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Today, there are so many types of manicures to choose from. However, dip powder and gel continue to be two of the most popular options. Both can help you achieve a stunning, chip-resistant mani, but is one better (or safer) than the other? Ahead, two celebrity manicurists break down everything you need to know about the differences between dip powder and gel polish manicures.

Meet the Expert

  • Natalie Minerva is a Los Angeles-based celebrity nail artist and OPI global ambassador.
  • Elizabeth Hanna is a nail industry expert and the CEO of Nailing Hollywood.

What Is Dip Powder?

According to celebrity nail artist Natalie Minerva, dip powders are essentially acrylic powders. The polymers in dip powder give it its durability, helping it to last for up to four or five weeks. “Dip is best for someone looking for a long-lasting manicure that adds strength to the natural nail,” CEO of Nailing Hollywood Elizabeth Hanna says.

Here’s how it works: First, a bonding liquid and base coat are applied to the nails. Then, each nail is dipped into the colored powder (this step is repeated one or two more times depending on the desired look). Afterward, the nails are buffed and filed. A liquid sealant is then applied to harden and seal the powder. The last step? Swiping on a top coat to ensure the nails are shiny. Alternatively, some nail artists will use a clear gel topcoat and cure it with a UV or LED light to ensure the nails dry faster. 

With dip powder manicures at salons, there’s the hotly debated sanitary issue. If multiple people’s fingernails are dipped into a single powder jar, there is the potential for it to become contaminated and spread bacteria if scrapes or cuts are present. “If unclean hands are dipped directly into the dip powder pot, there is a risk of contamination or infection,” Hanna adds. However, you can avoid this by asking your manicurist to sprinkle the powder onto your nails. 

On average, you can expect to spend $35 to $50 on dip powder nails. The actual cost will vary depending on the city you’re in and how experienced your nail artist is.

What Is Gel Polish?

Gel nail polish is applied using the same method as traditional nail polish (i.e., base coat, color, and then topcoat), but each layer must be cured under a UV or LED light (most salons use the latter today) for 30 to 60 seconds. “Gel polish is a resin-like liquid,” Minerva says. “There are catalysts in the gel that react to LED and UV light, causing it to dry and harden instantly. Most nail artists who do gel nails today use LED lights, which have less UV exposure and require far less time under the light than old-school UV lights.”

Hanna says gel polish is appealing because it is more durable than traditional polish, lasting around two to three weeks without chipping. The cost of a gel manicure varies, depending on the nail salon’s location and the nail technician’s experience level. However, you can expect to pay anywhere between $30 to $50+.

Dip Powder vs. Gel Polish: What’s the Difference? 

  • Application: With dip manicures, there’s no need to harden the powder with a UV or LED lamp like there is with gel polish. Instead, dip powder air dries in between each coat. With gel manicures, the UV or LED lamp dries each layer of polish within 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Appearance: According to Minerva, the main difference between gel polish and dip powder is that dip powder contains polymers, giving them a different look and feel. “Dip nails are typically [thicker], and the application process is different because it includes the addition of the polymer.” 
  • Versatility: Generally, there are a wider variety of gel nail polish colors and finishes (from sheer to matte). Plus, you can create more intricate nail art using gel nail polish since it’s a liquid. On the other hand, dip powders are usually available in a select range of opaque or glitter shades—and there’s less flexibility to create designs using powder.
  • Removal: Both dip powder and gel polish must be removed using acetone. Minerva says the process involves filing down the top layer of powder or gel polish, applying an acetone-soaked cotton ball onto the nails, and wrapping it in foil. However, Hanna says it is worth noting that dip powder is more durable than gel. “This means it is more difficult to remove and can lead to nail damage if it is not applied and removed properly,” she notes.

The Final Takeaway

There’s no right or wrong choice when deciding between a gel polish or dip powder manicure. One manicure isn’t better for your nails than the other, and choosing between the two comes down to personal preference. Both options will provide you with a long-lasting, glossy manicure. Ultimately, you will want to consider the current state of your nails, your budget, and how long you want the manicure to last. Hanna says dip powder may be the best option if you prefer a manicure that does not require the use of UV or LED lights. On the other hand, if you like to wear intricate nail art, consider a gel polish mani. “Make sure you see a knowledgeable nail artist who can advise what product is best for you and your nails,” Hanna says.