Difference Between Gel, Acrylic And Dip Powder Nails: Nail Enhancement Techniques Every Nail Junkie Must Know

Here’s A Detailed Guide To The Difference Between Gel, Acrylic And Dip Powder Nails, Various Nail Overlay Techniques, To Get Your Nails On Fleek.

The nail pros of Instagram have had many of us, even the ‘not-really-a-nail-art-fan’ category, see their amazing work on repeat.

Those sculpted nails done in bright shades and dry glitter, swarovski, crystals and tacky 3d embellishments make us marvel at their skill and at the same time leave us green with envy.

Difference Between Gel, Acrylic And Dip Powder NailsWell, who doesn’t wish to do nails like these nail experts? True that! So what’s holding you back?
Probably the volley of questions with regard to nail enhancement products, techniques and their prices that are left unanswered yet.

While there is no dearth of expert nail technicians around the world to get you glossy, brightly tinted nails, but before booking an appointment with them you should know what are you really looking for?

Say an eye popping nail extension or overlay; gel, acrylic, shellac or dip powder nails (more on this soon).

These nail extension alternatives are different in terms of technique, underlying products, price and the time required to get done with each of them.

Remember! Each come with their share of pros and cons, so you got to consider the aforementioned factors to decide which one to go for.

Also, the beauty experts would always recommend to get the nail enhancements done from a professional. And ideally you should.

But the online and offline beauty retailers offer a range of at home gel, acrylic and dip powder kits for the time and price conscious audience. So if you’re one of them, don’t worry.

You get these products easily. But make sure you have proper tools and the hang of technique in question.

You can always check out the nail artists on youtube for the technique thing. Our personal favorite youtube channel is Nail Career Education by Suzie.

So let’s get started!

Prep Up Your Nails For A Nail Enhancement

This is the basic but the most important step in the entire process of nail enhancement. You got to make your nails ready to make those gel or acrylic extensions stay and also avoid causing damage to  your nail bed.

1) Sanitize Your Hands: This goes both for the nail technician and you. You can simply wash your hands or use a gel hand sanitizer to keep your hands germ free.

2) Remove The Nail Polish: If you still have the previous nail paint on, make sure you get rid of it properly with the help of a nail paint remover.

3) Cuticle Work: Many of the DIY people actually don’t know the meaning of cuticle and in the wake of scraping off their cuticles have been causing damage to their nail folds since years.

Cuticle is the thin layer of dead tissues on your nail plate that is often confused with the tight column of skin at the base of your nails.

Gel or acrylics do not bond to this layer of dead cells on your nail plate. Hence, it is crucial to remove the cuticle with help of a cuticle pusher which has a round end to push the cuticle and a sharper end to scrape off the excess cuticle from the nail plate.

Ensure that while using the cuticle pusher, you concentrate on the side walls and the cuticle area to avoid your nail extensions from lifting. Also, stop digging your tool into the nail fold as it will damage the same, turning the cuticle line red and inflamed.

4) File Natural Nails: File your nails to give them proper shape. Always use the nail file in one direction. Again, do it gently so that you don’t actually file off the nail bed. File on the side walls , cuticles and the tip of the nails.

5) Buff Natural Nails: Use the buffer gently in unidirectional strokes to buff and polish and circular strokes to get that shine on your nails. Again, over-buffing can damage the natural nail. So ensure that you’re doing it gently.

6) Apply The Nail Primer:  A few gentle strokes on the nail beds is something you must look at. Overdoing it  can cause some issues with the skin surrounding the natural nail beds.

Once you have those finely clipped, filed and buffed nail beds, it’s time to make a choice between the kind of nail extension/artificial nails you would want to go for.

I) Gel Nails:


These fake nails are done with a gooey liquid which comes in a pot. The technique is all about adding length to your natural nails. Now, there are two ways in which you can do that.

Nail Tips Vs Nail Forms

One way is to fix a ‘Nail Tip’ onto the edges of your natural nails with the help of a glue. Once you place the glue onto a nail tip, hold it tightly so that it fixes properly at the edge of your natural nail.

You then use a buffer to smooth out the entire nail with more concentration on the cuticle area. Once done, you take the glob of this gummy liquid out of the pot with a brush and go about sculpting a nail, to have a nice big nail extension which is much harder and stays longer compared to your natural nails.

A word of caution! These Nail Tips are pieces of moulded plastic that have a shallow well where the glue is placed. These come in various shapes and sizes . So you need to watch out for the size that matches with your natural nail plates when buying these.

The newbies generally prefer Nail Tips as they are easy to work with for they get a base onto which they can do the sculpting with the liquid, without the worry of perfecting the shape for they already have done that by placing the nail tip.

For people who are pro in sculpting nails use ‘forms’ instead of ‘Nail Tips .

These are basically  stickers in the shape of a nail that are slipped underneath a nail and are wrapped around your finger.

The nail enhancement product, gel in this case,  is then placed onto the natural nail plate, extending it to the form,  glob by glob with a brush and given the shape of a nail.

You have to perfect the art of sculpting and shaping when using a nail form for the final outcome would depend on how skillfully you set the liquid.

Once you have sculpted the nails using gel, these are cured under the UV/LED lamps. It takes good amount of time to cure gel nails. That’s a selling point for gel nail enhancements for  when smearing this liquid on your natural nail, you get some time to perfect the shape.

Gels are expensive and odor less as against any other nail extension products. Using gel extension technique, you get nails that have a harder, non – porous surface and are flexible. But as compared to acrylics and dipped nails, these last for a shorter period of time.

Removing Gel Nails

Well, that’s where the most challenging part of the entire technique comes into play. Not all gel nails come off with acetone . So what do you do?

Begin by trimming the gel nail extensions using a nail clipper.

File off the top coat using a nail file with a lower grit value. Lower the grit value, coarser the file. Higher the grit value, smoother the file. Do it gently and continue till the the time you see the natural nail bed from below. Some nail technicians use electric file instead. Ensure that you are doing it right as over filing can damage the natural nail bed.

Once you see the natural nail coming out, use a higher grit value file to file the remaining gel.

Dust off the nails and buff them for that shine. Apply cuticle oil and you have your natural nails, all clean and healthy.

Some gel based products can be soaked off in acetone. They are removed in exactly the same way as acrylics. More on this in the section below.

II) Acrylic Nails


Acrylic nails use liquid monomer and powder polymer system to get you those artificial nails.

Once you choose between nail tips and forms as the method of extending nails, the next step is to keep the liquid and powder containers ready.

The liquid monomer has very a strong odor. Hence, if you choose to work with acrylics, always wear a mask and ensure that the room you’re sitting in has proper ventilation, but little natural light.

Dunk a natural haired brush in the liquid monomer pot and then in the polymer  powder container  that comes along.

Place the gummy mixture onto your nail bed. Keep smearing the nail bed with this liquid, powder mixture till you get a proper shape of the nail and you feel that it’s perfectly done.

Unlike gel nails, acrylics start to cure the moment you place the liquid, powder mixture on your nail bed. So you really need to have a lot of practice to work with acrylics because once done, you won’t be able to do much about it.

Acrylics are inexpensive and result in nails that are non -porous, hard and long lasting.

Removing Acrylic Nails

There are many ways in which nail pros remove acrylics. Some do it with acetone, while others use a nail file or a dental floss to get rid of acrylics.

While Nail Career Educations’ Suzie does it with a file,  Naio Nails does it with acetone. Checkout the videos below for a step by step tutorial.

Trim your nails as much as possible with the help of a nail clipper. Cutting the nails short would make it easier to dip them in acetone.

File off the nails to remove the top coat. Make sure you are not over doing the same for over filing may damage the natural nail bed.

Apply petroleum jelly around each of the nail beds before applying acetone as it dehydrates the skin.

Pour the acetone in glass bowl. Dip cotton balls in acetone and wrap them around each of your nails.

Seal them by wrapping aluminium foil around each of them. Keep them cinched for 25 – 30 minutes.

Use a cuticle pusher to scrape off  the loosened acrylic. If the nail plates still have the leftover of the acrylic, wrap the cotton balls dipped in acetone around them for another 10 – 15 minutes.

Once it comes off the nails completely, finish the nails by filing, buffing and finally applying the cuticle oil.

III) Dip Powder Nails

Dip powder can be applied on both natural nails and natural nails with nail tips.

Unlike the gel and acrylic, that use a gummy liquid and a liquid and a powder system with strong odor respectively, dip powder nails are easy to apply and remove.

Where using gel and acrylics incorrectly carry the risk of damaging the natural nail beds, causing bacterial infections and making the nails weak, using some Dip Powder products  makes your natural nails stronger.

There’s absolutely no hassle of curing the nails under UV/LED, sculpting the nails and bearing toxic smell that can cause allergies.  

Dip Powder nails are flexible and if done properly can last for 4 – 6 weeks.

Since we’ve covered the application methods of both gel and acrylic with nail extensions, we’ll do the same for dipped nails as well.

Once you prep nails up(steps mentioned above) and apply nail tips at the edges of your natural nails, the next thing is to cut these nail tips short with a nail clipper to a desired length. File to  give them shape and use the drill gently right from the nail beds to the nail tips so that there is no break between them.

There are many dip powder kits available in the market. These contain a bottle each of bond, base, sealant, natural dip powder and color dip powder.

Apply a coat of Bond only to the  natural nail beds, then apply a thin layer of base on the area that joins the natural nail beds to the nail tips. Dip the nails at  a 45 degree angle into the natural nail powder and tap the excess powder off.

Now apply the base coat on only three – fourth of the nails and dip them again into the natural dip powder.

Next, apply another coat of base to the nails, but this time right from the cuticle area to the edges of the nails and dip them into colored powder of your choice.

Apply the base coat to the full nails once again and dip them into the desired color . This is done to ensure full coverage.

To help the color stick to your nail when filing or drilling, another base coat is applied and the nails are dipped into the clear powder once again.

Now, you apply the sealant on the full nails to harden the powder. File the nails to the desired shape, drill to smooth out the surface and buff the same.

Apply the seal protect again and then finish the nails with a top coat. Let your nails air dry for a few minutes. Repeat this step once again, finally apply the cuticle oils around the nails and massage the same.

And that’s how you get those shiny, perfectly done nails with the dip powder.

Removing Dip Powder Nails

The method remains the same – file/ acetone. Here’s a video by Kiara Sky Nails to help you recapitulate  whatever we’ve discussed in the sections above.

You’re now all sorted to have those glossy, well sculpted nails. So get going!

About the Author: Alisha

Alisha Bajaj is the Chief Editor for Shopholicx. A B.Com Honours graduate and having a masters degree in Marketing and Finance, she started her career as a Financial Analyst with a Forex firm named India Forex Advisors Pvt. Ltd which is based in Mumbai. Before joining Shopholicx, she was working as a Senior Research Analyst for the same firm. She has been writing articles and research reports in the field of foreign exchange from the past 18 months and was helping clients understand the mechanics of foreign exchange through daily and monthly publications. She has a passion for reading and writing and has won accolades for her writings throughout.

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