Choosing Between Gel Nails & Acrylic Nails: Comparing Costs, Durability, & More

If you're trying to decide between gel nails and acrylic nails, it's helpful to compare the pros, cons, and pricing.

Updated January 11, 2024
Manicured nails

It's totally natural to be overwhelmed by all the options when you hit the salon to get your nails done. If you're considering false nail application, you might be asked whether you want gel or acrylic nails applied. Which do you choose?

We're here to help you nail your decision with everything you need to know about gel vs. acrylics. 

Gel Nails vs. Acrylic Nails at a Glance 

Gel and acrylic nails have similar results. Both can lengthen short nails, strengthen nails, and make your fingers look longer and more slender. Both types of nails undergo a chemical process to bond to the natural nail. There are some pros and cons that might help you decide which nail application to choose, though.

Acrylic Nails vs Gel Nails

Acrylic Nails

Gel Nails

Look and Feel

Acrylics may look less natural than gel nails, especially if applied incorrectly. Some women get sore nail beds as the acrylic cures, too.

Gel nails may look more natural and glossy than other types of cosmetic nails. Gel is a thick, nail-polish type product, and while gel nails are strong, they're not thick.

General Cost 

Acrylic nail application usually costs less than gel nail application. Most salons range in price from about $35 - $65 for a full set of new acrylic nails. Monthly fill-ins will generally be half the cost of a new set, anywhere from $20 - $30.

Gel nails are generally priced a bit higher than acrylic nails. A set of gel nails or a gel manicure will range between $35 - $80. While this seems like the same cost as acrylics, keep in mind, you will pay this every time you have the gel reapplied.

Damage to Natural Nails

They can damage your nail bed, and this damage can potentially create a breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. If removed incorrectly, they can take layers of your natural nail away.

With soak-off gel, the nail beds can become overly dry due to the acetone. The remedy is using oils to moisturize the nails. With gel that has to be filed off, the damage can be the same as with acrylic in that you could lose layers of natural nail.


Acrylics are very strong and robust but are not flexible.

Gel nails have some flexibility. They are stronger than natural nails but not rigid like acrylics.

How Long They Last

When done correctly and with proper nail care, they can last a long time. Fill-ins of the acrylic should be done every 2 to 4 weeks.

They don't last as long and are less durable than acrylic, even though they tend to cost more. Soak-off gels will last between 10 - 14 days, while some women may be able to go a month with gels that have to be filed off.


The application process involves strong chemicals and fumes — pregnant women are advised not to use acrylic nails during pregnancy.

Gel nail mixtures lack the fumes associated with acrylic nails — they're considered a safer, more eco-friendly option.

Ease of Repairs

If you break an acrylic nail, you can almost always fix it yourself at home with glue. This will usually hold until your next nail appointment.

If a gel nail breaks, you may be in for some trouble. It can sometimes be more of a shatter effect than a clean break, so self-fixing a break is not an option. You must make an appointment with your manicurist.


The removal process is simple when performed by a professional. The nails can be soaked off in acetone. 

Gel nails often need to be filed off, although there are some soak-off versions.

Curing Process

Acrylic nails are air-cured. Most brands of acrylic cure within 15 minutes, but some take 24 hours to fully cure even though the nails and polish are dry.

Most gel nails require a UV light for curing, so they're harder to do at home.

Quick Tip

While both types of nails can be applied at home, the application might be best left to a professional. Acrylic nail fumes may overwhelm you at your house, and without a UV light, you won't be able to get gel nails to harden.

woman hands and lamp for nails on table

About Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails have been a staple in the beauty industry for years, and this staying power has contributed to their ongoing popularity. Donne Geer, co-founder of Hey, Nice Nails! explains the application process this way, "Acrylics are applied using a liquid monomer and a powder polymer to create a hard protective layer over your natural nails. Acrylics only harden when exposed to air." When the acrylic hardens, it provides a perfect canvas for applying nail color.

Gel nail extensions build up process

Gel Nail Basics

Jamie White, beauty and product expert at Spaciety notes that "Gel nail application provides the strength of acrylic nails with the appearance of natural nails." Unlike acrylic nails, gel nails only harden when exposed to UV light.

Geer explains that "Gel polishes are similar to nail polish — you have a base coat, color polish, and top coat. Each coat has to be cured in the UV light for two to three minutes."

Master of manicure makes nail extensions gel
Quick Tip

As far as finishing touches, you can paint, you can do French tips, or create other designs on either type of nail. Some people think that airbrushing looks better on gel nails because they have a more glossy finish.

Related: Chic Black Nail Ideas Perfect for Any Time of Year 

Factors to Consider When Deciding on Your Artificial Nails 

While durability and cost are likely high-ranking factors in your decision, you should also keep a few other things in mind. Acrylics are better for some folks, while gel nails are better for others due to their activity level and job.


If you have a job where your hands are in water often during the day, you may find that gel nails are a better option for you. Gel adheres like a polish, and water will not affect it like it will acrylic. If you have your hands in water more than just washing your hands every day, the water can cause the acrylic to lift away from your nails, leaving you prone to nail fungus.

The same applies if you are athletic. Sweat will not affect gel nails like it will acrylic. Sweat and body oil will cause the acrylic to lift away from the nail bed.

Budget, Time, and Maintenance

Your monetary budget plays a major role in making your choice, as does your budget for time spent per visit. While the cost seems to be the same for acrylic and gel nails, there is actually a big difference.

Beautiful womans hand with manicure
  • Acrylics: Here are a few time and budget factors with acrylics.
    • You pay for a full set of nails the first time you get them. This visit will be about an hour. (Some salons suggest replacing the nails completely every four months, but that's not usually necessary.)
      • A full set will range between $35 - $65 at a reputable salon. That would be month one.
    • Fill-ins are just that, filling in the new growth of the nail with acrylic and making any repairs. A visit for fill-ins will take about thirty minutes.
      • This will cost $20 - $30 for the following sessions, which can be once or twice a month, depending on how quickly your nails grow.
    • In a year, the average cost would be between about $250 - $800 for acrylic nails.
  • Gel Nails: Take a closer look at the time and money comparison for gel nails.
    • Gel nails are more costly money-wise. Gels only last between 10 - 14 days, though there are rare women who can get by with once a month.
    • Gel nails are the same price regardless of whether it's a new application or a return visit because it is essentially an upgrade to a regular manicure.
      • The average cost of a gel application is between $35 - $80 at a reputable salon every time it is done. The average time spent in the salon is about thirty minutes per visit.
    • If you become a regular gel client that cost could be between about $70 - $160 per month or $840 - $1,920 a year.

Related: Pink Nail Ideas With Perfect Barbie Vibes 

Making the Choice

Donne Geer says that hands-down, "Soak-off gels are the way to go. There's no damage to the nail and it doesn't require any filing." That said, there are many variables to consider when it comes to choosing artificial nails, so you may want to confer with a nail technician in your area to discuss options. 

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Choosing Between Gel Nails & Acrylic Nails: Comparing Costs, Durability, & More