Constantly repainting your nails is costly, frustrating, and time-consuming. So is ruining your nails as soon as you step out the door from your nail salon. And chipping or smudging nail polish is inevitable if you use your hands all day.
So, what can you do to make your nail polish last?
You can try hard gel nails. They last a lot longer than regular nail polish, and they stand up to more wear and tear.
Or you can try soft gel nails. Soft gel nails don’t last quite as long as hard gel nails, but they are simpler to maintain.
And there’s a third option available at your nail salon. It’s gel polish.
Let’s look at the similarities and differences between hard gel nails, soft gel nails, and gel polish and how you can choose the best service for you.
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Hard Gel Nails
Hard gel nails are also known as “traditional” gel nails. They are the most common and traditional form of nail enhancement.
The nail technician at your salon applies hard gel nails by dropping a bead of gel on the nail and brushing it outward toward the edges of the nail with a brush. When your technician has formed the nail into a desirable shape, the gel is cured and hardened by exposure to a UV or LED light. There is a tacky film on the surface of the nail after light treatment that has to be removed with a nail cleanser.
The hard gel can add length to your nails. It can lengthen short nails and strengthen nails that are already long. The technician can mold the gel into any shape you like. You can add nail art if you like.
Hard gel nails stand up to a lot of pressure and are hard to bend or break. That’s because the polymer used for the gel forms molecular cross-linkages when it is treated with light. If you break a nail, it is best to go back to the salon so your nail technician can file it off and repair it, but most of the time hard gel nails will last 3 to 4 weeks between visits to the salon.
Soft Gel Nails
Soft gel nails are made with a polymer that does not form cross-linkages when it is activated by light. The molecular strands of hard gel have space between them, which allows solvents to get into the structure of the artificial nail. Solvents like acetone can break down soft gel nails even when they have hardened, so it is not necessary to file them off.
Soft gels are mostly used to add strength to nails, rather than adding length to nails as is done with hard gels. The best use of soft gel nails is to strengthen short to medium-length nails against cracking and breaking.
Your nail technician hardens soft gel nails with UV or LED light just like hard gel nails. Hard gel nails can be removed with a soak in nail polish remover (acetone) and generally last 2 to 3 weeks between visits to the salon. A visit to the nail salon for soft gels is considerably less expensive than a visit to the nail salon for hard gels, although the cost per month is about the same. Soft gel nails usually show some wear and tear at the edges between visits to the salon.
Hard gel nails and soft gel nails aren’t quite the only options for hardening and lengthening your nails at the nail salon. There is a much weaker form of hard gel nails known as gel polish or sometimes as shellac. (Shellac with a capital letter is also a product line made by cosmetics manufacturer CND.)
Gel polish is runny. This makes it easy to spread over your nails a lot like regular nail polish. You can’t use gel polish to lengthen or reshape your nails, but the product sets after just 30 seconds of exposure to UV or LED light. The ease of application and the very fast drying time make gel polish an attractive option over either hard gels or soft gels.
Gel polish works on long nails and short nails. It can be applied to natural nails, hard gel nails, soft gel nails, or acrylic nails. The treatment lasts two or three weeks, with some wear on the edges likely during that time. Gel polish is easily removed with nail polish remover.
Hard gels, soft gels, and gel polish all have their best uses. Let’s take a comparative look at these three types of nails so you can decide which works best for you.
Hard Gel Nails vs. Soft Gel Nails vs. Gel Polish
Here are answers to the kinds of questions patrons of nail salons ask about the various kinds of nails.
What is each kind of nail treatment used for?
- Hard gel nails are used for extending nails. They also strengthen nails, although if that is your primary interest, you may also be satisfied with soft gel nails. Hard gel nails are a base for nail enhancements.
- Soft gel nails are your best option for strengthening the base for nail enhancements.
- Gel polish is a good base for nail art. It lasts considerably longer than just painting your nails.
What length nails are OK with each treatment?
- Hard gel nails are great for all lengths of nails.
- Soft gel nails work best with short to medium nails.
- Gel polish works with all length nails.
What is the consistency of the product used for each nail application?
- Hard gels are thick and hard to work into desired shapes and lengths. Usually, you need the services of an experienced nail technician to apply them.
- Soft gels are not quite as thick and not quite as hard to work into desired shapes and lengths. They are not really ideal for a do-it-yourself application, but you might try it if you have lots of patience and lots of nail polish remover for mistakes.
- Gel polish is runny. It’s easy to apply.
How is the product applied to your nails?
- Hard gel is pulled over the nail with a brush.
- Soft gel is brushed over the nail.
- Gel polish is brushed over the nail.
How long does the treatment last?
- Hard gel nails usually don’t crack or chip for 3 to 4 weeks.
- Soft gel nails usually don’t crack or chip for 2 to 4 weeks.
- Gel polish usually needs to be renewed after 2 to 3 weeks.
How are the nails removed?
- Hard gel nails have to be filed off.
- Soft gel nails can be removed with nail polish remover.
- Hard gel nails can be removed with nail polish remover.
How much does a treatment cost?
- A visit to the nail salon for hard gel nails usually costs $60 to $80.
- A visit to the nail salon for soft gel nails usually costs $40 to $50.
- A visit to the nail salon for gel polish usually costs $40 to $50.
Are hard and soft nails better than shellac?
(Here again, we are referring to shellac, the gel polish for nails, rather than Shellac, the product line of cosmetics manufacturer CND.)
Both hard gels and soft gels are stronger than gel polish, also known as shellac. Both hard gel nails and soft gel nails protect your nails. Both hard gel nails and soft gel nails can last up to twice as long as gel polish nails. Both hard gel nails and soft gel nails are less likely to chip and crack than shellac. But improper removal of hard gel nails and soft gel nails can cause injury to your nails that are highly unlikely when you are removing shellac.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hard Gel Nails, Soft Gel Nails, and Gel Polish
Q. Is it true what they say about hard gel nails being bad for you?
A. Wearing hard gel nails for too long can cause brittleness, cracking, and peeling of the natural nail beneath the treatment. It’s a necessity to have hard gel nails removed by a licensed nail technician. This is not something you should try at home. It’s also important not to have new hard gel nails put on at the same session you have old hard gel nails taken off. Given your nails one to two weeks to recover between hard gel applications. Your nail technician can advise you on the advisability of alternating hard gel nails with soft gel nails, nail strengthening products, or just taking a break.
Q. Can I file gel nails?
A. Neither soft nor hard gel nails should be filed, certainly not by anyone who is not a licensed nail technician. Filing gel nails will wreck the capped edge which will cause the nail to peel and chip. Let your manicurist take care of this for you.
Q. Can I put gel nails on very short nails?
A. Both hard gel nails and soft gel nails can be applied to very short nails. Both kinds of gels will protect short nails from further damage.
Q. Is there a difference between gel and acrylic nails?
A. The gel comes pre-mixed. Acrylic is made by mixing a powder and a liquid. The gel is hardened by exposure to UV or LED light, but acrylic is not. The light treatment makes both hard and soft gel nails stronger and more flexible than acrylic nails. Acrylic nails usually start lifting after 2 weeks, while hard and soft gel nails may last up to twice as long.
Q. What are dip nails?
A. Dip nails start with a base coat. The technician covers the base coat with a sealant. Then the technician dips each nail in colored powder. A topcoat, like a nail polish, finishes the nail.
Q. Are there advantages to dip nails?
A. Dip nail application takes a little less time than either hard gel nails or soft gel nails. They may last a little longer, too.
Q. Do nails need to breathe?
A. No, nails get all the oxygen and nutrients they need through their connection to the bloodstream.
There’s a nail solution for every nail problem.
There’s no single nail service that is the best choice for everyone in every situation. You may need to switch out between types of nail applications from time to time so your nails stay healthy. But all of these nail applications can give you great nails that you will love to show off to everyone you see.