Dip vs. Gel Nail Polish: Cons & Pros

Acrylics, gel, dip powder, and extensions… there are many different options when it comes to manicures and each has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. Gel nail polish and dip powder, two of the most popular manicure methods, both belong in the acrylic-based family but differ in a few important ways. So here are the key differences to know between gel and dip powder manicures, also I would highly recommend asking your nail technician/artist.

gel nail polish, women with hand in uv light manicure machine

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1. Application Process

The primary difference between gel and dip powder manicures? The way they’re put onto the nail. With gel, it applies like regular nail polish and you cure it in a UV or LED lamp after each coat. Gel manicure polishes contain photo-initiated polymers, which are activated when exposed to light. That causes them to harden or cure so that the polish adheres to nails. Most often this is done with a UV light, as it works a bit quicker than LED — usually in under 45 seconds. Simply speaking, gel polish is cured onto the nail using light (without the UV or LED light, it will remain wet).

Dip manicures, on the other hand, use colored powder acrylic mixed with a glue-type resin that cures in the air. The application process is exactly what it sounds like. First, a base or primer coat is painted on, then each nail (while still wet) is dipped into a small pot of colored acrylic powder. Your manicurist (or you, at home) will work in layers. Once the desired level of coverage is reached (usually two to three rounds of dipping is required), an activator polish is brushed on as a top coat to cure the formula — no UV light required.

Bottom line: Gel polishes are painted on, similarly to regular nail polish, and require UV or LED light to harden. Dip powder involves dipping each finger into an acrylic colored powder, then painting on an activator polish as a topcoat that cures in the air.

woman getting nails done, nail technician wearing pink gloves

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2. Lasting Power

When applied correctly, a good gel manicure can last, on average, for two to three weeks. For those who tend to have oilier nail beds or are just prone to nail chipping, though, gel polish may not last for even two weeks. Dip powder manicures generally last longer than their gel counterparts. To give you a sense of just how strong the hardened dip powder formula is, it can be thought of as a glue-based resin that hardens when exposed to air just like actual glue. Simply put, dip powder polymers are stronger than those found in gel polish, and, therefore, dip manicures will generally last longer, up to five weeks, if properly cared for.

Bottom line: Gel manicures typically last between two to three weeks, while dip powder manicures can last for up to five (with proper prep, application, and maintenance).

dipping powder

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3. Potential Damage To Nails

Impatience during the removal process can result in nail damage with both gel polish and dip powder. Both manicures have the potential for damaging your nail beds, especially in the removal process. A lot of people get impatient with the amount of time that it takes for the gel to dissolve, and they end up pulling the polish off, which ends up damaging the nail. In order to avoid potential damage — with either gel polish and dip powder nails — you’ll need to patiently and diligently dissolve them using acetone, then follow up by consistently keeping your cuticles hydrated (the acetone can really dry out your skin). 

Bottom line: Both gel and dip manicures have the potential to damage your nail, but this can be avoided (or at least minimized) by following correct and patient removal and after-care protocols.

nails soaking in nail polish remover

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4. Cost And Time

It’s difficult to estimate the general cost of either type of manicure because it depends on many factors including the salon location and the experience level of your nail technician. Typically, dip powder manicures tend to be slightly more expensive than gels, but not by much, usually only $5 to $10 more. This is because dip manicures last longer than gels, so you won’t need to go back to the salon as frequently.

Both types of manicures, when done professionally, take about the same length of time to complete, roughly 45min to an hour. If you’re in and out of the salon in less than 30 minutes, that’s a red flag and your nails probably don’t look the best.

Bottom line: The cost of in-salon dip manicures are usually slightly higher than gel manicures, though they both take the same amount of time to complete.

Nails getting filed

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Overall

While the use of acetone to take off both gel and powder dip manicures puts one at equal risk for dehydrated, brittle nails, the added use of an electronic file during removal, along with the possibility of bacterial infection from sharing powders and potential allergic reactions to the base used in powder dip manicures makes them more damaging to nails and skin than gels.

Ultimately, if you are considering incorporating powder dip manicures into your routine you should pay attention to how your nails react to the process. If you’re tolerating the application of frequent dips and your nails don’t look dry, stripped and brittle, then there’s no reason to change your routine. Just like skin care, your polish will perform better if your canvas is healthy, smooth, and exfoliated. Have fun with your nails!!

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