Long nails of various shapes have been popular for decades, allowing fashionistas to create a bold and feminine look.
Lately, celebrities and influencers have been showing off fake nails in coffin and almond shapes, usually with intricate designs and decals on them.
For most of us, nails of that caliber are unattainable naturally – real nails are simply not strong enough to be that long and survive day-to-day impacts from doing the dishes or lifting weights at the gym.
For the longest time, the answer to that has been: acrylics. Acrylic nails allow you to get a set of long and strong nails, color them however you want, and wear them for weeks with them barely chipping.
Sounds too good to be true? It is. Acrylic nails are made using chemicals that can be bad for you after a while. They can damage your nails, too.
So, what are the best alternatives to acrylic nails? There are several awesome alternatives that are safer and more convenient than acrylic nails. These include gel or PolyGel extensions, silk nails, press-on nails, and more.
In this article, we will go over 7 of those alternatives that we find to be the best ones on the market.
What Are Acrylic Nails
Before we dive in, let’s make sure we are all on the same page about what exactly acrylic nails are.
Acrylic nails are fake nails that are applied at a salon using a liquid monomer and a powder polymer, which a nail technician mixes, bonds, and forms over your natural nail. The mixture then hardens and creates a very strong and long acrylic layer that the technician shapes to look like a nail.
The technician uses her skills to create coffin, almond, square, or round shapes that look natural, albeit unnaturally long. She then applies your choice of color and/or designs to complete your manicure.
The biggest benefit of acrylic nails is that they are extremely strong. You can add a lot of length to your natural nails and the acrylics will last several weeks without breaking, even if you work with your hands a lot.
In fact, some acrylics can last up to 6 to 8 weeks, but you’ll need to get the new growth filled every 2-3 weeks to keep them looking good, otherwise, there will be a gap between your cuticles and the acrylic edge where you have new growth.
Downsides Of Acrylic Nails
While acrylics can add awesome length and strength to your nail, they do have some downsides. First of all, you have to go to a salon to put them on and remove them, which can quickly run you $30-60 per set depending on where you go.
Because the acrylic mixture has to bond with your natural nail, the technician will need to buff your natural nail extensively before applying the acrylic mixture to it. The acrylic then melds with the layers of your nail.
This means every time you remove the acrylics, you also remove some of your natural nail layers. Over time, this can cause significant damage and weaken your nails.
An infection can also happen if you leave the acrylics on too long. They can create a pocket of air between the fake nail and your natural nail layers where moisture and bacteria get trapped.
The application process isn’t pleasant either. Applying acrylic nails involves a lot of chemicals mixing, and you’ll be inhaling unpleasant fumes. Some people can even have an allergic reaction.
Lastly, because your natural nail needs to be filed down so much to apply the acrylic mixture, your nail suffers a lot of damage that inhibits proper growth. Nails become weak, soft, and sometimes go through yellowing and breakage.
And worst of all, sometimes acrylic nails don’t even look that good. If your technician is inexperienced, or the quality of the polymer isn’t great, you can get lumpy and bumpy-looking fake nails.
Needless to say, that’s a lot of risk and potential damage for something cosmetic. If there were better and safer alternatives, wouldn’t you want to try them?
The good news is that there are now several great alternatives to acrylic nails, and you’re bound to find something that works for you.
Let’s dive in!
Best Alternatives To Acrylic Nails
1. Gel Or PolyGel Nail Extensions
The closest thing you’ll find to acrylic nails is gel nail extensions. Gel nail extensions are fake nails that get cured with UV light in order to adhere to your natural nail.
Just like acrylics, they can add a lot of length and strength to your natural nail, and they come in a lot of different shapes and sizes to suit your needs.
A nail tech can also file them down and shape them as needed to achieve the result you want. In that regard, they are similar to acrylics because they can be shaped almost any way you want.
Unlike acrylics, however, they are bound to your nail using a gel base and UV light. This is a much safer process than bonding an acrylic mixture directly to your nail. You don’t need to file down your natural nails in order to attach the fake nail.
And some gel nail extensions can be attached at the very tip of your nail to add length instead of covering your entire nailbed. This is a great option for those who worry about damaging their nails, even though the damage would be minimal.
Another great thing about gel nail extensions is that they are gentler to remove than acrylics. You simply soak your nails in acetone, and the fake nail will slowly dissolve and soften. You can then use a wooden tool to gently remove the softened gel nail extension from your nail without damaging your natural nail.
Much like acrylics, these gel nail extensions are very strong and can last up to 3 weeks before they can begin to crack and peel. We love gel nail extensions as an alternative to acrylics, however, they are not without risks either.
If you don’t remove them properly, for example, if you peel them off when you notice them starting to lift, you can accidentally remove a layer of your natural nail. So that’s something you want to be very mindful of.
Gel nail extensions require you to go to a salon to put them on and remove them (unless you have a home setup with a UV lamp), which can get costly. They are not the cheapest alternative but in all other regards, we find them to be superior to acrylic nails.
- Easily add length and strength
- Last 2-3 weeks
- Gentler on the nail
- Endless options for colors and designs
- Has to be done at a salon or with a special kit
- Some damage can occur during removal
2. Silk Nails
Have you ever heard of silk nails? They are a little less popular than gels and acrylics, but they are also a good alternative.
Silk nail wraps are a form of fake nails that are made out of silk material that is placed on top of your natural nail and hardened using a glue-like resin or UV-based gel polish.
They can also be cut and shaped to whatever shape and size you want, and they look very natural because they are thinner than acrylics and even gel extensions.
The downside is that they are not as strong as gels or acrylics, so they are not ideal for someone with a very active lifestyle.
They can last up to two weeks if you are careful with your hands and don’t submerge them underwater too much. Ladies who do a lot of dishwashing – this might not be the right choice for you.
However, if you’re usually careful with your hands, silk nails might be great for you. They are even less damaging to your natural nail than gel extensions and actually make your nails stronger by reinforcing them and protecting them from breakage.
Silk nail wraps are also cheaper than gel extensions and acrylics. Although you still need to go to a salon to get them done, this will usually cost a lot less. That is, as long as you can find a salon that does them. Silk nail wraps are not as common and not all salons offer them.
- Minimal damage
- Adds strength and length
- Unlimited options for colors and designs
- Less expensive
- Won’t last as long as acrylics
- Not all salons offer this
- Tedious and lengthy application process
3. Press-On Nails
We’re all familiar with press-on nails, right? They are fake plastic nails that are widely available at supermarkets and drugstores. They come in a set of 24-30 nails that are already shaped and colored. Your job is to match them by size to your natural nails and stick them on.
Press-on nails are great because they are cheap and easy to apply. You can do it yourself in under 20 minutes. Some of them have adhesive already on the fake nail, so you have to do very little work. Others come with a bottle of glue that you have to apply yourself.
Another great thing about them is that they come in a wide range of colors and designs, even including gemstones and other materials like velvet. They tend to follow current trends and seasonal events allowing you to always have stylish long nails for every occasion.
When it comes to damage, press-on nails don’t really damage your nails. The adhesive sticks to the top of your nail and separates from it after a few days without damaging your nail surface.
That’s where the benefits end, though. Press-on nails don’t usually last very long. They are great for one-off events like prom, weddings, parties, or a special night out.
But if you’re looking for something that will last for a few weeks and survive your gym sessions, you’re not going to find that in press-on nails. Depending on their brand and adhesive quality, they can last 1-5 days.
Another downside is that these fake nails are not very customizable. They come in a set that is already shaped and sized. Some people might have trouble matching the fake nails to the natural shape and size of their nails. Sometimes you can tell that someone is wearing press-ons based on the gaps between their fake nail and natural nail.
Despite these downsides, press-on nails are a great alternative for when you’re short on time and need to have fashionable nails for a special event.
- Easy and quick to apply
- Come in a wide range of trendy colors and designs
- Minimal damage
- Easy to remove
- Won’t last longer than 1-5 days
- Fall off easily – not suitable for food service or similar jobs
- Can’t customize size and shape
- Can’t customize colors and designs
4. Dip Powder
Dip powder nails, also known as SNS nails, is a technique that involves dipping the natural nail into colored powder and sealing it with a clear-colored coat. This results in a long-lasting and surprisingly smooth-looking manicure.
Dip nails are extremely strong – they can last up to a month without chipping or breaking. This technique can be done at a salon or at home if you have a dip nail kit.
To remove your dip manicure, you’d follow a process that is very similar to removing gel polish – gently buffing your nails and soaking them in acetone for 10-15 minutes which softens the coat and the rest can be gently rubbed off. Due to this, dip powder nails are not as damaging as acrylics.
The biggest downside of dip powder manicure is that it doesn’t give you that length or extension that acrylics and other alternatives do.
Ideally, dip powder would be used on your natural nail to reinforce and strengthen it, while keeping the length the same as it was, similar to a regular gel manicure.
If you want to extend the length of your nail, you could get plastic tips and attach them to your nail with glue, then add the dip powder manicure on top to seal it all and create a seamless look. If you do this, you will get a result similar to acrylic or gel extensions – longer nails that last.
Compared to acrylic nails, this is a gentler option that provides the same level of strength and durability. When it comes to cost, that depends on whether you get your nails done at a salon or at home and whether you want to invest in the additional length by purchasing tips.
- Very strong and lasts as long as 3-4 weeks
- Easy to do at home if you have the kit
- Minimal damage
- Less expensive (especially if you do them at home)
- Fast drying
- You are limited in color and design options
- Do not add length unless you attach tips to your nails
- Dipping in powder at a salon can be unsanitary
5. Fiberglass Nails
If you’ve never heard about fiberglass nails, you’re not alone. But they’ve actually been around for decades! Despite being less popular than acrylics and gels, fiberglass nails are another great alternative to acrylic nail extensions.
Similar to silk nails, fiberglass nails involve attaching a soft fiberglass material to the natural nail and sealing it with a clear sealant. This causes the nail to harden.
The main difference between fiberglass and silk is that fiberglass is a lot stronger and can survive a lot more force before it breaks. Although these nails are not as strong as acrylics, they are definitely strong enough to last 2-3 weeks with normal wear and tear.
Just like silk, fiberglass is thinner than acrylics and is thus more natural-looking on the nail. When your natural nail begins to grow out after a few weeks of wear, the gap between the fiberglass nail and your cuticle is less noticeable because the fiberglass nail is so thin.
Fiberglass is also less damaging than acrylic nails. Just like the other alternatives we discussed, fiberglass nails do not require you to file off a significant amount of your natural nail surface to bind the fake nail to it.
The fiberglass sticks to your nail and hardens thanks to the UV-activated sealant. It is removed similarly to gel nails by soaking it in acetone and gently scrubbing it off.
You have a lot of options with fiberglass nails. They can be shaped any way you want by your nail technician, and the color options are limitless because your tech can apply any color and any design onto the hardened fiberglass surface.
Fiberglass nails are less likely to cause an allergic reaction, the application process is odorless. This is a great alternative for someone who is sensitive to other types of nail applications and wants minimal damage while having long, strong nails.
One of the downsides is that these nails can only be done at a salon and are more costly than some of the other options on this list.
- Stronger than silk nails
- Unlimited shape, color, and design options
- Minimal damage
- Last 2-3 weeks
- Has to be done professionally
- Not as strong as acrylics
6. Nail Stickers
Nail stickers are a great option for someone looking for beautiful designs without the time and financial investment.
They come in thousands of different colors, patterns, designs, including metallics, glitter, and more. The best part is they are very affordable and can be done at home.
Nail stickers are easy to apply – you literally stick them onto your nail and file them so they match your nail shape perfectly.
Some nail stickers are made from gel polish, so they are soft and need to be cured by UV light. The upside of that is that they last for weeks.
The ones that are not made out of gel polish are typically made from plastic, paper, or vinyl. Depending on the material, they can last anywhere from 1-3 weeks.
Most of them can be removed by soaking your nails in acetone. They are minimally damaging as they don’t pull off any of your natural nail during removal.
Nail stickers are soft and malleable. They do not add any length to your nail like typical acrylics do, so you would have to attach faux tips to your nails if you want to extend the length of your nail.
The nail stickers will act as an adhesive to reinforce the fake tip and make it last longer. However, don’t expect it to last as long as acrylics or gels. Nail stickers are not as strong and would become weaker from repeated hand washing and other day-to-day activity.
- Millions of designs, textures, and effects available
- Easy to apply
- Easy to remove
- Typically last 1-2 weeks
- Not as long-lasting as other alternatives
- Do not add any length on their own
- Add minimal strength and reinforcement
7. Growing Out Your Natural Nails
With the right tools, you can get your nails to be very strong and long. If you take care of them well, you can shape them to look however you want. And you can apply any colors/design as well.
Growing out your nails is also a much cheaper long-term option. Instead of spending money at the salon every few weeks, you can just spend a few bucks here and there to take care of your nails and they will keep growing longer and stronger.
You can still go to the salon, if you want, to apply a pretty color or design using gel or dip powder polish. Or you can color them at home using regular nail polish or nail stickers.
To grow out your nails, you have to make sure they are strong. If you have soft, brittle nails that break easily, you may want to turn your attention to the following.
- Diet – Make sure you are eating a lot of healthy whole foods that are full of vitamins.
- Supplements – Biotin has been proven to reduce breakage and reinforce nails. You can get biotin from food and from supplements. Most “skin, hair, and nails” supplements contain a lot of biotin as well as other great ingredients that will help strengthen your nails.
- Reducing damage – Don’t subject your nails to constant salon visits where they get covered in chemicals and buffed thin.
- Nourishing – Use cuticle oil and moisturize your hands daily.
We hope this guide helps you find an alternative to acrylics that works for you and your lifestyle!
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