Gel Polish Vs Regular Polish: What’s The Difference?

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Torn between gel and regular nails at your next appointment? Check out our guide on the differences between gel polish vs regular polish!

Gel polish and regular polish are both fantastic ways to give your nails an instant makeover, but there are some differences between the two. The main differences between gel polish and regular nail polish include the application process, accessibility, longevity, removal process and price.

In this article, we will take a look at all of these differences so that you can decide whether gel or a regular manicure is the right choice for you!

What Is Gel Polish?

Gel manis are one of the most popular nail services in salons. A gel polish manicure makes use of a gel-based polish that goes under a UV lamp to “lock onto” your nail bed, creating a hard and durable polish that doesn’t take off easily.

@kristinkuyper_ before this gel polish absolutely destroyed my nails🥲 #gelnails #diynails #fyp #nails #nailart #nailtok #nailinspo #strangerthings ♬ Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God) – Kate Bush

Gel manicures are incredibly durable, usually lasting around 3 weeks (or longer, depending on your lifestyle), and don’t chip or peel off as regular polishes do. They’re also easier to maintain because they’re so durable, with proper care, of course.

What Is Regular Polish?

Perhaps the most popular type of at-home nail polish, a regular polish is one that we all know and have used at least once in our lives. Regular polish is simple and cheap, but unfortunately, it also starts chipping a few days after your application and usually lasts around a week in immaculate condition, if that.

If you get a traditional manicure that uses classic nail polish, it goes something like this; the technician will remove any old polish from your hands using a nail polish remover, shape and prime your nails, give you a little hand massage, then apply the base coat, polish, and top coat.

@lovefreshpaint Glazed donut bc its trendy ✨ #nails #diynails #nailinspo #fypシ ♬ Vegas (From the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack ELVIS) – Doja Cat

After all that work, you’re left with a perfect manicure—for about two or three days… until it starts to chip, crack or peel away from the nail plate.

Gel Polish Vs Regular Polish: The Main Differences

So, what’s the main difference between gel polish and regular polish? We’ll break it down below.

1. Application

We’ve all started with regular nail polish. Before gel nails were a thing, regular polish was the hailing king of all nail services.

The application is as easy as 1-2-3: First, clean and shape your cuticles, and follow up with a layer of base coat; second, apply a coat or two of your favorite nail polish; and third, apply top coat for a shiny finish. The drying time is about 2 minutes between each coat, making your total at-home manicure time typically around 10-20 minutes.

Gel polish, on the other hand, needs UV light or LED light to lock the polish onto the nail beds. The application process can be quite tricky if you’re a beginner.

First, you’ll need to clean and shape your cuticles, and follow up by lightly buffing your nails with a nail file – this helps the polish bond to your natural nails better. Additionally, you can also apply a nail dehydrator, which further helps the product stick to your nails.

Second, you have to apply a gel base coat, let it cure under the LED lamp, and then apply the main gel polish. Let the first coat cure under the lamp again, and repeat the curing process until you’ve achieved your desired thickness. Apply a gel top coat, and let it cure again.

Lastly, apply a few drops of cuticle oil over your fingernails for that smooth, glowy, healthy look – we don’t tolerate unhealthy nail beds over here!

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2. Longevity

Gel polish is a great option for those of us who spend a lot of time at work or who find ourselves constantly on the go. Gel manis are durable and tough, making them ideal for someone who likes to be active. Plus, gel polish can last for up to three weeks—or even a full month—without chipping or fading.

Regular nail polish has one major drawback: it’s easy to chip and damage. As the manicure typically only lasts under a week, you may need to frequently touch up and reapply your polish, which just isn’t practical if you have an active lifestyle or are often away from home.

3. Accessibility

Gel nails are a favorite for many because they’re long-lasting and look great. However, not everyone is comfortable with going through the hassle of doing a gel manicure at home, so you may need to rely on professional nail salons.

On the other hand, traditional nail polish is easy to apply and remove, and you can change the color as often as you’d like. What’s more, normal nail polish is easy to get at most drugstores or beauty supply stores, so you can easily do your own home manicure.

Gel Polish VS Regular Polish: Le Mini Macaron gel polish get with UV lamp
Get this gel set with UV Lamp on Nordstrom
Gel Polish VS Regular Polish: Essie regular nail polish
Get this nail polish on Ulta

If you want to go for a manicure that doesn’t require professional assistance (or if you don’t have time for it), getting regular polish at home might be your best option.

However, if you have access to a salon or a nail technician who offers gel-polish services, then this type of manicure will probably last longer than any other kind of polish job—and it will look better too!

4. Removal Process

While regular nail polish can easily be removed with standard nail polish remover, you will need lots of toxic acetone to remove a gel manicure.

Gel polish needs a full acetone soak or a special type of gel polish remover. This means that you have to wait for the acetone to work its magic, which can take anywhere from a few minutes to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the gel. Often, you will also need the help of a nail file or a cuticle scraper to get rid of all the last bit of the polish.

On the other hand, regular polish only needs a quick swipe of nail polish remover with a cotton ball for it to come off. This is because regular nail polish is more water-based than gel polish and therefore doesn’t stick as well to your nails, so it comes off easily without any extra help from special nail tools.

5. Price 

The cost of getting a gel manicure is usually around $50, although it can also be a little higher depending on your area, especially if you want to add nail art.

Regular polish manicures usually costs around $25 in nail salons, but you can also simply opt to buy a bottle of nail polish and base+top coat, which will come up to as little as $15 for multiple uses.

Gel Polish Vs Regular Polish: The Verdict

So which is better, gel polish or regular polish? Gel polishes win by a landslide. The most obvious benefit to this type of manicure is that it lasts for weeks without chipping or fading as regular nail polish does.

However, getting gel manicures regularly can damage your natural nails because of the heavy nail filing that typically goes into the process, so it’s good to take breaks every here and there, giving your natural nails a chance to rest.


So, to sum up, gel nail polishes are a great alternative to regular nail polishes if you want your nails to last longer and look more impressive. They have many benefits that make them worth investing in, and they are a great option for both special occasions as well as daily use.

A gel manicure also doesn’t require as much maintenance as regular polish does because it stays on longer than normal polish would (which means fewer visits to the salon).

However, gel manicures are more expensive than traditional manicures, so make sure you can afford the extra expense.

We hope you found our analysis of regular vs gel polish helpful! Have you decided what type of nail varnish you’re going to get at your next appointment? We hope you did! If you’re still looking for more nail ideas or nail designs, check the posts down below.

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