV or LED lamp for the recommended curing time to harden and set it.
  1. Building the extension: Use hard gel to sculpt the nail extension on the form, creating the desired nail shape, length, and thickness. Ensure the gel extends smoothly from the natural nail to the tip of the form.
A woman's hands with pink nails and lilies.
  1. Curing under UV or LED lamp: Cure the sculpted hard gel extension under the UV or LED lamp for the recommended curing time to harden and set it.
  1. Removal of the nail forms: Gently detach the nail forms by loosening them from the extended nail. Be careful not to damage the newly sculpted nail.
  1. Filing and shaping: Use a nail file and buffer to shape and refine the extension, creating the desired nail shape and smooth surface. Pay attention to the sidewalls, apex, and free edge.
  1. Decorating: Paint and decorate the sculpted nails with soft gel polish, nail art, or other embellishments at this stage. Cure any decorations under the UV or LED lamp before proceeding.
  1. Top gel application: Apply a clear top gel to seal and protect the sculpted hard gel extension. This top gel provides a glossy finish and added durability.
  1. Final curing: Cure the nails one last time under the UV or LED lamp to harden and set the top gel.
  1. Finishing touches: After the nails are completely dry and cured, apply cuticle oil or a nail strengthener to keep the nails healthy and moisturized.

Hard Gel Nails Lasting Power

On average, sculpted hard gel nails can last for approximately two to three weeks. The longevity of sculpted hard gel nails can vary depending on several factors, including the quality of the products used, the application, and your lifestyle.

Gel Extensions

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 for color — either regular or gel. They are typically made of soft or hard gel material.

Gel Nail Extension Application

  1. Preparation: Start by cleaning the natural nails to remove any old nail polish or debris. Gently push back the cuticles and remove any excess skin or hangnails. Lightly file the natural nails to create a rough texture for better adhesion.
  1. Application of bonding agent: Apply a bonding agent or nail dehydrator to the prepared natural nails to enhance adhesion.
  1. Select premade gel extensions: Choose the appropriate premade gel extensions based on size, shape, and design. These extensions come ready-made and pre-shaped.
  1. Adhesion: Apply a small amount of clear or colored gel adhesive on the backside of the premade extension.
  1. Placement: Carefully place the premade extension onto the natural nail, ensuring it aligns properly and covers the entire nail’s surface.
  1. Decorating: Paint and decorate the premade extensions with nail polish, nail art, or other embellishments at this stage. Allow any decorations to dry before proceeding.
Nail extension on special paper forms with gel of long nails of a young girl by a manicure master in a beauty salon.
  1. Curing under UV or LED lamp: Cure the applied premade extension, including any nail polish or decorations, under a UV or LED lamp for the recommended curing time to harden and set the adhesive and nail art.
  1. File and shape (if necessary): If any adjustments are needed, use a nail file to shape and refine the extension, creating the desired nail shape and length.
  1. Top gel application: Apply a clear top gel to seal and protect the extension and nail art. The top gel provides a glossy finish and added durability.
  1. Final curing: Cure the nails one last time under the UV or LED lamp to harden and set the top gel and nail art.
  1. Finishing touches: After the nails are completely dry and cured, apply cuticle oil or a nail strengthener to keep the nails healthy and moisturized.

Gel Nail Extension Lasting Power

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.

To maintain the quality of your extensions, you should get a nail refill or in-fill on or before the two-week mark.

Gel Nails Removal

To remove premade gel nail extensions, file the top layer, soak in acetone, wrap with foil for 15 to 20 minutes, then gently push off the extensions. Finish with nail cleansing and cuticle oil.

Hygiene and Safety of Gel Nails

There are concerns about potential exposure to UV radiation during this process. Some individuals may have heightened sensitivity to UV light and may experience skin irritation or allergic reactions if not adequately protected.

Quick Tip

While UV exposure is relatively brief during gel application, it’s essential to use appropriate UV protection like sunscreen and eyewear to your appointment.

Gel Nails Price

Gel nails, particularly hard gel and some high-end gel extensions, are often considered the most expensive among the three.

Gel products, including soft and hard gel, can be costlier for salons to purchase. Additionally, the use of UV or LED lamps for curing adds to the overhead costs.

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. 

A woman's acrylic nails with white and pink glitter on them.

Acrylic Nails Application

There are two ways to apply acrylic nail extensions: using nail forms and using premade nail tips.

Nail forms are typically made of paper or thin plastic with an adhesive at the back and are used as a guide to sculpt nail extensions. They’re applied like stickers placed underneath the nail and removed once the extensions’ mixture dries.

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.

  1. Preparation: Begin by cleaning the natural nails to remove any old nail polish. Gently push back the cuticles and remove any excess skin or hangnails. Lightly file the natural nails to create a rough texture for better adhesion.
  1. Application of primer: Apply a nail primer to the prepared natural nails to enhance adhesion.
  1. Nail form or nail tip placement: Attach nail forms under the free edge of each natural nail to create a platform for the acrylic extension, or apply nail glue to the backside of the nail tip and then firmly press the tip onto the natural nail. Trim and shape nail tips if necessary.
  1. Acrylic liquid and powder mixture: Dip an acrylic brush into acrylic liquid and then into acrylic powder to create a bead of acrylic. Adjust the ratio for the desired consistency.
  1. Curing time: Acrylic extensions do not require curing under UV or LED lamps; they air-dry and harden within five to 10 minutes.
  1. Decoration: Paint and decorate the acrylic extensions with nail polish, nail art, or other embellishments. Allow any decorations to dry before proceeding.
  1. Shaping and filing: After the acrylic has dried and hardened, use a nail file and buffer to shape and refine the extension, creating the desired nail shape and smooth surface.
  1. Top coat application: Apply a clear top coat to seal and protect the acrylic extension and any nail art. The top coat provides your desired finish and some added durability.
  1. Finishing touches: After the nails are completely dry, you can apply cuticle oil or a nail strengthener to keep the nails healthy and moisturized.

Acrylic Nails Lasting Power

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.

Acrylic Nails Removal

To remove acrylic nail extensions, trim them to a manageable length, soak in acetone using foil-wrapped cotton balls for 15 to 20 minutes, then gently lift off softened acrylic with a cuticle stick. Moisturize nails with cuticle oil post-removal.

Hygiene and Safety of Acrylic Nails

The process of applying acrylic nails involves the use of liquid monomer and polymer powder, which can produce strong fumes and odors.

Prolonged exposure to these fumes, especially in poorly ventilated areas, may lead to respiratory discomfort or irritation.

Quick Tip

Adequate ventilation is essential to dissipate fumes and ensure a comfortable environment for both the technician and the client during the appointment.

Acrylic Nails Price

Acrylic nails are often considered the most cost-effective choice among the three. The materials (liquid monomer and polymer powder) used for acrylic applications are typically more accessible and affordable compared to gel and dip powder products.

Additionally, the application process is relatively straightforward and doesn’t require specialized equipment, which can help keep costs down.

Dip vs acrylic gel infographic.

Gel, Dip, and Acrylic Nails: Which One Is for You?

To wrap up the differences between 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. 

Woman's hands with red short square nails with silver glitters in a light colored background

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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Authors

  • Michelle Alejandro

    Michelle has had a lifelong love affair with makeup. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and Communications /Journalism, she began an illustrious career as a writer. Michelle penned a beauty and lifestyle national newspaper column for over a decade and became the Beauty Editor for Chalk Magazine and Editor-in-Chief for Metro Weddings for over nine years, working with some of the biggest makeup artists and trusted beauty brands in the business. During this time, she also completed a course in Creative Artistic Makeup Design and worked as a freelance makeup artist, beauty editor, and writer.

  • Jasmine Moore

    Jasmine Moore, a licensed nail technician with 3 years of expertise, offers specialized services in Acrylic, Gel X, and Dip Powder applications. Trained by Lena Fam and a graduate of NexGen Nails and Beauty School, Jasmine's accolades include nominations for "Best New Nail Tech" (2021) and "Best Nail Artist" (2023). As the founder of Jazzy Belle Beauty she stays updated on the latest nail trends.