Saturday, December 10, 2011

Is Gel Better Than Acrylic?

Well, I've been working on this post for over a month now. My intention was to assure everyone out there that acrylic is just as "safe" as gel for your nails and that neither product is "healthier" for your nails than the other...

Mostly what I've discovered as I've been writing is that I'm starting to realize why so many consumers (and, sadly, many nail techs) have come to this conclusion.
It has little to do with the actual products and their actual chemistry. The product chemistry is very similar in many respects and neither is better or healthier on the natural nail than the other.

What each concern ulitmately comes down to is proper application, maintenance, and removal of the products. Which is where both consumers and many salons go so so so miserably wrong with nail enhancements products.

People think they should be able to go 5 weeks between fills. People think they don't need to get a fill until the product is already lifting and breaking off of their nails.

  It's like an oil change in you car: it's maintenance.
 A fill is supposed to prevent your nails from breaking and lifting,
 just like an oil change is supposed to prevent your engine from being damaged or destroyed.
 If you wait till you see damage, it's too late.

People also take their nails off by ripping, prying, or chewing them off. They just shove another nail under that acrylic and "pop" it off. If it doesn't leave a big  hole in the nail all the way down to the flesh underneath, they figure it ain't no th'ang. Who cares about all that ripped up nail? And they'll do this repeatedly, month after month, until their nails are so thin and damaged that they hurt... then they go around saying they don't want acrylic again because the acrylic "ruined" their nails-- acrylic didn't ruin your nails, you did.

But how can I blame you for thinking that's the way to do it when you go to some shoddy salon of questionable training and they just grab a pair of nippers, or a piece of dental floss, or a plastic nail tip, and pry off the old product?

I mean, there you are, at a salon, right? It's a salon, they have licenses (maybe,) they know how to do it, right?

Eegads! If I only had the time in my life to personally slap every crappy, incompetent nail tech accross the face with a rubber chicken.

Believe me, not everyone working in a salon has a freakin clue-- it's up to you to find one who does. But I'll give you a hint, if they're prying product off of your natural nails, you haven't found it yet.

Lots of people have also developed chemical sensitivities to acrylic from having it applied sloppy-- by people who flood the cuticle with primer (primers should never touch the skin! And it is does, it should be washed off immediately!) and then slap the acrylic on with brushes as big as spatulas that get the entire finger wet with monomer.

No wonder you end up with an allgery to acrylic!

Then, those people who can't wear acrylic any more because of this overexposure, end up discovering that they can wear gel with no problem, but that's not because gel is "better" it's because it's easier to avoid getting gel on the skin.

Gel isn't better than acrylic, acrylic just requires a more meticulous technique.

It's no wonder people get the impression that gel is some sort of wonder product that's "good" for you and that acrylic has become villified as the big chemical bad guy.


Alas. The problem isn't the chemicals themselves (remind me, I must write about chemophobia sometime,) the problem is that there is such rampant incompetence out there with thousands and thousands of so-called "nail techs" not giving a rat's ass about product knowledge or understanding why they ought to. They just slap on product willy-nilly, take your money, and move on to their next victim.

At this point in our industry's history, this level of incompetence and amibivalence is so common that it's what most consumers experience as the "norm."

Naturally, this is heartbreaking to those of us who truly love doing nails and take it seriously.

So to answer the original question: Simply put, no. Gel isn't "better" than acrylic. Or vice verse. Each technician and every consumer will have their own personal preferences, and one product might work better for you, but that's entirely personal.

Neither product is "healthier" than the other, when applied, maintained, and removed appropriately.

And, it turns out, those requirements are very difficult to control.

  • Don't worry about the smell of acrylic (unless it's MMA:) Under most circumstances-- ie, a room with good ventilation--  the smell of acrylic is just a smell. It doesn't not mean there's something terribly unhealthy in your breathing zone and it won't rot your brain or give you cancer. (In fact, MMA won't give you cancer either-- a small comfort considering all the other health risks it poses.)

  • Gel is dusty too. People try to sell gel all the time as being "dust-free." That's a crock. As soon as you file on it, you'll be covered in dust. I actually get coverd in more dust when filing gel than acrylic. The good news with BOTH is that it's very heavy dust-- that's why you see it all over your fingers and the table-- it falls down. It does not stay airborn, floating around in your breathing space. 
  • Acrylics don't have to be thick, lumpy, or off-color. Acrylics can be sculpted thin and sleek and can be crystal clear and the same token, gels can be super thick, lumpy, discolored and altogether disgusting looking. It's all about the skill of the artist. So do your due diligence, research first, and choose wisely.


  1. Finally someone said it. Great post =)


  3. super great and informative blog...thanks so much :)

  4. Answered my question thoroughly. Thanks so much!!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. So glad someone out there is telling the truth and explaining the myths. When I went to cosmetology school, they also steered us away from ever using the drill. I am still on the side of that issue. I don't use the drill but only to clean up under the acrylic.