What Are Hard Gels/Soft Gels, Acrylic, Dip Nails?

by Kelli Parisian October 05, 2021

Woman with different colored polished nails, hard gel., soft gel, dip nails, long wear nail polish

Navigating the world of nail services and products can be confusing. 

Your Nail Technician may suggest one of the big three in long-wearing nail enhancement options: acrylic nails, hard/soft gel manicures, and dip nails.

What are Dip Nails?

A cross between acrylic and gel, the dip method involves painting nails with a special primer coat, then a base coat. The fingernail is then dipped in a jar of polymer powder (very similar to acrylic powder). Each finger goes through the process twice and then, nails are cleansed. The nails may be painted with nail polish and a topcoat at this point, or colored dip powder may be used instead of polish and finished with a topcoat.

Unlike the hard/soft gel polish, which must be cured in a special UV/LED light to harden the polish, the dip method takes about two minutes to harden and dry with no special light. Benefit: Minimal chemical odors, no light.


The dip manicure process takes about the same amount of time as a gel manicure and less time than acrylic. Benefits: Minimal filing, hard nails, no harsh odor, long-lasting.


Must be applied and removed properly to ensure no damage to the natural nail. The nail bed can be damaged. Chance of allergic reaction to the skin from acrylic powder.

To remove: Dipped nails must be filed on the surface; then soaked off. They may also be entirely filed off (time saving), but, this should only be done by a professional. Over-filling may result in damaged nails.

What is the difference between Hard/Soft Gels

The biggest difference between Hard and Soft Gel nails is porosity and removal. Soft Gel (Shellac, Gelish, OPI Gel Color, etc.) otherwise known as "Brush on/Soak-off Gels," go on like Nail Polish and removed with acetone applied to a cotton pad and soaked off. The best way to remove: Acetone soaked pads called Fast Foils.

Pros of Soft Gel or Soak Off Gels

Manicure Lasts up to 2 weeks. Minimal damage to natural nails if removed properly. 

How NOT to remove properly 

Lifting them off yourself (picking off) without acetone. Yes, it's tempting to pop the gel off after it's been on a while with your teeth or other nails, but when you do, it takes a layer of your nail with the gel.  If done over and over, your nail becomes weakened and serious damage can occur.

Cons of Soft Gel

Does not add length. Can be drying to natural dry nails after time. Solution: Remove gels every 3-6 months and soak natural nails in warm (heat until warm in the microwave) coconut oil for 5 minutes, daily for one week. The dryness issue should be resolved.

Hard gels 

Hard Gels are not as porous and can only be removed by filing gel off. Hard Gels can be used to add length where Soft Gels cannot. With hard gels, the damage is much the same as with acrylic nails. Improper removal and excess filling may  damage the natural nail.


Adds length. A hard gel manicure can last up to 3 weeks.

Cons: Hard gels are similar to Acrylic Nails. The difference is, instead of the Nail Technician mixing a liquid catalyst (monomer) and powder (polymer) together to build a nail, the mixture is combined into one product. 

What makes them alike is the removal process. Both Acrylic and Hard Gel nails are meant to be removed with a filing drill. Using a drill takes skill and proper technique. 

More Cons

Bacteria problems can occur if nails are not properly maintained. If you go too long between manicures (over 3 weeks) and/or improper removal can cause long term damage to natural nails.

Last but not least...New (and confusing) long wear/hybrid type Nail Polish -  nail polish made by a variety of companies all trying to confuse us with terms like, "Gel polish without the light." 

What Are Long-wear Or Hybrid Nail Polishes? 

Many nail polish companies such as OPI (Infinite Shine), Essie (Gel Couture), and CND's (Vinylux), make long-wearing nail polish. You can expect to pay more for the hybrids. You may also get a day or two of extra wear.
It can be very confusing for the consumer when shopping for nail polish today because while these polishes may be called "Gel," they are really long-wear nail polish. 

Another option:

Find Nail Fitness Nail Hardener, Strengthener, formaldehyde free, acrylic nail removal, split, weak nailsNail Fitness Nail Rejuvenation & Hardener promotes the growth and strength of natural nails with its unique formula of nail hardening proteins, including Keratin, Calcium, Gelatin, Wheat Protein and Soy Protein. Non-yellowing, and quick drying. Many prefer natural nails and/or like to do their own nails at home. Parisian's Pure Indulgence offers a nail strengthener, Nail Fitness, perfect for the do-it-yourselfer who wants to grow long, healthy nails in no time. 








Read the blog I wrote on 6 tips to healthier, Strong Nails. No more splitting, peeling and breaking!

Update: 10/5/2021 













Kelli Parisian
Kelli Parisian


Kelli Parisian - Founder of Parisian's Pure Indulgence Organic Skin Care. Contributing writer to LivingBetter50 online Woman's Magazine. Come along with me, and learn how to have a healthy, vibrant, beautiful life after 50!

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