What Is Gel Nail Polish Made of?

Gel manicures have gained a lot of buzz in recent years as a better alternative to acrylic. Durable and more flexible, it’s become a staple in every nail salon around the world. It’s easy to use, almost indestructible, and versatile in its uses. 

Gel nail polish can also be bought and used at home with DIY home kits, like our At-Home Gel Nail Color Application Starter Kit.

This makes it a budget-friendly option as opposed to a nail salon visit, as gel nail polish has become quite affordable. 

There is, of course, curiosity surrounding gel nail polish. Including, but not limited to, questions about what is gel nail polish made of? While there are many different types of nail polish, today we’ll discuss what is gel nail polish made of.

What This Article Covers:

What Is Gel Nail Polish Made Of?

Gel nail polish is formed of methacrylate compounds and photoinitiator compounds like benzoyl peroxide that don’t dry but instead adhere to the nail when exposed to UV light. 

Plasticizers are added to gel nail polish to give it its strong but flexible nature. Gel nail manicures stay fresh for longer and aren’t prone to chipping like normal nail polish.

Like any nail product, there are of course pros and cons to nail polish. Every nail salon offers gel manicures and with good reason. Gel nail polish is extremely versatile and is a great way to customize your daily look without having to commit to a full set of acrylics. 

There is a difference between gel and regular nail polish but their application can be quite similar. Gel manicures have the added step of extra nail prep and a UV lamp to cure or set the gel nail polish. 

While gel nail polish consists mostly of methacrylate compounds, photoinitiators, and plasticizers, there are some other chemicals to take note of. 

ingredients in gel nail polish

Methyl Acrylate

Methyl Acrylate is a colorless organic compound with a signature acrid odor. It’s found in most nail polishes, including gel nail polish, for its adhesive properties. It’s found in many other things, including some paints. 

Methyl Acrylate is often mistaken for Methal methacrylate which has contributed to its bad reputation. While Methyl Acrylate is toxic, it’s not so far been proven to be detrimental to our health, especially not the small amounts that are used in nail polish. 

Methyl Methacrylate, on the other hand, has been banned for being detrimental to our health. Luckily, you should not find the “bad” compound in your gel nail polish, especially if standards are maintained and checked like at ORLY. 

Butylated Hydroxyanisole BHA

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) is an anti-oxidant made up of 2 isomeric organic compounds.  It’s a waxy solid and used as a food additive and in cosmetics. It’s also found in some gel nail polishes

BHA is a scary chemical because of its cancer-causing agents. It’s not yet clear how much of BHA is detrimental. BHA is also not dangerous, according to current research, on your nails. It is only toxic when it gets inside your body. 

This is great because we’re pretty sure nobody drinks nail polish and wouldn’t because it’s toxic. That being said, nail polishes have the ingredients on the label, and knowing which ingredients to avoid could make all the difference. 

With ORLY, you can rest assured that we care about your health and have strict quality and health standards. We are formulated without harmful ingredients.  

The “Toxic” Trio

The “toxic” trio is found in many nail polishes around the world, including many gel nail polishes. The trio - formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP) - have been studied and were found to cause inflammation, thyroid problems, and liver issues. 

These carcinogens are luckily only dangerous in high doses and ORLY has worked hard to ensure the “toxic” trio and many other harmful chemicals are not present in our gel nail polish. 

Knowing what is gel nail polish made of gives you the ability to make an informed choice when buying your gel nail polish. 


Nail polish is a type of paint and you can read more about what kind of paint is nail polish. There are notable differences between nail polish and nail paint, the most prominent being nail polish’s staying power and vivid pigment.

Pigments in gel nail polish are either inorganic (like iron oxide) or organic pigments. Most gel nail polishes also have a stabilizer, like Benzophenone, that prevents discoloration of your polish in the sun. 

Does Gel Nail Polish Cause Nail Damage?

It’s always a good idea to take breaks in between applications of any nail product to keep your nails healthy.

Gel nails can cause damage to your damage because of the prep, as well as the removal process. Many salons will use an acetone soak to remove the gel, which can dry out your nails.

Does Gel Nail Polish Cause Nail Damage

That being said, you can avoid drying your nails out by using our alternative, Genius Remover. Taking breaks and using nail strengthening products between gel applications will also keep your nails happy and healthy. ORLY Nailtrition is perfect for this.

Is The UV/LED Lamp Dangerous?

The difference between nail polish and nail lacquer, and gel nail polish is in how it dries. Gel nail polish dries under a UV or LED lamp instead of in the air like regular nail lacquers. 

When gel nails are set, your hands are exposed to a brief but strong burst of UV light. LED lamps have gained popularity for their shorter curing time.

While they are not dangerous to use, it’s always important to protect your skin. Put a broadspectrum sunscreen on ahead of time or wear UV shield gloves specifically made to be worn during the curing process. 

Always make sure that you’re using a curing lamp that is up to standards for the best protection for your skin. This will help you avoid any potential negative effects. At ORLY, we offer a Professional LED Gel Lamp for exactly this purpose.

Why The Hype Behind Gel Nail Polish?

Gel nail polish has gained an almost cult-like following in recent years. It’s easy to use and strong while still retaining its flexibility. It’s like having your natural nails but they can bench press 400lb.

There are also vegan gel nail polish options! Gel nail polish sometimes contains ingredients derived from animals but with ORLY, you can rest assured knowing our products are 100% vegan and Leaping Bunny Certified. You can also check if your gel nail polish is vegan.

Gel Nail Polish Is Strong

Gel nail polish dries under a UV or LED light instead of in oxygen, like regular nail polish. The ingredients that make up gel nail polish react with the light and grip tighter onto the nail. 

This means you can enjoy your nail and your nail art for a lot longer than you would with regular nail polish. While regular nail polish starts to chip after a few days, a gel manicure can last two to three weeks. 

Gel nail polish is strong but unlike rigid acrylic, gel nail polish is also flexible. This flexible nature gives it the ability to survive daily wear and tear with surprising strength. Gel nail polish offers strength, flexibility, and variety while being easy to apply. 

Gel nail polish does require a soak in acetone to remove, which can be drying to nails. Be sure to use cuticle oil and give your nails a rest between manicures. 

Not As Damaging As Acrylic

Gel nail polish is easy to apply and there are quite a few DIY gel manicure kits on the market. Acrylic is not as user-friendly. 

What Are Gel Nail Polishes Made of

Acrylic is most often used to add or build length to a nail. This length can be sculpted however you see fit. But while acrylic is strong it’s not flexible. Acrylic can be quite damaging to nails and its stiff nature can even lead to damage and bleeding on your nail bed. 

Gel nail polish can be used in conjunction with tips to create super interesting looks with varying types of nail polish finishes, that may not be as damaging to your nail bed. 

Gel nail polish is usually soaked off for around 10 minutes, which is drying to nails. But acrylic is soaked off for 30 to 40 minutes. It might even need to be buffed off which can damage the top layer on your nails.

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