Gel nails are brushed on like a polish, while dip powders are applied by dipping your nail into a powder and sealing with an activator. Both manicures create stunning, strong, and long-lasting nails.
I have been a nail technician for five years, and I come to you with the experience I have gained to explain the nuance between gel vs dip powder nails.
Both gel and dip manicures types take roughly the same amount of time and produce similar results. The only real difference between them is how they are applied. There are some small differences in longevity, price, and ease of removal.
In this article, I will get to the bottom of the difference between gel and dip powders and hopefully help you find the best option for you and your nails. Whichever option you pick, you can be sure that both will create gorgeous nails.
What is gel nail polish?
Gel nail polish is applied just like regular nail polish. The only difference is that gel requires a UV or LED lamp to cure the polish once applied.
Gel polish is made of polymers that are photo-initiated. When this polish is held under a UV light for usually 45 seconds, it completely hardens and dries. If you’re using an LED light, it will take a little longer to cure, but the result is all the same.
The resulting manicure is hard yet flexible enough to stand up to daily wear and tear.
What is dip powder?
Dip powder is a system using acrylic powders to build up a manicure with layers of powder and sealant.
Dip nails are also known as SNS nails. When applying these nails, you either need to dip the nail into the powder (hence the name), or you can brush it on. In between each layer of powder, you brush on a sealant polish.
As the manicure is built up in layers, the result is stronger than gel manicures, allowing the user to maintain the nails for up to a month. Not only can it be used on natural nails, but also on extended nails like acrylic tips.
Differences between gel nails and dip powder nails
Here are the key differences to keep in mind when choosing between gel and dip powder nails.
The main difference between gel nails and dip nails is how each is applied.
Gel nails are applied just like polish and are brushed onto the nail. Between each coat of polish, the gel needs to be cured under a UV or LED lamp. For UV light, this takes about 45 seconds to dry, while LED light takes about two minutes.
Dip nails are made by dipping the nail into an acrylic powder or brushing on the powder. Between each coat of powder, you seal it with an activator polish. This polish air dries to a hard and long-lasting finish.
Both gel and dip nails have fantastic lasting power.
Gel nails can last up to two weeks without chipping, assuming that it was applied correctly. On the chance that you have an oily nail bed, you may not see as much longevity out of gel nails.
Dip nails can last up to a month. Their durability comes from the components to the activator polish. The activator uses the same compound that is used in Krazy Glue! This gives dip nails the durability of resin while allowing them to air dry just like glue.
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Both gel nails and dip nails can be tricky to remove without proper technique. Improper removal will lead to damage to the nail bed.
Of the two, gel polish is easier to remove. For gel, first, you can file down the top layer of polish. You can then soften the polish with acetone-soaked cotton balls.
Dip nails are both thicker and more difficult to remove. Once again, you can file off the top layer. After that, you will need to soak the nails directly in acetone to soften the dip manicure. The learn more, read our article on how to remove dip nails.
Price and duration of treatment
Gel and dips are roughly the same price. At most, you may find that dip nails are slightly more expensive (by 5 to 10 dollars more).
This, of course, is only taking into account the gel or dip itself. If you are getting other work done, such as extensions, this will add to the price.
Both gel and dip nails take about the same amount of time to complete. In both cases, you will need about 45 minutes to complete the manicure from start to finish. This time may be longer if you are adding nail extensions or art.
Of the two, gel polish is far more sanitary.
The issue with dip powder is that the pot you are dipping your finger into can be contaminated. The sanitary way to perform this manicure is to use a small pot for each client and to throw any remaining powder away.
As this leads to wastage, some salons will attempt to skip this step by using a communal pot instead. Any bacterial that may be lingering in a communal pot can lead to an infection with a dip manicure.
Also, with any manicure, make sure that the tools being used come from sealed bags.
Both gel and dip nails are perfectly safe to apply and remove with the correct techniques.
With gel nails, there is some speculation that frequent exposure to UV light may increase your chance of cancer. But this has never been proven. Also, picking at the polish to remove it may cause some damage to the nail bed.
Similarly, improperly removing dip nails can also damage your nails.
With both treatments, the frequent use of acetone and treatments may dry your cuticles. For both, remember to give your nails a rest from time to time and keep your cuticles hydrated with a quality cuticle oil like OPI Pro Spa cuticle oil.
Can you still do nail art?
With both, yes!
As gel polish is applied just like nail polish, the process of nail art is exactly the same. Whether you are painting on tiny flowers, adding rhinestones, or glitter, it is no different than using regular nail polish aside from the additional step of curing with a UV or LED lamp.
The same goes with dip nails. With dip nails, gel polish can be layered over the dip manicure. This means you can still add whatever designs you want.
Dip nails also allow for cool color-blocking designs by controlling how far you dip the nail into the powder. You can even do ombre nails with a dip manicure!
Doing gel and dip manicures at home
Here are some things to keep in mind when doing gel or dip nails at home.
Can you do gel and dip manicures at home?
To both, yes, you can.
It is possible to get all the tools and supplies you need to do your own manicures at home, but the real question is, should you?
The most important thing to consider is damaging the nail bed. If you truly want to invest the money into getting your own tools, then it is extremely important to research the techniques required to not only apply the manicure but also to remove it safely.
Why you may be able to get all the information you need on YouTube, I personally recommend finding a course through a trained technician.
What do you need?
Both gel and dip manicures require similar tools, aside from the actual products used. For both, you will need files, a nail buffer, orangewood sticks, cuticle oil, rubbing alcohol, cotton balls, and acetone for removal.
To do a gel manicure, you will need a gel polish system. This includes a base coat, color, and topcoat. You will also need a UV or LED lamp. I personally prefer a UV lamp, but either is fine.
For dip nails, you will need dip powder, base coat, topcoat, and the activator.
Read more in our depth review of our favorite nail dip powder kits.
Which one’s better, gel or dip powder?
The short answer is that it depends.
Both gel and dip systems create stunning, beautiful nails that can last for weeks without chipping. Both take roughly the same amount of time to apply and are very similar in cost. Thanks to the layered application and resin-like components, dip nails will last a little longer, up to five weeks, if you treat them well, while gel nails usually last for only two.
With stronger nails, dip nails are also harder to remove, taking a direct soak in acetone to soften them. Gel nails are much better for those who want something that’s easier to remove and gentler to the nail bed, at the trade-off of not lasting as long.
If you are looking for a durable manicure that’s easy to apply and easy to remove, along with being the slightly cheaper option, then go with gel nails.
If you want something that will last up to a month without chipping, and don’t mind paying a little bit extra, then dip powder is a great option.
One other detail is that dip manicures are a little thicker, and some clients simply may not like it.
Key takeaways on gel vs dip powder nails
There are some things to look for if you are getting your nails done. Always make sure that any tools your technician uses are being removed from sealed plastic to ensure they are completely sanitary.
Also, if you are going for a dip manicure, be sure that your technician is not using a communal pot. If you want to be 100% sure, you could always bring your own powders with you.
In the end, no matter what manicure you choose, you can be confident that it will be beautiful and will last for weeks, assuming that it was applied correctly.
If you’re looking for more information on other types of manicures, check out our article on Dip vs Acrylic Nails.