Gel Nail Polish Versus Traditional Polish: Which Should You Choose?

by The First Refresh

Nothing suggests “put together” like well-maintained nails with a slick of polish, whether a classy neutral or something more fun and colourful. But if you’re new to the world of manicures and pedicures, you’ll need to know the differences between traditional (classic) and gel polish. Each type has their pros and cons, with a myriad of factors to consider, including how long you want your polish to last and how much time you can dedicate to maintaining your manicure. We’re here to help you weigh up your options, whether you’re seeking a work-appropriate look or something more glam.

What is Gel Polish?

Like traditional nail polish (the type you can buy at any cosmetics counter and apply yourself at home), gel polish can be used on natural or artificial nails, on your hands or your toes. However, gel polish requires an extra piece of equipment to apply: a UV or LED light. Once the gel-based polish has been applied to your nails, you place your hand under the light for around a minute in order for the polish to harden, or “cure”, onto your nails. You can buy these lights for home use but that’s a bit of an investment, so most people prefer to go to a nail salon (or have mobile beauty services bring the equipment to their home) to get a gel manicure.

The Benefits of Gel Polish

The benefits of a gel manicure are that the polish lasts a long, long time - much longer than traditional polish, which can begin to chip and peel off within a couple of days. The polish is high-shine (unless you opt for a matte look) and will leave you feeling pretty fancy.

A professionally applied gel manicure will not chip or peel off with normal wear (caveats are hard knocks, no-nos like opening cans or tight boxes with your nails) and needs to be removed professionally, with acetone. Many people return to the salon a couple of weeks after gel polish has been applied to remove and redo your manicure. As your nails grow out, the natural nail will start to show through around your cuticle (kind of like the roots of your hair growing out!)

Another benefit of gel polish is that, although they cost more than a manicure with traditional polish, you may feel that you’ve got more bang for your buck. As lovely as a regular manicure can be, after a few days the evidence of painstakingly crafted nail art is gone. With a gel polish manicure, your nails will remain looking fresh for longer.

The Drawbacks of Gel Polish

The long-lasting nature of a gel manicure can also be a drawback. If you don’t like the colour or get bored of it after a couple of days, or need to change your look from casual to business or vice versa, it’s not as easy as removing your polish at home and applying something else. If you want to be able to change your look quickly, gel polish isn’t the best option.

Another drawback is that the wear and tear on nails is greater with gel polish. To apply gel polish, the surface of your nails must be buffed and scored with a file. To remove the polish you must soak your fingertips in acetone and buff off any remaining polish. There are ways to minimise long-term damage but there’s no doubt that gel polish manicures can take a toll on your nail health. Having your nails done at reputable salons that use quality products and are able to personalize your treatment to protect your nails is key to ensuring your nails stay healthy in the long run. Even if you love gel manicures, it is still advisable to give your nails a break every couple of months.

Cost is another factor. If you’re on a budget, traditional nail polishes for home use can be used again and again, sometimes for years. Gel polish requires an upfront cost and then the cost of maintenance and removal.

Which Should You Choose: Gel Polish or Traditional Polish?

If you’re not used to wearing nail polish and just want to freshen up your look for a special occasion, you’d be better off sticking to traditional polish. It’s economical, easy to remove, and lets you change your mind (and look) quite easily.

However, if smart nails on the daily are important to you and you’re not on a tight budget, a gel manicure is fabulous. Aside from a top-up trip to the nail salon every couple of weeks, you won’t have to do any daily maintenance. (You can make this process even easier by hiring mobile beauty services so you can fit your maintenance manicures around your own schedule with beauty subscription services). Gel polish is long-lasting, tough, and once it’s on you can forget about it for a while. Just what every busy woman needs.