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Untitled Blog | There’s Different Types of Manicures? What’s Better?

There's Different Nail Products?
...What Do I Book?

It may come as a shock, but yes… there are several different types of products used for manicures. 

So what should you ask for when looking to get a manicure? What’s better for your nails?

First, Let's Choose A Type of Product To Work With.

There are typically 4 (ish) main categories that nail enhancements fall under:

Soft gel | Gel Polish

Hard gel 



The reason soft gel and gel polish can somewhat tend to fall into the same category, is because both of them can usually be soaked off with acetone, and both aren’t strong enough for extending the nails on their own. 

However where the difference lay is that not all soft gels are soak off- and just gel polish on its own is usually not as strong as a soft gel is. Soft gel can be used to give a gel overlay, structured manicure, or fill in ridges a lot better than just gel polish. Soft gel is sometimes used for those who have brittle, or thin nails that need a bit more strength day-to-day. Most brands nowadays have a soft gel builder for those who struggle with lifting, or thin nails. Gel polish will usually still be applied on top of the soft gel, as the colour- and the soft gel will usually just be used to build a base on the nail.

Gel Polish

Gel Polish. Sometimes mistakenly called “shellac”. (Shellac is technically a brand of gel polish, produced by the parent company CND; think Kleenex- the product itself is a tissue, but the brand Kleenex has done such a good job of branding, you sometimes associate the 2 interchangeably). 

There are so many different brands of gel polish, it’s hard to say which one is the “best”, although all nail techs have their preference based on viscosity, colour availability, and how long they last in their climate (yes- climate plays a large roll in the longevity of nails. Some brands just aren’t cut out for dry winters, and some aren’t cut out for humid summers).

Examples of gel polish brands: Akzentz (Luxio), Light Elegance (P+ Polishes), Ugly Duckling, CND (Shellac), OPI, Jelly Fit, The Gel Bottle Inc, Kiara Sky…. the options are endless. But as a nail technician myself, I love Luxio gel polishes as my day-to-day colours. 

Gel polish is what’s typically used for colour on top of gels, acrylics, or just the plain natural nail. It does not add much strength, but it does add a bit more protection to your natural nails than regular polish does. 

Gel Polish Pros:

  • Easy to use & beginner friendly
  • Soaks off in Acetone
  • Enhances natural nails without added thickness

Gel Polish Cons:

  • Can’t be used to extend short nails
  • Not much added strength
  • Easier to chip/scuff if tough on nails

Hard Gel

Hard gel is what nail techs typically use to extend your nail- so if you’re a nail biter, have shorter nails than you’d like, or just want a change in shape, this is gonna be your go to. 

*Hard gel is not able to be soaked off, and will have to be removed with a hand file, or dremel. 

Hard Gel Pros:

  •  Strong but flexible
  • Lasts a long time
  • Tons of colour options
  • Can be used to lengthen short nails
  • Not likely to cause allergies 
  • Can come HEMA free
  • Odourless

Hard Gel Cons:

  • Can’t be soaked off. Would be very difficult to remove at home
  • Needs a fill every 3-4 weeks for optimal nail health. (Letting them get too long and grown out can cause an uneven distribution of weight, causing damage.
  • Can sometimes have heat spikes while curing in the UV/LED lamp. This IS normal, but can definitely be painful for a few seconds.
  • Difficult to use for inexperienced techs.


Polygel is a relatively newer product on the market that combines acrylic powder, mixed with gel- to create a thicker, jelly-like consistency. Usually sold in a tube, it’s an excellent alternative to those used to working with acrylic, but like the adjustment time of gel. (Acrylic dries in the air- so you’re limited with how much time you have, whereas gel will only harden when placed under a UV/LED lamp. Same goes for Polygel- it stays pliable until placed in the lamp). & it’s great for clients looking for the strength of acrylic, but flexibility of gel.

Polygel Pros:

  • Strong like acrylic but flexible like gel
  • Lasts a long time
  • Can be used to lengthen short nails
  • Odourless
  • No heat spike in the lamp
  • For non-pros it is easily available on Amazon
  • Less learning curve

Polygel Cons:

  • Can’t be soaked off. Would be very difficult to remove at home
  • Needs a fill every 3-4 weeks for optimal nail health. (Letting them get too long and grown out can cause an uneven distribution of weight, causing damage.
  • Limited brands/colours
  • Not usually HEMA free


This section is going to be long, because there is so much misinformation out there regarding Acrylic, that I feel it’s important to touch on each point so you fully have an understanding of what you’re getting done.

I want to start off by sorting Acrylics into 3 sub categories. 

  1. Dip Powder (Acrylic)
  2. MMA Acrylic
  3. EMA Acrylic

Yes- Dip Powder IS acrylic. And most places that offer it, refuse to acknowledge that. It’s typically advertised as a gel polish alternative, that is stronger and “healthier”. Which, simply… isn’t true.

Dip powder is done by adding a thin layer of glue (activator) to your nails, and a powder is then sprinkled overtop creating layer after layer until the nail is thick enough. The tech will then shape the nails to better resemble a nail, and a top coat is then applied (usually a gel polish top coat), you are put under the light, and you’re done. 

Sure, dip powder when done correctly can be considered stronger on the natural nail than gel polish. However the difference, is that dip powder is not as easily removed, is messy and gets all over the skin surrounding the nail, and can’t be properly built into an apex. 

But we will come back to why dip powder isn’t as great as it’s advertised.

Understanding MMA vs EMA Acrylic

Acrylic comes in 2 forms, MMA (Methyl methacrylate) and EMA (Ethyl Methacrylate). 

Acrylic nails are created by combining a wet brush that is dipped in monomer (usually a purple liquid- aka the MMA or EMA), and then dipped into a dish of powder.

That smell you notice when walking into most nail salons means there is a high chance they are using MMA Acrylic. This form of Acrylic is the cheapest acrylic monomer you can get, sometimes as low at $10 for a giant bucket. It is unregulated where its made, and deemed highly unsafe for use (since the 70s!). It is linked to high levels of dermal toxicity, and extreme respiratory issues. 

You’re probably thinking- how on earth are places offering such services with this product if it’s that bad!? Well to be blunt… Canada (and a lot of the US) doesn’t regulate the products we are able to use- just the cleaning products. Scary, I know. 

So to buy this monomer in giant quantities, at the cheapest price- most places just see profit. Some don’t even realize that it’s bad! & that falls back to the lack of regulation in this industry.

MMA acrylic is admittedly, a heck of a lot easier to use than most enhancement options, it dries quick, but doesn’t usually slide around where you don’t want it, and it’s almost like concrete in terms of it sticking to nearly anything. Which means less prep work needing to be done, can be applied messily and still stick, and is pretty difficult to destroy- so it seems as though these are the best nails you’ve ever had, because they just never come off- but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The strength of the MMA acrylic is often what draws people to its service. But in reality, it’s such a rigid, hard product- that if in a situation where you jam your finger/nails, the enhancement WILL break – and take your real nail with it. There is no flex in this product, which is not a good sign for your nails.

The application of MMA is usually done by using a sanding band on a high speed (purely for quickness) on your natural nail, and removing not only the shine from the nail- but several layers of the actual nail itself. Usually this is done by inexperienced nail techs, and unfortunately usually seen in places that are offering MMA acrylic.

The brush being used is usually saturated in the MMA monomer, which is then patted all around your cuticles, sides of your fingers, and who knows where else, while they apply the acrylic. 

2 things that are important:

1. Your largest organ is your skin.

2. Your skin absorbs everything that touches it. 

So, is it really safe to have MMA all over your skin? The answer is no. Well, that goes for any nail enhancement. But especially this type of acrylic.

EMA Acrylic

Now that’s out of my system, let’s talk about EMA acrylic.

Odour: Yes, sometimes this monomor does still have a scent, but it is significantly different from the MMA. There are also odour-free options, but from a technicians perspective I have yet to try one that works as good as the ones that still have a bit of scent. The best way I can describe the difference is that the EMA although still smells like a chemical of some sort, it’s very mild- and not continuously stuck in the air. MMA however is one of the most unforgettable, putrid scents that engrains itself into its surroundings almost like cigarette smoke.

EMA acrylic has a ton of scientific backing, and is what’s in majority of our household plastics, and even medical devices.

Although I still don’t recommend getting this all over yourself, it’s definitely the best acrylic option.

Acrylic Pros:

  • Strong 
  • Lasts a long time
  • Can be used to lengthen short nails
  • No heat spike in the lamp
  • Lots of colours
  • For non-pros it is easily available on Amazon

Acrylic Cons:

  • Most places use MMA Acrylic to cut corners
  • When soaked off gets very gummy, and very difficult to fully remove
  • Needs a fill every 3-4 weeks for optimal nail health. (Letting them get too long and grown out can cause an uneven distribution of weight, causing damage.
  • Extremely toxic to breathe in (MMA)
  • Usually why people develop allergies to HEMA

Dip Powder

With a better understanding about the differences in acrylics, I want to circle back to dip powders.

Although a slightly better alternative to MMA acrylic, often times the activator used to hold the powder to the nail, is still a similar compound to MMA monomer, or for those cheaper salons looking to skim a few extra dollars, they will just straight up use the MMA monomer, with the dip powder in layers. 

The removal process of dip powder is very difficult and messy as well, which means most technicians will always opt to remove it fully before applying a new product, but that will cost money and time as it can take more than an hour to remove.

Depending on your lifestyle, each style of manicure may have its benefits, or downfalls.

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