Gel Nail Polish vs Regular Nail Polish

Once made of beeswax, egg whites, and various pigments and dyes, nail polishes have long figured in beauty routines. As the variety of colors and even nail styles have grown, with new innovations seemingly emerging every few months, so have the types of polish used.

In terms of popularity, it comes down to gel nail polish vs regular nail polish. If you’ve tried both variations before, you may have noticed some distinct differences between the two. So let’s find out what exactly makes these two different and possibly, which one is better for you.

What is Gel Nail Polish?

With a candy-ish look and a jelly-like consistency, Gel nail polish combines acrylic monomer and oligomers that bond together when placed under ultraviolet (UV) light to cure and harden. And since Gel polishes are self-leveling, the curing process allows for fixing mistakes relatively easily before going under the lamp.

Depending on the brand of Gel, curing requires using an LED lamp for a 2 to 3-minute process or a UV lamp for up to 45 seconds. While this process might seem super quick, additional coats may be added to have a deeper pigmented effect. After setting, the polish will become solid, but a sticky layer will remain to bond with the additional layers.

Additionally, gel nails are usually finished with a clear gel topcoat, which can have a sleek or matte finish. These topcoats must also be subjected to an LED or UV light and the nails are wiped down afterward to cleanse them of any remaining residue.

What is Regular Nail Polish?

Regular nail polish can be described as a polymer dissolved in a solvent which contains color pigments that produce beautiful colored nails after application on nails.  Regular nail polish is the more traditional and widely used, as it’s easy to apply and remove and doesn’t require the use of extra equipment. This type of polish contains a polymer dissolved in a solvent, which when applied evaporates, causing the polymer to form a film on the nail. Adhesive polymer resins in the formulation help the polymer film stick to the nail. The film modifiers are what give nail polish its matte look or glossy sheen.

Differences Between Gel Nail Polish vs Regular Nail Polish

Both gel and regular nail polish share similarities, but have distinct differences. Gel polish has an alternative formula consisting of compounds like benzoyl peroxide. Gel polish unlike regular nail polish must be applied in layers and exposed to UV light, which triggers the immersion process that solidifies the polish.

Gel polish contains light-sensitive compounds that undergo structural change after sunlight exposure, causing a color change. However, UV light fades color. Consequently, there are additional additives in gel polish to counteract fading. As a result, gel colors tend to be extremely and inorganically vibrant.

Different chemical compositions of regular and gel nail polish do impact the time needed for the manicure, as well as the convenience and aesthetic. Regular polish is much thinner, making it easier to apply and do at home.

Yet, since regular polish’s chemical composition allows for more organic pigments, the color will remain vibrant. However, the thinness and solvent that enables air drying, causes regular polish to chip very easily. This can be repaired of course, with touch-ups, but can result in bulky nails.

Gel polishes, on the other hand, last longer with less mess, and no risk of chipping, despite the fact that they can only be cured under a lamp. The lamp dries nails immediately, whereas air-drying polish takes longer, leaving the door open for smudges and gouges.

Pros and Cons of Gel Nail Polish

Pros of Gel Nail Polish

  1. Gel manicures last longer than traditional polish, with a lifespan upwards of 2 weeks, provided proper care is taken.
  2. The UV lamps dry nails within a matter of minutes.
  3. Gel polish is easily corrected before being cured and is also self-leveling. Additionally, the lamp cures polish almost immediately, practically eliminating the possibility of smudges.

Cons of Gel Nail Polish

  1. What you trade for a faster application, you get back in removing it. The nails must soak and are then filed to get rid of excess polish.
  2. Gel manicures are 2 to 3 times more expensive than a traditional manicure, which is usually offered for as low as $20.
  3. The process of gel manicures can make your nails brittle over time.
  4. Overexposure to UV light is detrimental and the lights used for gel polish may cause damage to both your hands and nails.

Pros and Cons of Regular Nail Polish

Pros of Regular Nail Polish

  1. Regular polish allows for more freedom. Changing colors and experimenting with a variety of nail art is easy.
  2. Regular manicures are one of the most affordable treatments.
  3. They’re a relatively low risk in comparison to gel polish.

Cons of Regular Nail Polish

  1. Regular polish takes up to an hour or more to dry.
  2. Traditional manicures are infamously known for easily chipping. Therefore, it isn’t the most durable.
  3. Since the regular polish is much lighter in color, several coats of paint may be needed to achieve opaque coverage.

Problems With Gel Nails

Despite the great results of using gel polish,   it is stressful on nails. Extensive gel manicures can cause brittleness, peeling, and cracking and actually increase the risk of skin cancer and premature aging in the skin.

In a study from the Miami School of Medicine, results concluded that gel manicures cause nail thinning. However, the exact reason for the thinning was unclear. Possible reasons could include the acetone soak for removing polish or the polish’s chemical composition. Dermatologists also speculate it could result from improper removal of the polish.

However, one thing that’s clear is that certain gel polishes are more harmful than others. This refers to hard gels and soft gels. Hard gels originated in the 1980s, which are impermeable to acetone and must be filed off. Soft gels are a more recent version, which “soak-off” and don’t involve aggressive scraping, but even soft gels still involve an acetone soak that lasts over 10 minutes.

However, there are tips dermatologists recommend to keep your gel nails healthy and cared for.

How to Protect Yourself and Maintain Gel Nails

Many dermatologists recommend that the first way to keep nails healthy in between manicures is by communicating with your manicurist.

1. Begin by Talking to Your Manicurist: Ask if tools have been sterilized and look around the salon to ensure professionals are disinfecting tools between clients. Additionally, a manicurist shouldn’t push or cut your cuticle, as it could cause infection and inflammation.

2. Find Alternatives to Gel Nails if You’re Allergic to Acetone: If you notice consistent allergic reactions to acetone, which is required for gel polish removal, consider avoiding gel polish and choosing the traditional route instead. You can also wear water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher on your hands prior to getting a gel manicure.

3. Protect Your Skin from UV Radiation: Wearing sunscreen will help protect your skin from UV radiation from the lamps, as well as skin cancer and premature aging. Wearing dark, opaque gloves with the fingertips cut off before the nail polish is applied is an alternative option.

4. Don’t Rip Broken Gel Nails: When the polish begins to peel, you shouldn’t pick or use tools for removal. Rather, a proper appointment should be made. Ripping away layers of gel can damage the natural nail.

5. Take a Break In-Between Gel Nail Applications: In between manicures, dermatologists say the best option might be to take a break from polish altogether for one or two weeks, allowing your nails to breathe and repair. Additionally, applying moisturizer, like petroleum jelly, to the nails and cuticles several times per day minimizes brittleness and prevents chipping. source

6. Trim Your Nails Before Fixing Gel Nails: Now caring for your nails and skin in between manicures is one thing, but prolonging and maintaining the life of a pricey manicure is another. Among other tips, trimming your nails before going to an appointment gives them room to grow underneath the polish. There’s also a lower risk of breakage.

7. Get Gel Nail Fillings at Nail Salon: Lighter polish colors show minimal chipping and cracks. You can also get your nails filled once growth is noticeable. It’s recommended to get filling done in a salon, since the better executed the filling is, the longer it will last.

8. Keep your Nails Clean: Dermatologists cannot say it enough, keeping your nails clean and conditioned is necessary for maintaining a gel manicure. Grit, dirt, and debris can get trapped under the cured polish which isn’t simply unattractive, but also unhealthy. 

9. Apply Regular Touch-ups: Adding a top coat can significantly extend the coverage and color of the gel polish. Some reapply it every two days, and others prefer once or twice per week. The frequency of application varies depending on your lifestyle, though. If you frequently work with your hands, applying a top coat more often will help.

How to Make Nail Polish Last Long

In terms of maintaining regular nail polish, it can seem rather tedious, but overall, staying consistent with some basic upkeep practices can keep your traditional manicure looking nice and beautiful.

1. Use Strengthener to Prevent Nail Breakage: Using a strengthener polish between manicures can help repair nails and prevent peeling and breakage. Additionally, it is important to wipe them with some polish remover even if they’re already bare, which removes excess oils from the nails. A nourishing non-acetone remover is a great alternative for dry nails.

2. Mix Polish Before Application: Applying a tacky base coat helps the polish hold. Additionally, while it’s a common tendency to shake the bottle before application, it actually infuses the polish with air pockets, which causes chipping later on. Instead, mix the polish by rolling it upright, between your hands.

3. Apply Polish Nicely: Polish should avoid touching the cuticles as it is more likely to peel away, taking polish on the nails with it. Typically, when painting, the brush is pulled around the edges of the nail to coat them, adding a protective layer to the tips.

4. Apply Thin Polish Coats: Make sure to apply thin coats. Thicker coats dry more slowly and are less strong, as well as clumpy. Therefore, thin layers result in a smooth and stronger finish. Additionally, ensure each layer is dry before reapplying, waiting at least 2 minutes. Otherwise, the polish will peel and the end result will be prone to nicks and feel mushy.

5. Protect Your Nail Polish from Harsh Conditions: Housework such as washing dishes can be strenuous, so wearing protective gloves can prevent excess wear on your manicure. When exposed, soap and water should be used for cleansing rather than a drying hand sanitizer.  It’s also recommended to use nail oil and hand lotion to prevent dried-out polish from peeling. source

6. Sometimes ‘Chips Happen’: Small chips are inevitable, no matter how many precautions you take. So, gently filing down the tip of the nail can counteract it. However, if the chip cannot be buffed out, covering it with extra polish is always an option, as well as a small piece of nail art.

How to Remove Gel Nails

Removing gel nails can be a tricky process, but as long as you or professionals use the proper techniques, the process will be smooth.

1. File it: First, use a fresh nail file and carefully file away the topcoat.

2. Soak the Nails: The next step involves soaking. Alternatively, you can place an acetone soaked cotton ball on each nail and wrap the fingertips with foil. Let the acetone saturate the nail for 10 to 15 minutes, or longer if the polish hasn’t fully come off. Wrapping your hands in a warm towel expedites this process.

3. Gently Remove it: If the polish is still on the nail, grab another soaked cotton ball and press onto the nail for several more minutes. Afterward, rehydrate with an oil and cuticle cream and you’re done!


In conclusion, both gel and traditional polish are a great option for different types of aesthetics and lifestyles. There are pros and cons to both polishes, but your choice ultimately depends on a need for convenience or freedom. So make sure you do your research, find out what exactly you want, and choose what’s best for you.

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