Overlay nails are one of many options available to you when it comes to aesthetics and nail health. While they aren’t as popular as traditional manicures, overlays have plenty of benefits to offer.
Overlay nails are a thin protective coating on top of your natural nail. They differ from nail polish because they offer a stronger layer on top, but they do not use an extension to add to nail length.
Learning what overlay nails are, the different types available, and what to expect from them can help you decide whether this type of manicure will work for you. Keep reading as we explore everything you need to know about overlay nails.
Overlay nails refer to a coating of dip powder, acrylic, gel, or polygel over the top of your natural nail. These are thicker, stronger materials than normal nail polish, and they lend your nail some strength.
These types of nail do not use an extension, so you’re only covering your natural nail. While they use the same materials, this minute difference is why some people prefer overlay nails over a traditional manicure.
Overlay nails are a way to reinforce and protect your natural nail without requiring you to take on an extension, thus changing the length and/or shape of the nail.
These types of nails are lighter and have a more natural feel because they use less product. Because there is no extension and less product used overall, overlay nails are less bulky and weighted.
They tend to last longer. The shorter length and utilization of your natural nail means the nails come into contact with less stress, and you don’t need to worry as much about breaking them. While their longevity depends on the type of overlay you get, they still last at least a week longer than other types of manicures.
You’re also likely to spend less on overlay nails. You don’t need to pay for the extensions are additional polish used on a traditional manicure, and overlays take less time to apply.
Anyone can benefit from overlay nails, but there are a few groups that are likely to prefer these to other manicure methods.
If you have weak and brittle nails, overlay nails can help you reinforce your natural nails and protect them as they grow. While extensions can damage your nail, this method can facilitate growth when done properly.
Overlay nails are also a great way to get a strong manicure if you work in a professional where long nails are not suitable, such as:
- Veterinary work
- Child care
- Food prep
- Machine work
While some people can wear long nails and get the job done, others aren’t as lucky. Overlay nails give you a durable manicure without needing to relearn how to use your hands.
Overlay nails are commonly mixed up with gel and acrylic as general terms, but it’s important to note that overlay nails use many types of materials.
The main difference between overlay nails and other manicures is that overlay nails cover your natural nail, while extensions are colloquially referred to by their material.
All these materials can be used for extensions and overlays, but there are still differences to consider.
Dip powder nails are a new technology, but several salons are working hard to offer a decent variety. Still, most do not offer a large selection of colors, and not every nail technician has a lot of experience working with dip powder.
Dip powder overlays are easy to do with an at home kit.
Despite the lack of options, dip powder nails might be preferred for their ease of application and removal. They can last about 3 weeks without peeling, and they provide a more natural feel than other materials.
Dip powder does not use acid-based primers or UV curing methods, so it is not as harsh on the skin or nails. This is a good option if you’re wanting to protect and grow your nails and care little about eccentric colors.
Acrylic is the most popular material used for manicures, including overlay nails. You use the same acrylic powder and liquid for an overlay set as you would a conventional manicure.
These nails are incredibly durable, and they can last twice as long as other materials. Because they sit heavy on your nail, you’ll likely need to fill them every couple of weeks.
Acrylic overlays are a more affordable option, and you can easily find a variety of colors. You won’t run into the issue of a nail technician that is unfamiliar with the material, but they are still harsh to apply and remove.
Acrylic overlays use the same harsh materials, and it takes a lot of filing and soaking to get them off. If you aren’t familiar with acrylic nails, they can be pretty bulky and take some time to get used to.
Gel overlay nails cover a good middle ground between comfort, ease of application, and accessibility.
Gel overlays are stronger than gel polishes alone, and they’re almost as easy to find as acrylic options. They are less harsh than acrylic overlays, but sit lighter on your natural nails.
If you want a natural look, gel overlays work well. They can be a bit more expensive, and you need a UV lamp to cure them, but their versatility works well for many.
Be on the lookout for polygel overlay options. While there are a few at-home kits available, these are mostly available for nail technicians.
This hybrid formula streamlines the process to overlay your nails. Because there is no need to ratio and mix ingredients, you can get a safe, stable coating on your nails every time.
Polygel overlays offer the benefits of acrylic and gel nails with fewer disadvantages. While dip nails still offer the most benefits, polygel is a great option if you are not comfortable with that process.
While overlays are not as harsh on your nails as extensions, they can ruin your nails with misuse. You’re still susceptible to harmful processes, such as:
- Buffing preparation
- UV curing
- Chemicals on your nails
Overlays are still a better alternative to bare nails if you need something to protect them, but you should take care to limit the effects. Be mindful of the materials you use and make sure you rule out medical issues that might weaken your nail.
When the time comes, make sure you remove your overlay with caution and patience. This can prevent the kind of damage that ruins your natural nail.
Because gel overlays are arguably the most popular choice, they serve as the baseline for longevity. Expect a professional set to last about 2 to 4 weeks.
Gel is not as hard as acrylic, so it will not last the same 6 to 7 weeks. Because gel has a more natural appearance, you don’t need to worry about heading in for a fill as your nails grow.
Gel overlays last longer than dip nails by at least one week. Gel is marginally stronger, so you are less likely to run into issues like chipping or cracking.
Gel overlays cost about $35 for one color, and the price goes up from here. This is more than acrylic overlays that average $25 and up, but less than dip powder overlays that average $40 and up.
You can get a kit to do your nails at home for about the same price as a single appointment. If you’re comfortable doing the overlay yourself, you can get several color options and applications for the same investment.
Gel overlays are not the hardest to remove, but they still require more effort than plain polish or soak off nails. Removing them without patience or the proper procedure can damage your nails and negate the benefits of overlay nails.
To remove gel overlays:
- Rough up the surface
- Soak in 100 percent acetone for about 5 minutes
- Push the polish off your nails with a metal cuticle pusher
- Repeat soaking and pushing until the overlay clears off
- Buff of any leftover pieces.
It usually pays to have this done at a salon. Investing $10 to $15 can save you the difficulty of removal and protect the health of your nails.