Gel Extensions vs. Acrylic: Which Is Better?

Who doesn’t love long acrylic nails? They are hard, strong, and durable. Moreover, acrylic nails are exceptionally gorgeous when done right.

However, gel extensions are almost as strong and more visually appealing. Though not as durable, they are also slightly more flexible than acrylics. Therefore, it can be an attractive alternative to acrylic nails.

But which is better? The following guide explains the basics of each option, including the pros and cons, and follows up with a head-to-head comparison to help you make the right decision.

Gel Nail Extensions vs. Acrylic Nails: Which is Better?

Gel extensions are more captivating than acrylic nails. They provide a glossy and natural look that no other artificial nail matches. Also, gel nails are lighter and more flexible, thus unlikely to crack if slightly bent during regular activities. That said, acrylic nails, including acrylic tips and extensions, are harder, stronger, and more durable.

What are Gel Nail Extensions? 

Gel nail extensions, or gel extensions, are long nails made with nail gels. Most nail salons create gel extensions with builder gel or hard gel. However, soft gel makes beautiful, albeit less strong, extensions.

The nail technician uses a nail form, typically a lightweight sticker that goes under the free edge. Then they build the gel nail over the nail form, extending the nail length as the client desires.

Note that extensions are slightly different from nail tips. Whereas extensions are built at the nail on-site as you watch, nail tips arrive pre-built and quickly secure to the nail with gel.

In addition, you can find nail tips in different sizes and shapes, from stiletto to round and coffin to square forms.

How are Gel Nail Extensions Applied?

Applying gel extensions is almost similar to standard gel nail installation. The main difference is that an extension involves building a longer nail with the help of nail forms. In contrast, regular gels are created without nail forms. 

Of course, you need sufficient natural nail length to build extensions. But this isn’t news, as the same requirement applies to the regular gel application process. That said, avoid extensions if you have brittle nails.

Here’s how nail techs install gel extensions, assuming you already have the nail forms.

  1. Prepare the nails: Remove the existing artificial nails using acetone, wash the natural nails, and dry them with a towel. Then trim, file, and buff them. It also helps to wipe the nails with rubbing alcohol to remove oils and grease. Otherwise, the gel won’t stick strongly.
  2. Apply the nail forms: Nail forms are either special paper or foils applied under the nail tip to provide a temporary base for forming nail extensions. They are removed once the nail extension dries. Horseshoe and CND forms are the most common. Position the form properly for the perfect gel extensions.
  3. Apply the base coat: You can apply primer first. But a base coat is even more important. It provides the ideal surface for gel adhesion. Apply a thin, even base coat layer and dry it with a LED or UV light for 30 seconds.
  4. Apply the gel product: We recommend builder gel for extensions. However, hard gels are fine, as are selected soft gels. Start in the middle of the natural nail and work your way to the cuticle, then up to the tip of the extension. Then dry the nails under UV or LED light and remove the nail forms once the gel hardens.
  5. Apply the gel top coat: The last main step is applying the top coat. The top coat protects the gel nail from external elements, including weather, water spills, and debris. When done, apply gel nail polish.

How to Remove Gel Nail Extensions

Removing artificial nails is best left to the pros. Nonetheless, it’s easy to remove gel extensions. The process is as follows;

  1. Trim the nails to shorten the removal time.
  2. Soak the nails in acetone.
  3. Scrape the gel product, including the extension.
  4. Buff your natural nails.

Pros and Cons of Gel Nail Extensions


  • They provide long, strong nails.
  • Gel extensions are lightweight.
  • Easy to install and quick to remove
  • Safer and healthier than acrylic nails


  • Impractical on short or brittle nails.
  • They can weaken the natural nails over time.

What are Acrylic Nails? 

Acrylic nails need no introduction to many artificial nail lovers as they are the most common fake nails, thanks to unmatched hardness and durability. Moreover, acrylic nails are cost-effective and low-maintenance.

The best part is that acrylics work for both short and long nails. Also, acrylic extensions are exceptionally strong and durable, lasting up to eight weeks. But, again, you need nail forms to mold the extensions.

How are Acrylic Nails Applied?

Applying acrylic nails is a straightforward process. However, it’s slightly different from other artificial nails because acrylic nail kits contain two bottles, a liquid monomer and powder polymer. The nail artist mixes the two on-site to form acrylic nails.

You may recall that other artificial nail kits contain just one bottle with pre-mixed monomer and polymer for fast application.

The application process is as follows;

  1. Nail preparation: Preparing the nails for acrylics involves washing, filing, and buffing. You can wipe the nails with rubbing alcohol before buffing them to remove oils. Then push back the cuticles (if necessary).
  2. Apply the nail form (optional): If you desire longer nails, this is the time to attach forms under the natural nails to create a base for the extension. Position the nail form properly for a balanced extension.
  3. Apply the primer: Primers aren’t mandatory. However, most acrylic nail kits include a primer, and manufacturers encourage its application to enhance nail adhesion. Apply a thin, even layer.
  4. Apply the acrylic nails: First, prepare the acrylic ball by dipping the nail brush in the liquid monomer, then the acrylic powder. Then apply it to the nail. Begin at the middle of the natural nail, working your way down to the cuticles and then up through the nail form, shaping it carefully while observing the length.
  5. Finish up: Allow the nail to air-dry. It takes up to 20-30 minutes. Once it’s dried, remove the forms, and shape the nails using a nail file. Then apply regular nail polish and cuticle oil to soothe the surrounding skin.

How are Acrylic Nails Removed?

The healthiest way to remove acrylic nails is to soak them in a bowl of acetone for 15 minutes and scrape off the material with an orange stick or cuticle pusher.

Unfortunately, MMA acrylics don’t soak in acetone. So, you must manually file away the hard resin with a nail file. Meanwhile, nail salons use electric drills and e-files to hasten the process.

Pros and Cons of Acrylics


  • Hard and strong
  • Durable and long-lasting
  • Acrylics are cost-effective
  • Easy to form extensions


  • MMA acrylics are challenging to remove
  • Acrylic nails are extremely rigid

Gel Extensions vs. Acrylic Nails: Head-to-Head 

Now we know a little about gel extensions and acrylic nails. But how do they compare, and which one is better? Let’s find out.


Both acrylic nails and gel extensions are challenging to install and are best applied by a nail tech at a nail salon. However, acrylics are easier to install. Indeed, many DIY enthusiasts do acrylic manicures at home, including acrylic extensions.

Unfortunately, installing gels is intimidating. Fine, the gel arrives pre-mixed for greater convenience. However, you need several pieces of equipment that can be confusing.

Also, gels require a base coat and a top coat, which must be perfect for awesome extensions. So, it’s better to get a salon appointment.

Curing Process

The two nail types cure completely differently. Acrylics are the easiest to cure. Both the primer and acrylics cure when exposed to the air. In most cases, it takes 15-20 minutes, and you don’t have to worry about ruining your nails.

Unfortunately, gel extensions aren’t as simple to cure. First, you need an LED light or UV light source. Secondly, you must be extremely cautious when using the equipment.

Although it only takes 30 to 120 seconds for the base coat, gel, and top coat to cure, delays can cause serious nail damage.

Hardness and Durability

Acrylic nails, including acrylic nail extensions, are harder, stronger, and more durable than gel extensions. Therefore, they protect the actual nail better and are likely to last longer, typically 6-8 weeks. However, they are also extremely rigid.

Meanwhile, gel extensions tend to be more flexible. They are slightly softer than acrylics and less durable, only lasting 2-3 weeks. However, they “bend with the nail,” offering greater comfort when you clench your fist and bend your fingers.

Which is Less Damaging to Natural Nails?

All artificial nails are unhealthy for natural nails. They invade the actual nails, rendering them dry and cracky. Moreover, the application and removal processes make the natural nails thin, brittle, and weak.

That said, acrylic nails are worse. Although they offer better protection, they entail more aggressive nail processes. Also, the removal process irritates healthy nails and may affect the nail bed.

So, avoid acrylics if you’re worried about your nail health. Alternatively, allow the nails to rest a few weeks after every round of false nails.

Appearance and Beauty

We primarily install artificial nails to enhance our looks and appearances. So, you’re likely wondering which is more attractive, acrylic nails or gel extensions. It’s easy- gel extensions.

The contest is simpler when comparing gel and acrylic extensions; gels easily come out on top.

However, short acrylics vs. gel extensions is a complicated contest because some prefer short nails and vice versa. That said, gels offer your nails an irresistible shinier, more natural feel. 


If you’re considering the ease of removal before applying the nails, you should stick to gels or Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA) acrylics. EMA acrylics are softer than Methyly Methacrylate (MMA) options.

They are also less durable. However, they soak off in acetone for easy removal. On the other hand, MMA acrylics must be filed away manually.

Fortunately, gels easily soak off in acetone, including builder gel, the most common gel extension product. Only hard gel doesn’t. So, again, keep off hard gel for your extensions.

Cost and Affordability

There’s no contest here – gel extensions are much more expensive than acrylic nails. A full gel extension set costs $80 to $125, including labor.

Meanwhile, regular acrylic nails cost $10 to $30 per set, including labor charges, while acrylic extensions cost $30 to $50 per set. 

Maintenance is another critical factor. For instance, you can use regular nail polish for acrylics, but you need special gel polish for gel extensions. Gel nail polish costs a lot more than regular nail polish.

Above all, you must replace gel nails every 2-3 weeks, while acrylics stay in place for 6-8 weeks. So, acrylics are more cost-effective long-term.

Do Acrylic or Gel Extensions Last Longer?

Acrylic nails typically last longer than gel nails, as they are harder and stronger, thus more durable. For this reason, they resist chips, cracks, and breaking more than gel nails.

So, you can keep them for 6-8 weeks or slightly longer. Meanwhile, gel extensions only remain in top shape for 2-3 weeks.

Which Nail Extension is Best?

Overall, gel manicure provides better nail extensions than other artificial nails. This is because they are as flexible as healthy natural nails. Therefore, you feel completely comfortable moving your fingers around.

Unfortunately, you cannot say the same for other nail products. For instance, acrylic extensions, though more durable, are so rigid that you often feel tightness in the nails when you clench your fist.


Choosing between acrylic nails and gel extensions is easy. Gels are not only more fashionable but also more natural-looking. In addition, they are more flexible and thus more comfortable. So, they’re perfect for special events and occasions.

Acrylics rule the game when looking for regular nail enhancements to plow through the day. They are harder, stronger, and give you 6-8 weeks or more.

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