Gel Powder vs. Gel Polish (Which is Right For You?)

A close-up of a woman's hands with different-colored nails.

Getting a manicure is not only a great way to pamper yourself, but it can help create a polished and professional look. Many people opt to have artificial nails to give the appearance of longer and stronger nails.

With so many nail options to select from though, how do you know which to choose? It seems every day there is new technology available. Gel powder is relatively new on the market for manicures and sounds remarkably similar to gel polish. Below, we take a closer look at gel powder and gel polish, comparing the two to understand the benefits of each.

What is Gel Powder For Nails?

Crystal Gel Powder Base. 1 oz. Advanced Polymer TP Natural Dipping Powder Base.
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Generally speaking, gel powder is an artificial substance that goes on top of your natural nail to give the appearance of longer and stronger nails. This type of artificial nail is relatively durable and can hold up to everyday use.

There are two types of gel powder that can be used on nails. There are a hard gel and soft gel variety, each coming with its own set of application procedures, pros and cons. Artificial gel powder requires the use of an LED or UV light in order to fully harden and cure. Gel powder is temporary and will last up to 4 weeks, depending on the type of gel powder selected.

What is Gel Polish For Nails?

Modelones Soak Off UV LED Gel Nail Polish Set - 6 Color Collection Cat Eyes Color Changing Glitter Gel Phantom Chameleon and Black Gel 0.33 OZ
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Alternatively, gel polish is a type of nail polish that is painted on top of your natural nail or an artificial nail. Gel polish is very similar to a shellac consistency, although the two are made of different materials.

Gel polish is a similar substance to hard and soft gel powder nails but is much thinner and runnier. Although gel polish is typically thought of like nail polish, able to preserve the color or nail art for a longer period of time, gel polish does apply a thin layer of protective gel to the natural nail which can help strengthen nails. Gel polish also has pros and cons associated with the product.


Comparing the various gel powders to gel polish, you will quickly be able to determine which is right for you. While the concept between gel powder and gel polish is similar, each option can be used for specific needs and applications. Below, let’s examine the two options more closely and compare the benefits and features of each gel option.

Hard Gel Powder

Close-up of a perfectly manicured hand with gel polish finish.

Hard gel powder is a common type of artificial nail enhancement. Usually referred to as traditional gel nails, hard gel powder is durable, long-lasting, and can offer a range of nail lengths and shapes, fully customizable to the individual.


Hard gel powder is applied to the nail with a brush. A small dollop of gel is placed onto the natural nail. The dollop is then worked with a brush until the correct nail shape and length is created. Hard gel powder has the ability to increase the length of the natural nails, or create added thickness.

Once the gel has been shaped correctly, the gel is dried with a UV or LED light. After a few minutes of drying, there is a tacky substance left on the nail. This is cleaned off with acetone, leaving a durable, smooth nail surface.


Gel powder is made of monomers or oligomers, with a few added ingredients. These materials work together to harden into a durable and long-lasting artificial nail. The materials in gel powder are safe, and even pregnant women are able to get this type of nail without any harmful side effects for the baby. The materials used in gel powder nails are also hypoallergenic.


Close-up of a woman's hand with dual colors on her nails.

One of the main reasons why people are so attracted to hard gel powder nails is their durability. This type of nail is very strong and is able to hold up to normal everyday use. Common activities like cooking, working with your hands, or simply pulling your jeans up will not lead to cracks and chips, like your natural nails or even acrylic nails might. Despite being made of a hard substance, hard gel powder nails will usually flex before breaking.


Compared to the other nail options on this list, hard gel powder nails will be the most expensive option. This type of artificial nail will set you back between $60 and $80 for a full set. While this may seem expensive, the artificial nails can last up to a month while still looking great.


One of the biggest benefits of hard gel powder nails is durability. These nails can withstand normal everyday life, while still looking great. Due to the strong nature of the hard gel material, it is possible to add both length and thickness to natural nails, making long and luxurious nails a reality.

Further, hard gel powder is long-lasting, with each set staying beautiful for up to one month. The process to apply the artificial nails is easy, with a nail artist brushing gel into place, and curing the final product under an LED or UV light. It is possible to paint the nail with traditional nail polish or add creative nail art.

The downside to this type of nail application is that the nails must be professionally removed. Further, a new set must be applied every 3 to 4 months. At up to $80 a set, this could become expensive.

Soft Gel Powder

A woman having her nails done in a salon with soak off gel.

Comparable to hard gel powder, soft gel powder is made of similar materials but offers a softer blend. Suitable for medium or short length nails, soft gel powder offers similar benefits in a milder form. This type of artificial nail is commonly called soak-off nails, due to its less permanent structure and softer application.


Very similar to hard gel powder, soft gel powder is applied by brushing the gel substance into place. A nail artist will work the gel over the natural nail until the correct length and shape are created. This powder is softer and more flexible which does not allow the same strength as hard gel powder.

This means that it is not possible to add as much length to the nail. After the desired shape is achieved, the gel powder is hardened under an LED or UV light. Multiple coats may be used to thicken the nail or give the nail its desired shape.


Soft gel powder is made of similar monomers or oligomers as hard gel powder. The difference though is there is more space between each individual molecule in the chemical makeup. This allows solvents, like acetone, to quickly break down the artificial material, making these nails easy to remove. The materials soft gel nails are made of are also hypoallergenic and safe for pregnant women to use.


A pair of beautiful hands that are freshly manicured.

While soft gel powder nails certainly add strength and durability to the natural nail, they will not be as strong as hard gel powder nails. This is simply due to the molecular makeup and intended application for this nail variety. Expect to get about 3 to 4 weeks of wear in between soft gel powder applications, with some wear and chips forming around the edges of the nails.


This option for nails will usually run about $45 for a full set application. This is a cheaper option than the hard gel powder nails, but will not be as durable or long-lasting.


Soft gel powder nails have several benefits associated with them, making them a popular choice. Not only are soft gel nails a cheaper option for people, but they are a great way to achieve stronger and thicker nails. The gel powder is easy to apply to the nail, and can be cured under a UV or LED light.

This is a perfect option for people who simply want a stronger nail or would like to enhance the shape of their natural nails. Soft gel powder nails are cheaper than the hard gel powder options, and can be used as a stand-alone application, or can be used in conjunction with other products.

Unfortunately, due to the soft nature of these nails, they can be prone to chipping, particularly around the edges. These nails do not last as long as other artificial options, with a typical set lasting about 3 weeks. Further, the soft gel powder is not able to add any length to the natural nail and is really best used to strengthen the current nail or to alter the shape of the nail

Gel Polish

Gellen Gel Nail Polish Set - Nude Grays 6 Colors, Popular Nail Art Colors UV LED Soak Off Nail Gel Kit
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Gel polish is similar to shellac, although technically speaking the two are different products. Gel polish is made of the same material as gel powder, just a much thinner and weaker form. Gel polish can be used directly on top of natural nails, or in conjunction with other artificial products.


Very similar to other traditional nail products, gel polish comes in a nail polish jar and is easily brushed onto either the natural nail or an artificial nail. To fully cure and harden, the polish is then placed under an LED or UV light. The polish is completely dried in as little as 30 seconds, which is one of the main attractions of this polish type.


Gel polish is actually made of the same exact materials, monomers, or oligomers, as the gel powder. The only difference is the gel polish is an extremely weak form of the material. This allows the gel to be fully malleable and liquid, looking and feeling very similar to traditional nail polish.


A manicurist applying nail gel polish on a client.

Because gel polish is not intended to add any length or shape to the nail it can be compared to traditional nail polish. Because of the chemical makeup of the polish though, a single coat can last as long as 2 to 3 weeks without showing any signs of chipping around the edges. Due to its durability gel polish is commonly used for nail art, so the intricate images and designs can last much longer than with traditional nail polish options.


Gel polish will typically cost around $45 for a single application, with detailed nail art or designs costing extra.


Gel polish is an excellent option for people who want a long-lasting manicure. Because the material is similar to gel powders, this product will stay in place for 2 to 3 weeks at a time. Gel polish is versatile and can be used on natural nails or on artificial nails. The main benefit of this type of polish is that it is incredibly quick-drying, taking only 30 seconds to fully cure. Gel polish can easily be removed with acetone and comes in a variety of colors.

The downside to gel polish is that it is only polished for the nails, not able to change the shape or structure of the nail itself. While it can certainly stand alone on natural nails, it would be similar to simply getting a manicure. At $45 for each application, this could be costly over time.

When it comes to gel powder and gel polish options, it really depends on what the individual is looking to achieve with his or her nails. If a person desires longer and stronger nails, the clear choice is some form of hard or soft gel powder. This is a great way to alter the appearance of the nails, with long-lasting and durable results.

For a person simply looking for a long-lasting top coat or nail art, the gel polish will be the clear winner with its quick application and drying time. Before selecting the right gel option for your nails, consider what you are trying to achieve first. Of course, if you are in doubt, talking with your nail artist can help clear up any confusion, and can shed light on the right gel application for you.

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Close-up of a woman's hand with floral nail art manicure.

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