Gel Polish vs. Acrylic Nails

Gel polish vs acrylic nails: which is better? 

There’s a debate on which is better, and which is worse. Some insist that one is more durable and the other will damage your nails.

Is there some truth behind these views? Or is it simply a matter of how it’s done and by whom? 

Below, we compare the differences between gel polish and acrylic nails. We explain their composition, appearance, and application processes. 

What This Article Covers:

Let’s see if one truly is better than the other

Gel Polish Versus Acrylic Nails (Compared) 

Table on the technical differences between Gel Polish and Acrylic Nails.

Gel Polish

Acrylic Nails

Composition and Texture

Gel polish are made up of a methacrylate polymer.

A non-porous surface that’s difficult to stain.

Liquid and powder mixture of acrylic monomers (ethyl methacrylate monomer) with acrylic polymers (polymethylmethacrylate).

A porous surface that’s easily stained.


Natural and glossy.

Thicker than gel and can look less natural if not applied correctly.

Drying Process

Cured under UV light as it won’t dry on its own.


Acrylic dries quickly when it’s exposed to air.

Application Process

3-step application: basecoat, polish, and topcoat. 

Liquid and powder are mixed and then brushed ontop nails. Basecoat, nail polish, and topcoat are optional once the acrylics are done.

Removal Process

Hard gel needs to be filed off.

Soft gel needs to be soaked off with acetone.

Acrylic nails are soaked off with acetone.

After Effects

Overfilling during removal can damage the nail bed.

A fungal infection is possible with prolonged exposure to water.

Overfilling before application can damage the nail bed.

Prolonged exposure to water can cause a fungal infection.


Tough and strong.

Lasts 2 to 3 weeks.

Tough and strong.

Lasts 2 to 3 weeks.


Somewhat flexible. They are firmer than natural nails but more flexible than acrylics.

Hard and less flexible. 

Number of Variants

Gelish: 141 colors

OPI: 71 colors

Essie: 36 colors

The only real variations would be the shape of the nail.

E.g. oval, square, round, etc.

Gel Polish Or Acrylic Nails?

can i use gel polish on acrylic nails

Both gel polish and acrylic nails are very durable. Once cured, they’re both strong and won’t break or chip easily.

They’re both durable, long-lasting, and fashionable. So, how different can they be? 

These manicures aren’t easy to put on or remove. This is why they each have a different process. 

Gel Polish

Hard gel nails are non-porous and made up of a methacrylate polymer. They won’t dry when exposed to the air and need to be ‘cured’ with UV light.

They’re glossy, natural-looking, and not as thick as acrylics. Gels are hard to stain but harder to remove too.

Soft gel and gel polishes are more liquid than hard gels. They have the same natural, glossy look, but are easier to remove.

When it comes to flexibility, gel nail polish wins against acrylic nails. While it’s firmer than the natural nail, it’s still more flexible than acrylic nails. 

Which is better acrylic or gel nails

Unlike acrylics, gel polish doesn’t need to be mixed with anything before application. 

Ever wondered if can you paint acrylic nails with normal nail polish? You can, but it’s a process that’s best done by a nail technician. 

Application and Process

Hard Gels

Hard gels are used to create extensions or to strengthen long natural nails. 

With hard gels, you need to put on a bonder first and then a basecoat. This helps the builder stick to the nails. 

Once the basecoat has cured, a builder is applied to build the artificial nail. And last, the topcoat is applied. 

Each coat is cured under UV light. 

The hard gel needs to be filed off for removal. Its non-porous structure means that acetone won’t work for removal.

nail polish vs acrylic

When filing off the hard gel, you need to file just enough. Overfilling will damage the nail bed. 

Soft Gels and Gel Polishes

Soft gels are for those who have short nails. You might want to strengthen their nails but don’t want to add any length.

Many of these are a hybrid mix of regular polish and gel polish. 

The only downside is that you can’t add a basecoat first. Soft gels are placed directly on the natural nail.

They are a bit easier to remove though. Soft gel polishes are soaked off with acetone in about 20-minutes. 

Why It’s Great 

  • Natural-looking and glossy
  • Durable and lasts 2 to 3 weeks
  • Over 200 options to choose from
  • Non-porous means that it’s unlikely to stain, even when using hair dyes

Who It’s Right For 

  • Hard gels are for those who want an extension or want to strengthen long natural nails.
  • Soft gels are for those with short nails they want to strengthen.

Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are porous and made up of a powdered monomer and liquid polymer. Once combined, they dry fast when exposed to the air. 

Essentially, they ‘cure’ during the application process. This is why it’s mixed as-needed and not beforehand. The nail technicians need to be fast when applying it as well. 

Acrylic Nails or Gel Polish

Acrylic nails are thicker than gel nails and have a less natural look. Their porous texture means that they are easily stained but easier to remove than gel. 

They aren’t as flexible as gel polish either.

Application and Removal Process

When it comes to acrylic nails, the natural nail is filed before the application. Once again, overfilling is possible and will cause damage. 

If the nail bed is damaged before putting the acrylics on, a fungal infection is possible. 

The acrylic powder is then mixed with the liquid. It works like a mold when brushed on and glues to the nail.

Can you put nail polish on acrylic nails? Yes, this is usually done after the acrylic nail is buffed and shaped.

Removing polish from acrylic nails is possible as well. You’ll need a non-acetone polish remover for this. You should also have a topcoat and basecoat over the acrylic first. This will prevent staining. 

Can you mix acrylic powder with nail polish? It’s not advised. Acrylic powder is a monomer and needs the acrylic polymer in order to work. 

Acrylic nails are soaked off with acetone. This process takes up to 20-minutes. 

Why It’s Great 

  • They dry fast during the application process
  • They’re durable and last up to 3 weeks
  • Their porous nature makes them easier to remove
  • You can change the color by painting it with regular nail polish

Who It’s Right For 

  • Acrylic nails are for those who want durable extensions
  • Anyone who wants fast-drying extensions

After Effects: Damage to Natural Nails

Acrylic nails and gel polish both have a bad reputation for damaging nails. 

Gel Polish or Acrylic Nails

The truth is that it’s not the manicures that cause the damage. The damage comes when they aren’t applied and/or removed correctly. 

And on the topic of nail damage, fungal infections are real. They can happen if gel or acrylics are exposed to water too often. It starts when moisture gets trapped under the gel or acrylics.

Luckily, these are easy to treat with an antifungal serum. Serious cases are rare can be treated with a prescription.

The Verdict

There are five main differences between gel polish and acrylic nails.

  1. Gel polish is self-reliant while acrylic needs both the monomer and polymer
  2. Gel polish is cured under UV light and acrylic dries during the application
  3. Hard gels are filed off while acrylic nails are soaked off with acetone
  4. Gels are glossy and natural-looking, while acrylics are thick
  5. Gel nails are more flexible than acrylic nails

As you can see, they each have their strong points. You won’t know which option is suitable for you unless you try them both.

Be sure to do ample research before applying whichever nail you choose. And remember, getting a manicure is supposed to be fun. 

Give both options a try and enjoy your new look.

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