Remember when sticky, slow-drying, short-lived nail polish was the only option for a manicure? Thank goodness gel and dip manicures arrived on the scene.
Both gel and dip nails dry instantly and last longer than regular nail polish, but they have their fair share of differences. Which is better for you?
While both gel and dip nails are long-lasting, dip nails tend to last a little longer than gel. Dip nails bend to resist damage, and they tend to produce the richest colors. Gel nails, on the other hand, don’t stain easily and come in a wide variety of colors and shades.
There’s much more to learn about gel vs. dip nails. Let’s review the differences and similarities between the two, as well as the pros and cons of gel and dip manicures.
What’s the difference between gel and dipped nails?
Gel nails consist of a long-lasting nail polish made up of photo-initiated polymers. That means that the molecules in the gel polish bond together when placed under a light. After each coat of gel polish (the base coat, color coats, and top coat) the nails are placed under a UV or LED lamp, which cures and hardens the nail polish. The result is a strong and glossy color that lasts for weeks.
Dip nails involve a colored polymer powder instead of a polish. After painting the nails with a bond polish, you will dip the nails into a colored powder. The process is repeated layer-by-layer until the desired coverage is achieved. The final step is applying an activator polish to seal and dry the dip nails. After a dip manicure, the nails look and feel similar to acrylic nails.
Both gel polish and dip powder provide beautiful results, so your choice will depend on your personal preferences. Here are some of the pros and cons of gel vs. dip nails to help you decide.
Gel nails: Pros
- Don’t stain: If your nails stain easily with regular polish,try a gel manicure on for size. Because of the thick viscosity of the gel, they do not stain easily.
- Protective: If your nails seem to split or break frequently, gel polish can provide your nails with some armor.
- Wide variety: There’s a huge variety of colors, shades, and types of gel polish on the market.
Gel nails: Cons
- Fades fast from oily nails: While a gel manicure lasts 2-3 weeks for most people, it may not last even two weeks on those with oily nail beds.
- Too much sun: The UV lamps are similar to mini tanning beds. As with any kind of sun exposure, the lamps may increase your chances of developing sunspots or skin cancer. Try applying sunscreen on your hands or wearing fingerless gloves to your gel nail appointment.
Dip nails: Pros
- Long-lasting: Dip nails can last up to 5 weeks.
- Bendable: Dip nails can bend to resist damage like a real nail does.
- Richest color: Dip nails tend to produce the deepest and boldest colors.
- Odorless: If you tend to get a headache from polish fumes, good news: powders used in dip manicures are completely odor-free.
Dip nails: Cons
- Hard to remove: Dip nails are multi-layered and therefore long-lasting, but they can also be challenging to remove.
- May be contaminated: There’s a lot of dirt and bacteria lurking under everyone’s nails. Dip powder can become dirty quickly if not handled properly. If you have small cuts on your fingers (especially if your nail artist cuts your cuticles beforehand) the dirt can enter the wounds and cause an infection. The powder should be in a separate container for nail-dipping, and leftover powder in that container must be disposed of, not shared with other people in the salon. Never go to a salon that uses a communal powder pot. Alternatively, bring your own pots from home.
- Wasteful: Because of this protocol, a lot of the powder tends to get thrown away, which solves one problem but introduces another.
- Permeable: Resins in a dip powder are susceptible to water and household cleaners, so if you use household products daily or wash your hands very frequently, you might stick with gel.
Similarities between Gel Nails and Dip Nails
- Removal process: Both gel and dip nails must be soaked in acetone for removal. The entire process can take 30 minutes or longer. First, you’ll remove the top layer of polish with a coarse nail file, then soak the nails in an acetone solution for 10-30 minutes, or until the color dissolves completely.
- Cost: Of course, the cost of a dip vs. gel manicure will vary significantly by city and salon, but the average costs are similar. A dip manicure usually costs only $5-$10 more than a gel manicure. Keep in mind that dip nails last longer, and you will need to visit the salon less often for touchups, so they may be less expensive in the long run.
- Time: Both types of manicures take about the same length of time in the salon – around 45 minutes total.
- Insta-dry: Unlike regular nail polish, both gel and dip nails are instantly dry after completion.
Differences: Gel Nails vs. Dip Nails
|Gel nails||Dip nails|
|Unlikely to stain the nails||Potential to stain the nails|
|Mildly difficult to remove (can soak with acetone-soaked cotton balls)||More difficult to remove (the fingers must be placed directly in a bowl of acetone for at least 10-20 minutes)|
|Painted on like regular nail polish, then cured with a UV or LED light||Involves dipping each finger into a colored powder and then applying an activator polish|
|Lasts 2-3 weeks||Lasts up to 5 weeks|
|Glossier look||Matte look|
Which is less damaging?
None of us want dry brittle nails at the end of the day. So, which is healthier for your nails, gel manicures, or dip manicures?
Actually, neither gel nor dip instantly damages the nail. The big problem is the removal process. It’s a long process, and it is difficult to remain patient. Many people end up pulling the nail polish off when it takes too long to dissolve, which damages the natural nail.
To preserve your natural nail, do the following:
- Apply high-quality cuticle oil every day to keep the nail from drying out.
- Use professional nail products (dip powders and gel) instead of low-quality alternatives
- Patiently dissolve them using acetone
- Follow up the removal process by hydrating the cuticles and applying healing lotion to the skin, as acetone is very drying
If you’re less likely to try and pry off dip nails, they’re the healthier option for you. If you pick off dip nails because they take longer to dissolve than gel nails, choose gel nails instead.
Which lasts longer?
A good gel manicure can last 2-3 weeks, as long as you don’t peel it off. However, if your nail beds are particularly oily, you may find that your nails don’t last a full 2 weeks.
Dip powders tend to last longer than a gel manicure because they’re bonded with a glue called cyanoacrylate (which is the active ingredient in Krazy Glue). These polymers are stronger than those found in gel nail polish, meaning dip powders can last 3-5 weeks with proper care.
Which is easier to do at home?
Which is easier to do at home, gel polish or dip powder? Here are a few things you should know:
- Both gel and dip manicures are applied layer by layer, and it can be difficult to achieve the right thickness and color with either if you’re inexperienced.
- Dip powder takes a little more practice to figure out how to get a smooth finish.
- With some practice, both gel and dip manicures are totally doable at home.
You shouldn’t have to go to the nail salon to get a glamorous manicure! Keep in mind that gel polish might be easier to remove than dip powder, so if you’re going the DIY route, you may be safer using gel, especially if you’re tempted to peel your manicure off during the removal process.
For gel nails, you’ll need the following supplies:
- UV or LED lamp
- Glass/crystal nail file
- Nail buffer
- Cuticle oil
- Orange wood sticks
- Rubbing alcohol
- Base coat
- Gel polish colors
- Top coat
- Pure acetone to remove
For DIY dip nails, you’ll need:
- Dip powder color
- Base coat
- Activator polish
- Top coat
- Manicure buffer
- Emery board nail file
- Pure acetone to remove
What’s the Secret to Looking Put-Together?
A good manicure is just the secret to looking put-together!
With all of this information, hopefully, you can determine whether a gel or dip manicure is better for you. Both gel and powder manicures look pristine for weeks on end, making them far superior to a typical manicure. While both gel and powder have their pros and cons, the best thing to do is try them both out and decide which works the best for your lifestyle… and as long as you’re not peeling your colors off, and you’re keeping your nails moisturized, your nails should stay beautiful and healthy for years to come!