Gel polish manicures have been a vital part of nail salon services, or even at-home treatments, for decades due to their wide color range and long-lasting results. However, over the years, gel overlay manicures have also become popular based on their ability to strengthen and protect brittle nails for weeks at a time.
Although both gel polish and gel overlay manicures seem similar, they also have several differences that keep them both as important parts of the manicure world.
Being able to find nail treatments that can last for weeks and withstand our daily routines contributes to our overall beauty routines.
Whether it is making an appointment at your favorite nail salon or scheduling the time to do an at-home service, the right type of manicure can be your special time for self-care, and can deliver results that can last for weeks.
Although both manicures can deliver the desired results, there are a few differences that may make one manicure the better option for you over the other.
What is the difference between gel overlay and gel polish? These formulas serve different purposes and suit different nail needs. A gel overlay is a thicker, harder gel that works to strengthen and protect that natural nail, while a gel polish is a lighter product that provides color to the natural nail which will last longer than regular polish.
Both have unique qualities that make them popular manicure choices, and below we discuss in depth what they are, their differences, and how to choose the right gel nails for you!
What Is Gel Overlay?
Gel overlay is a thicker, hard gel that can coat over the entire nail. It is essentially a gel base and top coat that is cured under a UV light to set and protect the nail. A gel overlay is applied to the natural nail and is meant to strengthen and prevent against cracking or splitting.
While a gel overlay is meant to strengthen the nail, it does not necessarily provide any additional length to the natural nail as opposed to other nail extensions.
A gel overlay is available in a hard gel or soft gel, and while neither is meant to elongate the nail, the overlay is still able to be shaped and filed into your desired style. Soft gel overlays are able to be sculpted more, and work with the natural nail in a flexible way, while hard gels are thicker and firmer on the natural nail.
Gel overlays provide long-lasting results that leave the nails protected and strengthened. Here’s a tutorial for using gel nail overlay from The Nail Hub on YouTube.
What Is Gel Polish?
As opposed to the few coats of a gel overlay, gel polish uses several thin layers to achieve the desired, long-lasting color for your natural nails. Essentially, gel polish is a more durable version of a regular nail polish, but is still thin and flexible on the natural nail.
The gel polish uses a gel base coat, along with several coats of the desired color, as well as a top coat that are all cured under a UV or LED light to be set.
While gel polishes do protect the natural nail to an extent, they are not meant to strengthen the nail against splitting or cracking like a gel overlay.
Gel polishes are available in a wide range of colors and can be used to add color or designs to the natural nails. The results of a gel polish manicure last longer than a regular polish manicure, free of chips or flakes.
Here’s a tutorial on creating the perfect gel nail polish application from Crispynails by Christina Morciano.
Gel Overlay Benefits
There are many benefits to a gel overlay manicure, but the biggest one is the ability to add strength to your natural nails.
Especially if you are concerned with brittle nails or are trying to grow your nails back after damaging them with frequent acrylic or other extension manicures, a gel overlay would be an ideal solution for you.
The overlay works to protect the natural nails against splitting or cracking, while still providing a healthy shine to the nails.
Although it is not meant to add length to the natural nails, the different types of gel overlay available can still shape the nails into the desired style you’re after.
In some instances, with a hard gel overlay, it can be used to add an extension to the nail if so desired. The thicker gel overlay only requires a gel base and top coat for the results to be achieved.
A gel overlay manicure will last for several weeks before needing a touch-up appointment. Generally, the results from a gel overlay manicure can last anywhere between three and four weeks.
Gel Polish Benefits
Similarly, there are several benefits that come with a gel polish manicure as well. Gel polish is available in a wide range of colors that can suit any desire or mood, to achieve whatever color or design you are looking for.
The gel polish does require more coats than a gel overlay, but the products themselves are thin and feel lighter on the nails than a gel overlay.
Gel polish is applied to the natural nail, and remains soft and flexible with the nail bed, which often makes it feel more comfortable than a harder gel overlay. Although it is not geared toward strengthening the natural nails specifically, it does offer a degree of protection to the nails to avoid chipping and flaking of the polish.
The gel polish is cured under a UV or LED light in order to set the polish correctly. It is more durable than regular nail polish, meaning the results will last longer than a standard manicure. Typically, the results from a gel polish manicure can last up to two weeks before needing a touch-up appointment.
Gel Overlay And Gel Polish Process and Removal
Both gel overlay and gel polish have a similar application process, with some slight differences. Gel overlay needs to be cured under a UV light, while gel polish can be cured under a UV or LED light for the product to be set properly. However, gel polish requires several more coats than a gel overlay manicure.
The first step in a gel overlay or gel polish manicure is to first shape and file the natural nail to properly prepare it for the gel product to be applied on top. Both gel overlay and gel polish are applied over the entire nail bed.
After shaping and filing the natural nails, cuticles are pushed back and trimmed, to provide a clean appearance. For a gel overlay manicure, the gel base coat is applied and cured under the UV light, with an application of the gel top coat being applied and cured as well.
For a gel polish manicure, the gel base coat is applied and cured, then the required coats of the desired color applied and cured, and lastly the gel top coat applied and cured. For both manicures the product is required to be set under the correct light in between each coat.
The removal process for a gel polish is easier than the removal process for a gel overlay. With gel polish, the color can quickly be removed with acetone, although the nails do need to soak in the solution for several minutes first.
With a gel overlay manicure, the removal process often requires the use of a nail drill to file down the hard gel first, and then the remaining can be removed with acetone.
Difference Between Gel Overlay And Gel Polish
The main differences between gel overlay and gel polish are what they are meant to do for the nails, as well as how they feel on the natural nail.
Gel overlays are a thicker, harder gel formula that is meant to strengthen brittle nails, without necessarily adding length or extensions. Gel overlay is firm on the natural nail to protect it, and allow it to grow strong and healthy without splits or cracks.
Gel polish is a thinner formula that is meant to be flexible and soft on the natural nail. It will feel lighter than a gel overlay, and often times feels more comfortable on the natural nail. Gel polish is a more durable version of a regular nail polish manicure, that will protect the nails against chips and flakes in the color.
Gel overlay manicures do last longer than gel polish manicures, and require less coats to achieve the desired results. Although the application process is similar, the removal process for gel polish is easier than gel overlay.
While both are able to be achieve in a DIY manicure at home, a gel polish manicure is the easier of the two to apply to yourself.
Which Gel Is Right For You?
Both gel overlay and gel polish are great options for any nail type or shape. However, if you are looking to strengthen brittle nails or are concerned about your nails splitting, a gel overlay manicure is the better option for you.
If you are also looking for a manicure that can last up to 4 weeks before needing another appointment, a gel overlay is the better choice for your needs.
Conversely, if you are looking for something that feels lightweight and natural on your nails, then going for a gel polish manicure is the ideal choice.
The gel polish is available in almost any color a regular polish would be, and can be used to achieve color or designs on the natural nail. If you find that regular polish chips quickly on your nails and you are looking for something more durable, a gel polish manicure is the best solution for you.
Through the wide range of color options available, a gel polish manicure is the perfect choice if you like to switch up your nails often, as the results will last up to two weeks before needing a touch-up.
While the applications are similar to both, gel polish can be removed easier and from home if you are unable to make it to the salon.
Both gel polish and gel overlay manicures are a special service in the nail salon industry that can deliver polished, shiny, and strong nails results that last for weeks at a time.
Whether you are taking the trip to your favorite nail salon or creating a DIY manicure at-home, gel overlay and gel polish treatments will last longer than a regular polish and help with your natural nails’ overall appearance.
If you are looking to strengthen brittle nails or have long-lasting color results, experimenting with these different types of gel manicures can be a fun way to switch up your normal nail care routine!