A Complete Guide to Gel Overlay and Gel Polish

Gel overlays have gained in popularity, but it has tough competition from other types of nail services. So, is there a winner when it comes down to gel overlay vs. gel polish?

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Deciding between gel overlay and gel polish is a personal preference. Gel polish is merely a regular polish with the addition of a gel base coat, and the tech cures your nails under UV light. Gel overlays are a coating on your natural nail that offer protection and can help prevent chipping or cracking. 

This article will discuss the differences between gel overlay and gel polish, so you can easily pick which is best for you. Let’s get started! 

What Is A Gel Overlay?

Gel overlay is a hard gel applied directly onto your entire natural nail to provide strength.

Gel overlays don’t involve extensions or tips and are just a product applied to your natural nail. Overlays are great for people who are trying to grow their nails out. 

In addition, they dry fast and have a relatively straightforward application process.

There are two types of gel overlay:

  • Soft gel – Creates a more flexible nail and is ideal for those who want a more natural-looking appearance. 
  • Hard Gel – Provides a longer-lasting and tough artificial nail. 

While there are two types of gel overlays available, you’ll mostly like the hard gel at your local salon. Gel polish consists of a soft gel, and you can remove it using warm water and acetone. 

Benefits Of Gel Overlay

There are several benefits of gel overlay that you won’t get from other types of manicures.

Understanding the benefits can help you decide if gel overlays suit you:

Help Prevent Splitting And Chipping 

Gel overlays offer a protective coating to your natural nails, which can help prevent them from splitting or chipping. In addition, your nails are less likely to crack or break when they are applied. 

Aids In Strengthening Brittle Nails 

If your nails are brittle or you’re a nail biter, then gel overlays can help strengthen your damaged nails.

They have a slight thickness, helping to protect any brittle nails. 

Offers Natural Appearance 

One of the most significant benefits of gel overlays is their natural appearance. Unfortunately, most acrylics or press-on nails don’t look natural and aren’t an ideal look for everyone.

Instead, gel overlays mold with your natural nail to give a fresh, clean look. 

You Don’t Need Long Nails 

Gel overlays can be applied to all nails, no matter the length. While overlays don’t have extensions, the gel can give the appearance of long, sleek nails.

Also, overlays on longer nails are a beautiful addition. 

Gel Overlays Are Odorless 

You don’t want to undervalue the fact that gel overlays are odorless. Unfortunately, several products available at the nail salon come with heavy odors, but gel overlays are not one of them. 

Better For The Environment Than Acrylics 

Gel overlays don’t contain all the chemicals found in acrylics. Acrylics sometimes contain harsh chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate.

Always look for polishes with natural ingredients and without toxic chemicals. 

Check out our carefully curated list of the Best No Wipe Gel Top Coats in 2022.

Gel Overlay Vs. Gel Polish – What Are The Differences?

Despite sounding similar, gel overlays and gel polish have several unique differences. You may have heard gel polish referred to as Shellac; however, the two are not the same. Shellac is a gel polish from the brand CND

Understanding the differences is crucial before deciding which one is for you. Understanding each style’s pros and cons will prepare you when you step inside the nail salon. 

While there are differences, gel overlays and gel polishes cost roughly the same. Gel polish is the same price as a regular manicure but with an added upcharge for the gel. 

Overlays And Polishes Have A Different Number Of Coats

Gel overlay comprises a top coat and gel base, while gel polish has a base coat, color coat, and a top coat. Some people prefer gel overlay merely based on the lesser amount of coats. Gel overlays require putting your hands under the UV light in between coats. 

Overlays And Polishes Cure Differently 

Curing is the part of the manicure process where your nails are dried. Various light sources help the polish or gel set quickly to prevent smudges or chipping. 

A gel overlay is usually cured under a UV light, while gel polishes can use a UV or LED lamp. Therefore, you must ensure your nail tech cures your nails correctly; otherwise, they will not set appropriately. 

Gel Polish Is Lighter On Your Nails 

Gel polish is almost identical to your regular polish but lasts longer. Gel polish consists of several thin layers and offers a long-lasting, smudge-free manicure. 

Gel overlays are a bit heavier, making them less light on your nails than gel polish. However, the thickness of gel overlays offers your nails protection. 

Gel Overlays Help Grow Out Natural Nails 

Gel overlays offer protection for your natural nails as you grow them out. For example, if you are a nail biter or suffer from brittle nails, gel overlays can help strengthen your natural nails.

Remember, have a professional nail tech remove the overlays to prevent damage to your natural nails. 

Overlays Shape Your Nail 

Gel polish is only a polish, while overlays can help shape your nail. While overlays don’t extend over your fingertip, a salon tech can nicely mold them into various shapes.

Shapes include the following:

  • Hexagon
  • Oval
  • Square
  • Rectangle 

Gel Overlays Don’t Last As Long 

Gel polishes are more porous than gel overlays and therefore don’t last as long. However, this also means you can soak your gel polish in warm water, as opposed to the process of removing the gel overlay. 

Gel Polish Is Easier To Administer Than Gel Overlays 

If you are thinking of an at-home manicure, then gel polish is your best bet. Gel overlays can be tricky to apply at home, and gel polish won’t be difficult if you are used to painting your nails.

If you don’t have a UV light at home, you can spray cooking spray directly onto your nails when you are finished. 

How Long Does A Gel Overlay Last?

Gel overlays can last 3-4 weeks if you consistently look after your nails. However, if you are rough with your hands or have a job that requires manual labor, you’ll likely only get a week out of your overlays. 

You can prolong the life of your nails by doing the following:

  • Wear gloves when cleaning or using harsh chemicals
  • Use cuticle oil
  • Apply a top coat weekly 
  • Keep away from hot water
  • Don’t pick at your nails 
  • Visit the salon for maintenance 
  • Protect your hands if dying your hair 

You can remove gel overlays by soaking them in acetone and filing them down.

However, excessive filing can cause your nails to become weak and brittle, so you should visit a salon for removal. 

Do Gel Overlays Damage Your Nails?

Gel overlays can cause damage to your nails, but not as much as acrylics. While you can apply overlays at home, an incorrect application can end up causing damage in the end. 

To help prevent damage caused by gel overlays, follow these guidelines:

  • Ensure you visit a clean, reputable salon 
  • Wear sunscreen before your manicure to protect your skin from the UV light 
  • Keep your hands moisturized to prevent dirt from ruining your overlays 
  • If you are a nail biter, resist the urge to bite your nails 
  • Take breaks in between manicures to allow your natural nails to rest 

Unfortunately, an infection can occur from gel overlays if you are not using clean equipment or visiting an unsanitary salon.

According to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, a nail fungus may begin to grow in your nail bed when your nail begins to grow out. 

If you are concerned about an infection, visit a salon to have your gel overlays removed.

Signs of an infection include:

  • Itchiness
  • Redness around your nail 
  • Discoloration (yellow or green)
  • Pain in and around your nails 

Finally, it would help if you addressed any concerns to your doctor, as they can provide appropriate medication to help relieve symptoms. 

What’s The Difference Between Gel Overlays And Acrylic False Nails?

The main difference between gel overlays and acrylic false nails is that overlays don’t add length to your natural nails. On the other hand, acrylics add extensions to lengthen your nails. 

In addition, gel nails often look glossier than acrylic nails and have a more natural appearance. Acrylics are harder than gel overlays and can easily break if you put enough stress on them. 

Finally, overlays can help strengthen your nail, while acrylics cannot and only add length to your natural nails.

Also, while acrylics can last longer than overlays, overlays are easier to remove and tend to be cheaper.  

If you are trying to decide between gel overlays and acrylics, it all comes down to personal preference, as it’s hard to judge which one is better. 

Can You Put A Gel Overlay On Acrylics?

You can put gel overlay on acrylics, but you want to ensure the gel is thin, so your nails don’t get too thick. However, applying overlay after your acrylics can help secure your enhancement. 

Adding an overlay to acrylics can help prolong the life of your manicure, as the outer layer can help protect the acrylic underneath. 

Typically when you add a gel overlay onto acrylics, you skip the buffing process at the end because gels do not perform well with a smooth surface. 

Finally, after you add the gel, file your nails with a 180-grit nail file and carefully remove any dust left behind. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is acrylic overlay better than gel overlay?

Gel overlays are gentler on your nails than acrylic overlays. Unfortunately, acrylic overlays don’t look as natural as gel, and gel overlays are less likely to crack or turn yellow. In addition, gel overlays don’t have the same odor as acrylics. 

Can you apply gel overlays at home?

You can use at-home gel overlay kits, but following the directions is essential. Unfortunately, an inappropriate application can cause damage to your nails. While going to an experienced technician is ideal, applying gel overlays at home is possible. 

Are gel overlays cheaper than acrylics?

While the price of services can vary depending on the salon, gel overlays usually are cheaper than acrylics. For example, acrylics require tips and use more acrylic powder and monomers than gel overlays, especially if your nails are shorter.