7 Types of Gel Manicures to Know

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In the past several years, gel manicures have become the gold standard for long-lasting, chic manicures. What started as a UV-cured polish only available in salon has since evolved into an industry of its own. Today, you can choose from several different types of gel manicures depending on your wants and needs—from soft to hard gel, dip powder to Gel X—and these long-wear styles can even be achieved at home thanks to the innovations in DIY manicure tools.

While the world of gel manicures has vastly evolved, the wealth of information about what differentiates these different types of manicures is not abundantly clear. What does hard gel mean? Does hard gel last longer than soft gel? How does dip powder even work? These are all questions that many of us mani-lovers have long pondered on, so, we reached out to nail-industry experts to answer all of your pressing mani queries.

What Are the Different Types of Gel Polish Manicures?

While the world of gel manicures continues to expand on the daily, the most common types of gel manicures are hard gel, soft gel, acrylic gel, dip powder gel and Russian gel. While each manicure differs in many ways—from application to removal, length of wear, time for application, etc.—the main difference between each type of gel manicure boils down to the molecular bonds within the formula. As nail expert and founder of Deco Beauty, Julianna Dahbura explains, “acrylic gel features single molecular bonds, making them super strong and usually preferred for long extensions. But the tradeoff is there is no give with acrylic gel—if they break, which shouldn’t be often, they break hard. On the other hand, hard gel has multiple molecular bonds and is better for medium length nails because it’s a little ‘bendier’ than acrylic.”

What Is Regular Gel?

“Gel manicures have become a staple in the beauty industry due to their durability and retention,” explains V Beauty Pure educator Leonora Salama, “They come in various types, each with their own unique application process, durability, and effect on the natural nail. Regular gel polish is the most common type, known for its glossy finish and easy removal process.”

What Is Builder Gel?

“Builder gel is thicker, is used to add strength to the natural nail, and can easily be soaked off,” Salama explains. “My favorite, if I were to choose a favorite, is definitely builder gel,” she continues. “Builder gels offer a smooth and flawless base for both styles. The long-lasting nature of builder gels allow me to enjoy my manicure for an extended period of time without worrying about chipping or peeling since my natural nails are thinner and more prone to breaking.” Builder gels can be easily soaked off without causing excessive damage to natural nails. Overall, builder gels not only to enhance the health of natural nails but also provide versatility and durability, she explains.

What Is Hard Gel?

“Hard gel is similar to builder gel, but has a thicker and stronger consistency, making it ideal for creating extensions or sculptures,” Salama explains. Hard gel is also not soakable, meaning it needs to be filed off when removing. Nail expert and CEO of MAZZ HANNA, Mazz Hanna reiterates that hard gel can take longer to remove than soft gel because of their thick consistency, but the removal should not damage the natural nail when done properly.

What Is Soft Gel?

“Easiest to apply at home for DIY enthusiasts, soft gels are among the easiest and most convenient to apply,” Salama explains. They require an LED lamp to cure but are more straightforward to use than hard gels or acrylics. As Hanna explains further, “Soft gel is a type of polish that requires UV or LED light to harden or cure. It’s great for those who are looking for a plump, glossy look that is chip-resistant and lasts longer than traditional polish. Gel polish is applied in layers—base coat, color, top coat—that are then cured under a UV or LED lamp. The lamp instantly cures the polish, meaning that your nails are dry and ready to go after curing in the lamp. Gel polish is harder and more durable than traditional polish and will last around 2-3 weeks without chipping. “

What Is Dip Powder Gel?

“Dip powder is a powder that is activated with a liquid, similar to acrylic,” Hanna explains. Dip powder manicures involve applying a bonding liquid to the nail, dipping it into colored powder, and then sealing it with a topcoat. The powder and liquid form a hardened layer on the nails. “Dip powder manicures can last anywhere from 2-4 weeks and is best for someone who is looking for a long lasting manicure that adds strength to the natural nail,” says Hanna.

What Is Acrylic Gel?

“Acrylic nails are nail enhancements sculpted with a mix of powder and liquid monomer,” says Hanna. “They are best for someone looking to add an extra layer of strength and length to their nails. Acrylics are very durable and will not easily break.” Hanna also notes, though, that acrylic gels are harder to remove, similar to dip powder gels, which is something to consider when choosing the gel for you.

What Is Russian Gel?

Russian manicures have gone wildly viral across social media in recent months, but there are plenty of debates in regards to their safety and efficacy. As Hanna explains, “Russian gel manicures emphasize meticulous cuticle work and skin care. Russian gel manicures can be completed with hard gel or soft gel, since the focus of Russian manicures is more about the clean prep work. They also tend to last longer since the clean cuticle work allows the artist to get extra close to the cuticle during application, meaning that it will take longer for your regrowth to show. Russian manicures are ideal for those wanting a natural-looking manicure with added durability.”

Which Gel Is the Healthiest For Your Nails?

For many people, which gel you choose weighs heavily on which will have the least negative effects on the health of your nail. As, Salama explains, “the healthiest option depends on the application and removal process rather than the product itself. Products that require less filing or drilling tend to be less damaging. Soft gels, gel X and acrylate gel, when applied and removed properly, are generally considered to be less harsh on the nails than hard gels and acrylics.”

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