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Acrylic vs Gel. The great debate.

Sharyn Reeve

This is a bit of a long one, so sit down with a coffee, and enjoy the read. 

I see a lot of people, frequently asking questions like "what is the difference between gel and acrylic" and of course those questions are always followed by the inevitable opinion that one is better, or worse than the other. 

So many technicians are inexplicably convinced that acrylic is worse for your nails, or more damaging. When it's absolutely not. 
There is just so much misinformation out there, and so many people with opinions - using biased brand supplied information or even with no fact base at all that it's actually terrifying.  
These people are often technicians. 
They are educators. 
They are salespeople. 
It is scary! 

Acrylic does not cause natural nails to break, nor does it cause damage to them, unless the nail technician is doing her job poorly - or the client has put them under extreme stress or strain. In which case, any enhancement would have caused similar damage - and anyone who says differently is simply not educated enough in how quality EMA acrylic works. 

Yes, there are a lot of people out there, who still believe that MMA (which is a very bad product) is the only acrylic out there. 
And they treat all acrylic products as being the same. Which is so far from the truth it's not even funny anymore. And I'm at the point where I'm so sick of people tarring EMA acrylic with the same brush as MMA. 
Yes MMA will cause damage to your nails. Fact. 
No EMA won't cause damage to your nails. Fact. 
Get your facts straight please if you are one of those people who cannot seem to comprehend the difference. 

Every technician, no matter what you offer, should know the basics of what is availalble, why you would offer one or the other, and in my opinion a good technician will be capable and competent in both. 

So lets start with a quick look at what the commonly known options are for nail extensions. 
Basically, you have two options. 
1.) Acrylic
2.) Hard Gel (soak-off or non-soak-off)

There is of course soft gel or gel polish, but this isn't strong enough for an extension, so we aren't even going to entertain that one for the purpose of this argument. 

Now, when we break down acrylic and gel, it's surprising to me how many people don't actually realise, that they are the same thing. 
Both are polymers. 
And both turn into the same thing. A hard coating that can lengthen and strengthen the nails.
The only difference, is HOW they get there. 
To make acrylic nails, you have to manually mix monomer and polymer, figure it out, then the monomer evaporates in the air leaving behind acrylic nails. 
To make gel nails, you get to plop your premixed gel down, figure it out, poke it into the lamp, the UV rays hit it and make it set. Leaving you with gel nails.

The real key differences to these two products are hardness and the ability to withstand stress and strain.

Here's a diagram. I think this should help you understand. 

.

The red line, which is labeled 'strongest but inflexible' is your Acrylic. 
The blue line, labeled 'med-strong with some flexibility' is your Hard Gel.
The brown line, labeled 'not strong but very flexible' is your Gel Polish, or Soft Gel. 

Now I chose this, graphic quite deliberately.

Because acrylic is hard. It is designed to be rigid and solid. It is the strongest product you can use for extensions. 
However, modern day EMA acrylic is also designed, to release from the nail upon pressure or impact for the safety of the nail underneath. 
So while it doesn't flex, it will peel away from flexible nails and if you catch or bang an acrylic nail, you will see the acrylic lift away to protect the natural nail from damage or breakage. 
Acrylic nails are suited to people with naturally brittle nails, with low oil levels and low flexibility. 
Acrylic doesn't suit people with bendy, flexible nails. As it will just lift and won't stay put. As it is quite porous on it's own, oily nails are also a challenge for acrylic as the oils absorb into them and that can cause lifting.
Acrylic suits dryer skin and nails. 
It also can work very effectively for people who only want extensions and don't want to grow their natural nails, but will remove and start again when their own nails begin to grow out.

Now Hard Gel on the other hand, is not as rigid as acrylic. 
It cures solidly yes, but it remains slightly flexible. 
Now, there's a bit of a catch, the more gel you apply, the more rigid it becomes. 
So a thin gel overlay, will be much more flexible than a long gel extension with a much thicker apex. 
The thicker the gel - the harder the gel. 
But even a thick gel application will still retain more flex than a thin acrylic application - without the brittle factor. 

So when a lot of people talk about having switched clients over from acrylic and suddenly they get no lifting, what they actually mean (probably without understanding why) is that their client wasn't an ideal candidate for acrylic, but suits gel better! 
And here's why. 
Because it's flexible, it will move and bend with flexing natural nails. So that client with the thin, bendy, weak nails.... or that client with the really oily and soft natural nails is the perfect candidate for Hard Gel! 

People often move to Hard Gel because of issues with Acrylic adhesion, but they often don't understand why it works better. And they don't always realise that like anything, what works for one client, may not work for another. 
So if they have a majority of clients with flexible, soft, oily nails then yes, most of their clients will love gel! 
But for the tech who has clients that are a mix of them, then the only way to make sure you are doing your clients the service they deserve, is to be competent and capable in both! 
Otherwise, you will find you will have some clients with no lifting, and some with lots. Because you aren't prescribing the correct enhancement for those clients. 

I know people think you only need to know how to do one or the other, but I promise you that if you learn both, and understand why both are needed and when to choose one over the other, your lifting clients will evaporate and your workload will be lighter! 
So stop trying to fit all your clients into one type of product. 
And give them the product that meets their needs!

You won't regret the decision to do better for your clients. 


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    Jocelyn Torpy

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