If you’re looking to add length to your natural nails you might be considering acrylic extensions or polygel nails. But what’s the difference between acrylic vs polygel nails?
Acrylic and polygel are two popular types of manicures due to their durability and lengthening abilities. Which is best comes down to your lifestyle, how long you’re wanting to keep your extensions, cost, and maintenance.
The key difference between acrylics and polygel nails is this:
- Polygel is a hybrid material that combines attributes from both acrylic and gel nails to create a less damaging formula. Polygel nails are applied with pea-sized amounts for each nail by nail technicians.
- Acrylics are artificial nails layered on top of your natural nail and applied with a powder monomer. Acrylics have been around a long time, providing beautiful, lasting nails since the 1950s.
I have been a manicurist for years and I love trying new manicure trends to see what works and what doesn’t. After trying polygel nails myself I can say that a polygel manicure is an attractive substitute for someone who’s on the fence about getting acrylic nails. Or someone interested in DIY nail extension options. But if you are looking for durability, acrylics still rule.
Gel polish, gel manicure, acrylic powder, acrylic gel, and poly gel, let me guide you toward the best product for you! Acrylic vs polygel? Let’s unpack the strengths and weaknesses of each.
What are acrylic nails?
Acrylic nails, also known as artificial nails, are a type of nail enhancement created by mixing a powder and liquid monomer that is applied to the nail and air dried following a topcoat. Acrylics are a popular option for those who have shorter nails and are looking for a manicure that will last a long time as the formula holds up to 4 weeks and can be refilled.
Acrylics can usually be applied with tips that lengthen nails to make them as long as you want!
While acrylics are a popular solution for a beautiful, long-lasting manicure, the formula can be damaging to the nail beds and leaves you with weaker nails.
What are polygel nails?
Polygel nails are a combination of both acrylic and gel nail polish formulas. As a result, polygel retains the durability of acrylic and the flexibility of gel nails. It is created using acrylic powder and a clear gel.
This hybrid option is a versatile solution because it’s easier and gentler on the natural nail compared to other nail products. Like artificial nails, polygel nails are cured under a nail lamp after a pea-sized amount is applied and then finished off with a top coat.
Polygel nails are an enhancement for natural nails that help with a few different things. While polygel cannot promote nail growth, it will:
- Add length to your nails
- Strengthen the nails
- Correct your nail apex
- Be a base for nail polish
- Add color to nails
What’s the difference between polygel and acrylic?
A few things differentiate polygel from acrylic. Factors such as durability, odor, flexibility, sanitization, and cost play a role in distinguishing the two. Both have their strengths and weaknesses so read on to see polygel vs acrylic!
|Format||Acrylic comes as a polymer powder in a jar.||Polygel comes in a tube as a putty that is ready to use. No need to mix anything.|
|Prepping requirements||Nails are buffed and cleaned of dust then a primer is applied.||A liquid bonding agent must be applied to the natural nail before the polygel is used.|
|Curing needs||Air dries.||UV or LED lamp needed to cure.|
|Temperature sensitivity||Sensitive to temperature fluctuations.||Store your polygel tubes in a cold, dark environment.|
|Chemical odor||Strong chemical odor as you need a chemical monomer to cure the acrylic powder.||Little to no smell.|
|Durability||4-6 weeks, up to 8 weeks with refills.||2-3 weeks.|
|Strength||Very hard and strong.||Strong and light but not as hard or durable as acrylics.|
|Flexibility||Very rigid and hard.||Flexible like builder gel. Natural feel.|
|Ease of removal||File off with an electric nail file, or file then soak off. Acrylics can’t just be soaked off without the acetone burning your skin!||Soak off or file off. The best practice is to file down 50% and then soak off the rest.|
|Damage to the nail bed||Acrylics can damage your nail bed if not applied or maintained correctly. Don’t use your acrylics to open soda cans or as a tool!||Minimal damage to nail bed when properly removed.|
|Cost||Expensive to apply and maintain.||More affordable than acrylics. Can easily be done at home using a polygel nail kit.|
|Ease of application||Acrylics require technique and practice. to mold and shape the nail. It’s best to leave the application to a professional nail technician.||Easy for beginners, though you will need a lamp to cure nails.|
|Best suited for||Special occasions, or for those who need durability and long-lasting manicure. Also great for adding nail length.||Great for beginners and DIY-ers alike. Good for adding short-term length to your natural nails.|
In terms of durability, for acrylic vs polygel, acrylic takes the lead.
While both are chip-free for a decent amount of time, acrylic nails can typically last almost double the lifetime of a polygel manicure, with appropriate fillings.
Polygel manicures share decent durability since part of the formula comes from acrylic. But since polygel gets its flexibility from a gel, that sacrifices some of the durability. Polygel manicures can last up to three weeks, while an acrylic set lasts up to six weeks.
Polygel nails are much more flexible than acrylic due to the formula sharing traits from a traditional gel nail polish, which leaves nails feeling much lighter. Due to increased flexibility, nails are less likely to break compared to artificial nails, which are usually stiffer and heavier.
Our hands are one of the dirtiest spots on our bodies! We touch everything and do many different things with our hands that pick up germs, and our nails have a hand in our hygiene. Lack of proper care can lead our nails to accumulate germs despite handwashing.
When thinking about cleanliness, polygel is on top! Acrylics are some of the most unsanitary nails around since they last longer and grow to longer lengths they are harder to clean and easily pick up germs, regardless of regular handwashing.
An example is a white polish. Even if you’ve never gotten white polish before, you can imagine how much more apparent dirt and grime would be under the nails by the time the manicure needs to be removed. Imagine all the dirt you’ve never seen before, only because you had darker polish!
Having a nail set that’s easier to maintain and allows easier removal can help you keep your hands cleaner.
Acrylic has a strong smell that is every manicurist’s nightmare! Every time someone comes in to have their nails refilled or filed down, removed, and replaced, you can’t avoid smelling chemicals. It can be hard to get rid of the smell unless you use a deodorizing product which can add to the cost.
Polygel, on the other hand, is odorless, so you won’t smell anything as you apply it to your natural nails. Gone are the days when you’d have to open a window or turn on a fan to make the overwhelming smell of chemical acrylic formula go away!
There are a few factors when considering the cost. One key difference is that polygel can be done from home. While a kit can be pricey, the one-time purchase eliminates endless salon visits. For a list of our favorites, check out my article on The Easiest Polygel Nail Kit for Beginners.
Acrylics do last longer, which means you spend less time replacing them. But going to the salon every three to four weeks for a refilled or later removed and reapplied costs a bit of money too. Acrylic nails are more expensive due to upkeep, removal, and reapplication all having to take place within a salon.
You can expect to pay upwards of $100 in most U.S. cities for a full set, especially if you get any additional nail art or like your nail tech a big tip! (Please do tip your nail tech at least 20% in cash whenever possible).
It’s also important to mention the time, as fake nails are more of a time commitment compared with polygel. For acrylics to look nice, maintenance is key.
Is polygel as hard as acrylic?
Polygel is generally not as hard as acrylic because it maintains more flexibility. While it shares durability with acrylics, which makes it last longer than other manicures, the flexibility in the formula prevents polygel from being as hard as acrylics.
The flexibility is healthier for the nail and helps growth as the nail is protected during the manicure and can prevent nail-biting, picking, or any other behaviors that deter nail growth.
Do polygel nails ruin your nails?
Polygel nails are more favorable because they are less damaging than any other nail manicure, especially acrylics. Polygel nails can help strengthen and allow your nails to grow since they are better protected under the polish and can prevent someone from picking or biting on the nails. The material is safer than other nail solutions as well.
Since there are no chemicals in polygel solution, nails are not weakened by the heavy compounds we find in acrylic nail formula. The nails are also less accessible to damage because the nail is more flexible under the formula.
Removal of polygel is much less damaging than acrylic removal because polish can be buffed. Buffing can remove almost all gel, with acetone soaking being a last-minute resort. Acrylic manicures can’t be removed without being soaked in acetone.
You can use the same method to remove polygel nails as you do to remove dip nails. For instructions, read my article on How to Remove Dip Nails at Home.
Despite that, there is no evidence that polygel helps the nails either. While it can help strengthen your nail while the polish is on and add length, there is no proof that it does anything to help nailbeds in the long run.
When considering nail health, poly gel is the top choice for maintaining healthy nail beds.
Are polygel nails better than acrylic?
Acrylic gel and polygel are viable options to enhance your natural nails! Either can allow you to change things up from regular nail polish.
Consider what you want most from your manicure, length, durability, etc. to help you decide which manicure fulfills those needs best.
Cost and healthy nails leave polygel nails as the better option. A polygel manicure is removable and causes minimal damage to nail beds. Polygel is also more affordable overall. Keep in mind that any extras like tips might make things more expensive for either manicure.
You can easily apply a polygel manicure with a kit right at home. If you see a chip or a spot, you can touch it up without scheduling an appointment. Nails receive a strong base and have an easier removal and reapplication without harming the sensitive natural nail bed.
Acrylics are more expensive as they need several visits for upkeep and removal. While acrylics last longer than polygel, acrylics cause a lot of damage that requires regular upkeep.
Acrylics can also be painful upon removal. Removal involves soaking in acetone, but sometimes the buffing process is not the most pleasant experience. Trying to remove it with any other method will be painful, frustrating, and potentially destructive to the nail bed.
The damage of acrylics also lasts long after the color leaves- removal leaves nails weak, so unless you plan to get a new set applied, you’re looking at several weeks of recovery.
Key takeaways on acrylic vs polygel nails
Personally, I love that polygel can be applied at home, as long you have a UV/LED light lamp. This makes them more affordable than acrylics since you’ll need fewer visits to the salon.
If you’re a commitment-phobe (like me), polygel is easy to remove and reapply by buffing, filing followed by a quick soak in acetone. This makes it super easy to change your look.
I also like that polygel is healthier than acrylics since it contains fewer chemicals and doesn’t need a monomer to harden. Polygel leaves nails flexible, light, and durable so nails are less prone to breakage.
Polygel has the added benefit of being stronger than traditional gel nails and gel polish.
Plus, if you buy a polygel nail kit with a UV lamp, you’ll be able to do other types of manicures at home, like gel or dip manicures, for example. Check out my article for my favorite Dip Powder Nail Kits.
BUT, if you feel like splurging or want that extra durability, acrylics are the way to go. Just remember the potential upkeep and painful removal.
Remember to give your natural nails a break between manicures or removals, regardless of manicure type. It’s important to make sure you take a break from time to time to let them grow without product.
Interested in learning about how to do acrylic nails at home? Check out our other article on getting salon -worthy results doing acrylic nails at home.
Kim is an expert, with over 7 years in the nail art and makeup industry. She is an avid DIY nail artist and now contributing writer at BeautyStack.