Gel Nails vs Hard Gel – What’s the Difference?

Okay so you’re getting gel nails. You’ve heard about the benefits: instant drying, weeks of wear, long-lasting shine, and chip resistance. But what exactly are “gel nails?” At Perpetuity Skin + Spa in Boise, we get this question a lot. The term means different things depending on your location, or the nail tech or salon you go to. But one thing that all gel nails have in common is that they’re always cured under LED or UV light. If your nails aren’t being cured in a lamp, you’re not getting gel, no matter what the salon is telling you. But which gel is best for you?

gel nails vs hard nails

It’s confusing! But were here to help.  There are so many different names for services and …. How can you truly know what you’re getting, and whether it’s the right product for you? With  many nail treatments, which are all slightly different, fall under the term “gel?”

In general, they all have a similar gel-like consistency, and they’re all cured under LED or UV light, but they are not all created equal. Let us help you decipher the terms.

To start, they can at least be broken down into two main categories: soft gel and hard gel.

Soft Gel

This is gel polish.  The most common product people are looking for when they ask for gel is gel polish, which is considered a “soft gel.” The advent of gel polish was quite the revelation for its time. Until then we only had nail lacquer (regular nail polish), the kind we often paint our nails with at home. The biggest problem with nail polish is that it doesn’t stay on very long. Some find it chips within a day or two (although proper nail prep and application should allow nail polish to remain on for 7-10 days).

So, the major innovation with gel polish was that it stays on 10 days to 2 weeks. This is great news for those of us who want lasting color, especially when compared to regular nail polish. But it’s important to note that gel polish does not protect our nails from bending and breaking. Just think of it as nail polish that stays on longer.

When we hear people talk about getting a gel manicure, what’s really happening is that they are getting a gel polish application. The term manicure can be misleading, manicures traditionally involve soaking and cuticle softener.

And you can go to many salons that will perform the traditional manicure service including soaking and cuticle softener with your gel polish application. But when you’re getting gel polish the last thing you should do is soak or apply any oil-based product (like cuticle softener) to your nails before the polish goes on.

This is because it will not adhere properly to the nail, which means it could come off prematurely, and the whole point of getting gel polish is that is stays on longer!

Hard Gel

If gel polish is soft gel, then what is hard gel? Remember how we said that soft gel (gel polish) won’t protect your nails from bending and breaking? Hard gel does! Hard gel is a nail enhancement that is applied to your natural nails to give them strength and structure. It is often painted on with a brush, but here at Perpetuity we may apply it differently depending on the length, style, and shape of your nails. The main difference between soft and hard gel is that hard gel is stronger and harder, so it better protects your nails from bending and breaking, and it stays on longer than soft gel (gel polish).

Are you hard on your nails, use your hands a lot? Get the hard gel! If you aren’t, soft gel is perfectly fine.  Specifically, your nail goals, your lifestyle, and your natural nail chemistry are what’s needing to be addressed. Everyone’s natural nail chemistry is different, and some products will work better with your nail chemistry than others. Just like your skincare, and your lifestyle, each product has its pros and cons, and your nail tech at Perpetuity Skin + Spa can recommend the right fit for your nails and the way you live and work.


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