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Acrylic vs. Gel

“I don't like to give advice. I like to give people information because everyone's life is different, and everyone's journey is different.” -- Dolly Parton, American Musical Legend and Enduring Cultural Icon

If there were to be a face-off between Acrylic and Gel, who would be the winner? Which service is the most crucial to having a successful nail business? It’s the equivalent of asking Young Salo which of her boys might be her favorite, Greg or Habib? It’s tricky to say the least. Most likely the best answer to both questions depends on which day of the week it is and the task at hand! So let’s direct your attention to this special breakdown of some key factors that might tip the scales in the battle for the nail pro’s favorite go to nail service.

For as long as we’ve been in the nail industry, we’ve seen both, Acrylic and Gel, fall in and out of favor at different moments in time. Our evidence is often based on how quickly each class sells out. Preferences come in waves of popularity. They follow the lead of fashion trends like the specific cut of your jeans, the length of your bangs, and the height of your heel. Location, clientele, and professional experience also factor into what might be the best product for your salon work.

Here is a simple explanation of how these two work. Acrylic air dries with a monomer (which is the nail liquid) and a polymer (which is the powder). When combined they create a chain reaction called polymerization that produces a clay-like consistency and turns from wet to solid within 4-5 minutes. Once hard, it can filed into shape. While the physical properties of Acrylic would technically allow you to soak off the product; we cannot recommend this as an efficient, effective, or healthy method for removal. Soaking off Acrylic would take a ridiculously lengthy amount of time. It’s like opting to travel across the country by foot. Sure it’s
technically possible. However, we can agree that there are more practical and alternative modes of transportation like car, train, or plane that would get you to your destination in less time and in more comfort.

A place where Acrylic excels is problem nails. Acrylic is the ideal product for nail biters. It acts as a cast for damaged nails to train the nail and redirect the growth channel because it can be pinched as it air cures. Consider this, if you had a broken arm, which would be the best course of action to mend it? A hard cast to set and protect the fracture or a soft brace or sling? Wide, flat, splayed nail issues also would benefit from this service. You can also maintain a set of nails with either Acrylic or Gel. In certain instances, they even work well together. Build with Acrylic and fill with Gel because of Acrylic’s porous nature.

Gel is an oligomer, this is fancy “chemistry speak” for a ready-mixed product of monomer and polymer. The chain reaction here occurs with the aid of a UV lamp, Gel is able to cure and harden faster. You will find Gel is a softer medium to file. Unlike Acrylic, it is chemically impossible to soak off Hard Gel. Yes, there are other Gels like Color Gel and Gel Polish that would respond well to a solvent like acetone; yet we would never recommend it. At YN, we teach that you should not solely use a solvent soak to remove product on your clients’ nails. Removal should be just as an important part of your nail maintenance skills set as application. We firmly believe and teach these techniques in which you use an E-file to take the product off safely and always prioritize the health of the nails.

When you’re good at neither or perhaps master of both mediums, which to choose? It’s comes down to chemistry and your individual clients needs. Speaking from a place of extensive professional experience and product development, Greg’s pick would be Acrylic and all it’s amazing versatility. At the other end of the spectrum, Habib in his role as a fledgling nail pro, would choose the easier learning curve associated with Gel’s limitless range of service options (for example builder gel, color gel, gel paints, and the handy precision gel applicators). A nice byproduct of starting out with Gel is that as you learn to control it with your brush; it’s a great asset to transition into using Acrylic. It helps from being too heavy-handed due to a finely developed sense of muscle memory.

So much depends on where the work is done and a lot of unexpected external circumstances. Sometimes deciding between Acrylic or Gel, is more a question of what is appropriate and suitable for your salon space. Once many years ago, on a trip to Japan, we saw first hand how these factors played a part in favoring Gel Services. All the commercial storefronts were tiny and tight for space. There wasn’t a lot of square footage for services and the ventilation systems for neighboring businesses weren’t optimal for Acrylic use. Everyone knows the smell of Acrylic is quite distinct. It has a tendency to travel and permeate the air of the grocery store or shops next door. The unique qualities of Acrylic were not well received within that specific culture and as a result we saw the explosion of sculpted gel nails.

In the US, determining factors are based on different criteria. Some locations here may also be sensitive to the smell of Acrylic; in which case you too may choose to go with Gel. Sometimes, all the environmental/physical conditions may be virtually “perfect” (location, square footage, and adequate ventilation, etc.) but for some reason the Acrylic services on offer just seem to miss the mark. Your clients may just not be interested in it. What to do in this scenario? The only answer is to adapt your skill set. Life happens. As you go through your journey as a nail professional and make transitions from various client circles and salons; we highly recommend you explore a deep and diverse understanding of both techniques to rise to any occasion as it presents itself.

As you can see there are many benefits for a nail pro to, over time, come to master both Acrylic and Gel. You deserve to be the nail tech people seek out for the diversity of your services. As tastes change, being a chameleon is a truly valuable professional asset. You will be able to create extensions, color, natural overlay, and dabble in dip powder, too. Aspire to the 5th degree black belt in nails. Sky’s the limit if you can use both with the same level of expertise and ease when a new client walks in; addressing their individual needs and nail health. Specialize in one thing to separate yourself from the pack to start; however remember it’s good to be versatile. Look at the swing from Gel Polish demand to Acrylic now. It’s hard to believe and who knows what’s next.

**This is an adaption from our YN Biz Talk playlist on YouTube, “Acrylic vs. Gel”.
Follow our YN YouTube Channel and click here to watch the full discussion here: