Acrylic Vs. Hard Gel

“What is the difference between acrylic and hard gel?”

A common question I get asked at almost every appointment.

Let me explain both:


When monomer liquid (liquid) and polymer powder (powder) are combined this what we call Acrylics. This can be applied three ways:

  • On the natural nail as a protective overlay
  • Over a nail tip
  • On a form to create a nail extension

There are three different liquids that are used in the nail industry; however, one of the three is considered illegal according to the state board rules in some states.

  • Industry Standard – Ethyl Methacrylate Monomer Liquid
  • Odorless Monomer Liquid
  • Methyl Methacrylate (MMA)*


(Liquid and Powder “Acrylics”)


*MMA is not to be used on nails or skin.

  • Methyl methacrylate is used almost exclusively in the production of methyl methacrylate polymers or copolymers. The polymers or copolymers are used in the manufacturing of acrylic sheets and molds, clear plastics, extrusion powders, acrylic surface and paper coatings, latex paints, printing inks, floor polishes, dental restorations, adhesive cements and surgical implants.
  • Here are a few tips to figure out if your salon is using Methyl Methacrylate:
    • The prices are significantly discounted
    • There is an odor (strong and fruity smelling)
    • The product does not adhere to the nail plate very well, so a drill will be used to file the nail excessively
    • The salon is secretive about the products they are using; their products are in clear or brown containers with no labels

Hard Gels

Hard Gel is an enhancement that is harder when exposed to an Ultraviolet (UV) light. Hard gels are packaged in a pod or bottle. There will be no powder or liquid affiliated with gels.


Hard gel is durable and flexible. It is applied with a flat or round brush (chosen by nail tech) and can be applied over the natural nail, over a tip, or on a form to create an extension just like acrylics.

After the initial overlay on the nail, this product is back-filled just as it would be done with acrylic.

Neither of the above products are bad. Everything is dependant upon your nail tech. If your nail tech uses a drill, you may request that it not be used on your natural nail bed. A 180/100 grit file would be sufficient to remove the shine from your nail plate when applying enhancements (acrylic or gel).

Myths and Facts

  • Myth: “I need my nails to breathe”
    • Fact: Nails don’t breathe. Your nail plate is made of approximately 100 layers of dead keratin cells. The oxygen and nutrients that your nails require is provided by your blood. The nutrients and oxygen are carried through the tiny blood vessels in your hands and fingers to the nail matrix, under the cuticle, where keratin (a protein) is produced to ur natural nail is completely replaced every 3-6 months. Therefore, it is not necessary to allow your nail to rest or breathe by uncovering them (unless it’s medically necessary). 
  • Myth: “The weight of artificial nail enhancements make the nail thinner”
    • Fact: The length of the nail matrix (moon) determines the nail plate thickness. The nail bed doesn’t make keratin cells (dead protein cells that make up the nail plate) so it can’t affect the plate’s thickness. There is no way for the matrix (moon) to feel any extra weight on the nail bed.
  • Myth: “Acrylics are damaging to my nails”
    • FactNail enhancements are applied only to the surface of your natural nail. Products do not penetrate the natural nail, skin or affect the nail matrix (lunula or moon) where the natural nail is created. You are continually growing a new nail so your natural nail is completely replaced every 3-6 months. Therefore, it is not necessary to allow your nail to rest or breathe by uncovering them (unless it’s medically necessary). It is safe to wear nail enhancements for as many months or years as you wish to.
      • Natural nails are only damaged by the techniques that are being used by your nail technician.

Please, let me know if this article was helpful and/or insightful!!! Also, leave comments 🙂

2 thoughts on “Acrylic Vs. Hard Gel

  1. Thanks for adding the extra tips/myths. I always thought my nails were “breathing” when taking a break from gel, not realizing it was the technique being used which was really thinning the nail bed. Great information!

    Liked by 1 person

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