Gel vs dip powder nails is a hotly debated topic in the nail community. Everyone seems to have their own personal favorites.
I’m here to explain the nuance between gel vs dip powder nails. Both gel and dip manicure types take roughly the same amount of time and produce similar results.
Gel nails are brushed on like a polish, while dip powders are applied by dipping your nail into a powder and sealing it with an activator. Both manicures create stunning, strong, and long-lasting nails.
The main difference between them is how they are applied and removed. There are some small differences in longevity, price, and ease of removal.
We asked several nail experts to give us their opinion on which is better so we can get to the bottom of the difference between gel vs dip powder nails. Hopefully, this will help you find the best option for you.
Whichever option you pick, you can be sure that both will create gorgeous nails.
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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 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 the same.
A gel manicure is hard yet flexible enough to stand up to daily wear and tear and can last up to three weeks.
Soft gel vs gel nails
Soft gel nails refer to soft gel nail extensions which are made out of the same material as gel nail polish but are built up on the nail to add length.
Hard gel vs gel nails
Hard gel nails are used to add length to nails similar to acrylics and strengthen weak nails. Hard nails are a nail enhancement and not a treu soak-off product. You can however finish your hard gel extensions with a gel or shellac manicure. For the difference, check out our post on Shellac vs Gel nails.
We asked Amber @amberthenailwhisperer a nail expert, to share her opinion on the difference between hard gel vs dip nails. Here’s what nail expert Amber @amberthenailwhisperer says:
“It all comes down to preference as long as you are prepping the nail gently and you are not over-exposing your fingers or your client’s fingers to the chemicals. Both are safe when used correctly. I prefer dip powder because it’s so soft, easy, (there’s) less exposure risk, and ease of filing. For me hard gel has too much filing, does not soak off, and most people think the nail needs to be etched.”
What is dip powder?
Dip powder is a system using acrylic powders to build up a manicure with layers and finished with a 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 a dip powder 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. Dip powder can be used on natural nails, but also on extensions like acrylic and Gel-X 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. UV light, 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 or regularly submerge your nails in water, 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 used dip nails the same compound used in Super Glue! It’s called cyanoacrylate and is extremely strong. 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.
Damage to your natural nails from a gel manicure primarily occurs “if clients peel them it can damage the natural nail.” says professional nail technician Michael Phan.
Of the two, gel polish is by far 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.
PRO TIP: Improperly removing dip nails can damage your nail plate. I have personally experienced a nail tech using an e-file to remove my dip nails and damage the underlying nail plate. It took four months for my nail to grow out! The entire time I experienced sensitivity and weakness at the spot in my nail where the tech had filed down too far through my natural nail. Not an experience I recommend repeating.
Here’s a photo of the dent left in my thumb from improper removal:
The learn more, read our article on how to remove dip nails.
Price and duration of manicure
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 nail art done or adding 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 more sanitary.
The issue with dip powder is that the pot you are dipping your finger into can become contaminated. The sanitary way to perform this manicure is to use a small pot for each client and to throw any remaining powder away.
Since this leads to wasted materials, some salons will attempt to skip this step by using a communal pot instead. Any bacteria that may be lingering in a communal pot can lead to an infection with a dip manicure.
As 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.
The main reasons for nail damage with either gel or powder manicures is rarely because of the system but a result of:
- Strong chemicals used to prime your nails.
- Over-filing, as with an E-file during nail prep.
- Damaging the nail plate during removal by over-filing, or scraping with a metal cuticle tool to remove the gel or dip.
- Picking at the gel polish and ripping it off instead of using acetone to soak it off.
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. Picking at your gel polish to remove it may cause some damage to the nail bed.
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 quality cuticle oil like OPI Pro Spa cuticle oil.
With both, yes!
Can you still do nail art?
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, but I am especially fond of using dip powder for short nail designs since it’s so long-lasting.
PRO TIP: If you’re a perfectionist and want a 100% solid coat of color on your nails you should get a gel manicure. This is because if you look closely at a dip nail you can see the texture from the dip powder, almost like tiny grains in the finished manicure. While this doesn’t both most people, it drives me crazy.
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?
Yes to both manicures.
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 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 nail 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. My favorites are listed in my article on Best Gel Nail Polish.
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?
When asked which was better, nail artist Rachel Yang says it “depends on what the client is looking for, If her natural nails are healthy then gel polish is all she needs. If her natural nails have been damaged, for example from acrylics, and her nails need more structural support then SNS dip order would be the better choice as there are vitamins in the powder which help to strengthen the natural nails.”
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.
PRO TIP: One other detail to note is that dip manicures are thicker than gel nails, and some clients simply may not like them.
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.
Felicia is a Singapore-based freelance writer specializing in beauty, health & wellness, and lifestyle. When she isn’t crafting exceptional beauty content, you can usually find her reading up on the latest skincare trends, indulging in good books and baked goods, and going on long walks.