Understanding Gel, Acrylic, and Fiberglass nail extensions

When considering getting nail extensions you are most likely going to do some research and see a dizzying array of terms, such as, gel, UV curing, acrylic, fiberglass, and overlay. Nail extensions have come a long way from the days of press on nails, however, one basic concept still remains in their application, and that is the use of a nail tip. When you hear the term tip, what is being discussed is a piece of plastic that is fastened to your nail, cut, shaped to your desire, and then covered with gel, acrylic, or fiberglass. A nail can also be formed on your natural nail, in this process no tip is used. This forming is often called sculpting and can also be considered an extension. So how do you tell the difference between a gel, acrylic, and fiberglass nail extension job? The answer lies in the products that each process uses.

Perhaps, the most common type of nail extension is an acrylic nail extension, however, this may be quickly replaced by gel extensions. An acrylic extension uses an acrylic that is applied over the nail tip. The acrylic is created by mixing a powder and a liquid to create a substance that can essentially be painted over the nail tip that will eventually harden. One of the ways you know you are getting acrylic nails is that you will see the mixing of powder and liquid. Don’t be fooled when someone tells you the product is gel when it is actually acrylic. This acrylic will air dry to a hard finish and does not need to be cured by a light. Acrylic extensions need to be buffed to give them a nice clear finish as they will be cloudy before buffing occurs. Acrylic extensions can be removed by soaking the nail in acetone, while UV gel nails must be buffed to remove the gel, they will not come off with acetone.

Gel extensions, also known as UV gel extensions, differ from acrylic extensions in that there is no mixing involved to create the gel. The gel should already be created in a jar, and it should look like hair gel. The gel does not have a strong smell to it as the acrylic mix will. Additionally, the gel needs to be cured with a UV light, thus the oft used reference, UV gel. Gel extensions have a clearer finish when completed and do not need to be buffed thoroughly.

Fiberglass extensions utilize a fiberglass mesh or fabric that is placed on the nail and then treated with resin to make the fiberglass clear. After the application of the resin, an activator is usually sprayed to cure the resin which provides a hard finish. One of the appealing aspects of fiberglass extensions is that they are water soluble and can be removed by simply applying some water.

It is important to note that an overlay is when a person wishes to have no length added to their nail, but desires protection for the nail. For this process the nail technician will apply some type of acrylic substance over the nail, it does not have to necessarily be the two part acrylic. Gel, Fiberglass, and “Acrylic” nails all use some type of acrylic substance, even though only the two part mixed acrylic is referred to as “acrylic” nails. An overlay is more of a nail enhancement than a nail extension. However, nail extensions do fall under the category of nail enhancement. A nail sculpting is also considered extending the nail, but, this process uses no tip to elongate the nail, rather a nail is created out of various substances(sometimes an acrylic). This sculpting is truly an amazing process and can be done much faster than applying tips if done by a skilled technician.

All types of extensions should be around the same price range, $55. Gel nails should not be much more expensive than acrylic nails. Price may vary from $40-$160, with prices being dependent on area of country and the audience that the salon is targeting.

11 Responses to “Understanding Gel, Acrylic, and Fiberglass nail extensions”

  1. Paulette says:

    There’s a product that does not smell but I don’t know what it is called a clear coating is painted on the nail then the finger is dipped in powder. Another clear coating is applied then the finger is dipped in another powder. After that color is applied and a clear coat is applied for shine. It air dries. Do you know whether it is a gel or shellac? I think the product name is SNC although when looking it up on the internet it did not appear to be the same. Thank you.

  2. Liz says:

    Anything involving a powder is an “Acrylic” nail. Even though it didn’t smeel – they come in odorless now too! Some salons try to give them different names in order to charge more!

  3. Kay says:

    It is called SNS or signature nail systems and it is traditional acrylic, but simply applied using the dip method. The dip method was made popular by backscratchers and I would be more inclined to find a salon using this system above sns ONLY because this system touts that it is different from traditional acrylic as far as damage, health and safety. Any company that relies on false advertising does not get my money

  4. Jan says:

    Which type of extension is least damaging to the natural nail?

  5. admin says:

    Jan, acrylic nail extensions do the least damage to your natural nails.

  6. Melissa says:

    Admin, acrylic nails are actually one of the MOST damaging extensions to your nails.. Your real nails need to be filed down with a drill in order for the acrylic to stick to the nail bed, causing a lot of damage to your natural nail. Fiberglass and silk wrap are the least damaging, as no drilling of the nail is required and they are much easier to remove.

  7. Beckie says:

    Actually, when applied, maintained, and removed correctly, no enhancement is bad for your nails. They are all equal. The problem is when the natural nail is over filed, the client doesn’t maintain the enhancements, or it is pried off the nail when removed causing layers of nail plate to peel off. In most cases, it is over filing or improper removal by either the professional or the client.

  8. Beckie says:

    You should never use a drill on the natural nail, and if you are using a good acrylic system you only need to gently etch the nail with a 240 grit file to remove shine and prep the nail plate properly to ensure adhesions.

  9. andrea says:

    well i been doing nails for 20+ years and i do acrylic only.
    1). You CAN use a drill IF you know how to handle a drill!
    2). Dont go to the discount salons!!!
    I never had no issues with any customers nail health. I always use the drill. I dont drill you to bits and pieces as the discount shops do. I remove acrylics by soaking them in acetone only

    When a customer comes to me their natural nails will be intact after they remove the acrylics ue to the way I sculpt them. I do not use tips but do full sculpted nails and my customers appreciate them

  10. Beckie says:

    I didn’t say you should never use a drill, but only that it should not be used on the natural nail. If you are properly trained, drills can be a tremendous benefit, and help cut down on the filing time. If you do use the drill on the natural nail as a prep, I am glad that you have done so successfully without damaging the clients nail; however, the fact still remains that it is a risky business that, over all, should not be preformed, and many leading nail professionals and scientist will say the same thing. The main point here is neither Acrylics, Gels, or Wraps (keeping in mind that these are all technically a form of acrylic system) are harmful for you if you are in the hands of a skilled professional, and personally, I prefer acrylics.

  11. Danielle says:

    Which lasts the longest and looks the most natural?

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