Dip Powder Nails vs Gel: Which Is Right for You

Nails vs Gel

When it comes to popular nail services people often think of traditional acrylics. However, many nail aficionados will tell you that now-adays, dip powder and gel polish reign supreme.  Compared to traditional polishes, which tend to chip easily and barely last more than a few days, gel and dip powder are known to provide chip-free, long-lasting manicures with virtually zero drying time.

If it’s well established that dip and gel are two very effective choices in modern nail enhancement, which of the two is better? Well, that answer is not so black and white. The differences between these two technologically-driven products are notable.

What is Dip Powder?

A fine colored powder is applied onto a strong adhesive base and cured with a liquid activator resulting in a hard, brilliant finish.

What is Gel Polish?

Gel polish, not to be confused with hard gel extensions, is applied similarly to traditional polish in a three-step process and cured with a UV lamp after each coat, resulting in a hard glossy finish.

Pros and Cons

When compared to traditional polish and other products, dip powder and gel polish both have many benefits and possibly a few disadvantages, depending on your specific needs and lifestyle.

Application Process

The most obvious differences between dip powder and gel polish have to do with their respective application processes.

Gel polish is applied similarly to conventional polish in a three-step process which includes a base coat, colored polish, and a top coat. What sets gel polish apart from a traditional polish, though, is that the nails are cured for 30-60 seconds under a UV or LED light after each coat is applied. The entire application process of gel polish takes around 45 minutes.

Dip powder’s application process is more unique and can be compared to a hybrid of gel and acrylic. An adhesive base coat is applied to each nail, then dipped into a fine colored powder and repeated until the desired color is achieved. A sealer activator is applied to each nail which cures the powder, and finally a clear top coat finishes the process to create a hard, brilliant shine with zero drying time or UV lights required. The entire application process of dip powder takes roughly 45-55 minutes.

Bottom Line: Gel and dip powder have very different application processes but take roughly the same amount of time. Thanks to its multistep process, and the powder application, the dip powder process is sometimes a little more challenging than gel, for beginners.

Drying Time

Both gel polish and dip powder are noticeably better when it comes to drying time, when compared to traditional acrylic nails. Gel requires UV light in order to cure, while dip powder air-dries very quickly on its own. That means you can say bye-bye to the risk of smudging your nails while leaving the salon.

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Bottom Line: Both gel and dip powder require zero drying time; however, gel polish is essentially dried while being cured under the UV or UV/LED lamp while dip powder is cured by applying a sealer activator onto the nail.

Lasting Power

When it comes to gel and dip powder, both types of manicures are long lasting and impressively durable, but dip powder, 9 times out of ten, takes the cake against gel. While both options can last a standard 2 weeks, well-applied dip powder often goes 3 to 4 weeks without experiencing any wear or degradation.

Some dip powder fanatics even claim they’ve had it last 5+ weeks, implying that when properly applied and carefully maintained, dip powder has the most potential of any type of nail polish when it comes to durability.

While gel polish also has the power to last, it’s important to state that people who have oilier nail beds may have issues with their gel manicure peeling or chipping more easily than expected. This is due to the reduced amount of adhesion between the surface of the nail and gel product that can be caused by those oils.

Bottom Line: Both gel and dip powder are long-lasting options for manicures, but dip powder tends to last longer. Those with oily nails may prefer dip powder.

4. Removal

While it’s possible to remove both gel and dip powder manicures at home by yourself, most experts recommend that you allow an experienced professional nail tech to complete the removal process. This can dramatically decrease the chances of any preventable damage.

It is possible to remove gel or dip powder at home, but requires patience and some supplies. Soaking with cotton and tin foil is the most common, then gently using a push tool and file. Gel comes off a little bit easier than dip as it is slightly harder. SNS developed this guide to remove dip powder at home that shares some pro tips that will keep your nails safer. Take things as slowly as possible and try not to use any force while removing the product.

Bottom Line: Both gel polish and dip powder have a similar removal process, but dip powder may be slightly more difficult to remove as it is a little less flexible than gel.

Nail Health

When using high quality products and the correct removal method, both gel and dip powder are widely considered to be safe manicure options which provide an extra layer of protection, preventing them from breakage and allowing them to grow stronger.

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The main difference would be for gel:  some individuals may be concerned with the ultraviolet light used to cure gel manicures due to UV light’s ability to cause skin cancer. However, many salons now use UV/LED hybrid lights which are safer and gentler.

The time spent under the UV lamps is also very brief compared to time you might spend out in the sun without sunscreen, usually clocking in at no more than 30 second cures. Ask your nail pro about using some sunscreen on your cuticles before applying the gel nail products–this might be something they recommend and know how to work with.

Bottom Line: Using high quality products formulated with vitamins may actually make nails healthier. For those concerned about UV light on their fingers, dip powder may be a healthier option for them.

Sanitation and Hygiene

When used correctly, both gel and dip powder are as hygienic as any other nail product; however, there are some reported instances of some dip powder manicures transmitting nail fungus. If you get dip powder in a salon, it’s important that your nail tech isn’t dipping multiple customers’ nails into the same nail pot.

To protect yourself, you may want to bring your own dip powder or make sure your nail tech is using a separate smaller pot for each customer or alternatively, the pour-over method which involves pouring the powder onto the nail.

Bottom Line: Dip powder has a greater risk of spreading germs if not used correctly in the salon.

The Finished Look

Both gel polish and dip powder come in a variety of colors and provide a hard, brilliant shine for 2+ weeks. Dip powder manicures tend to have a harder finish and more intense color, while gel manicures are thinner, and more flexible.

Bottom Line: Gel manicures tend to have a thinner, more flexible finish while dip powder is stronger and more durable. The overall look of the manicure depends on how the product is applied, and the glossiness of the top coat or product used.


The cost of gel and dip powder manicures is really dependent on the particular salon or the city you live in; however, dip powder manicures tend to be slightly more expensive. You may also find gel polish is more accessible in salons than dip powder.

Bottom Line: Dip powder may be slightly more expensive, but in some cases, you might end up getting more out of the manicure. The longevity of the product, regardless of whether its dip or gel, has more to do with product quality, application process, and maintenance than it does with the nail type.

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