Once upon a time, a manicure meant a few swipes of polish on your nails. Sure, you had to deal with picking a color and figuring out if you wanted to hit the salon or go the DIY manicure route, but those were pretty much the only decisions. Fast-forward and now you have not only traditional polish but also gel, acrylic, and dip manicures too. It’s enough to make anyone’s head spin (and leave your nails bare). But the beauty of all of these options? There’s one to fit every polish preference. Ahead, celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders weighs in on what you need to know about each one's pros and cons so you can nail (get it?) your choice.
A traditional manicure goes back to basics and involves nail trimming and shaping, cuticle pushing and nipping, a hand massage, and application of polish, Saunders says.
The Pros: This can be done fairly quickly (about 30 minutes) and is easy to do yourself. And if you get sick of the color, plain polish remover solves that problem. Speaking of color, classic polish gives you the widest range of options.
The Cons: It can take an hour for the polish to get rock-hard, which means downtime while trying to avoid dents and smudges. Plus, there’s always a risk of chipping. How long your mani lasts depends on the type of polish, base, and top coat used, as well as how rough you treat your hands. If your manicure lasts a week, you’re lucky.
The Cost: On average about $20.
You’ll get the same nail and hand care as during a traditional manicure, but the composition of the polish is different. “Gel polish is made of up acrylic polymers and oligomers that fuse together when they’re cured, usually under a UV light,” Saunders says. The service takes a bit longer, about an hour.
The Pros: No drying time because the polish sets under the aforementioned light. Gel manicures can last two weeks or more without chipping or dulling, making them a good option for vacations, people who use their hands a lot, or those who simply can’t stand chipped nails.
The Cons: As you (hopefully) know by now, UV light is not good for your skin, and the skin on your hands is just as susceptible. So apply sunscreen to the backs of your hands beforehand, or ask if the salon can use an LED light instead (many now do). There are at-home gel manicure kits, but the salon versions are generally more effective. Gel polish needs to be soaked off with acetone, Saunders says, and it’s best to leave that to the pros, which means a trip back for removing the polish. Above all, avoid picking it off because that’s a surefire recipe for nail damage.
The Cost: Anywhere from $35-$50.
“Acrylic nails are made of a liquid monomer and powder polymer that, when combined, fuse into a hard substance that is laid on top of a plastic nail tip to create a longer or more sculpted shape,” Saunders says.
The Pros: If your goal is extra-long length, this is the best way to achieve that. Acrylics are the strongest and most durable, Saunders adds. Plus, if you’re prone to nail-nibbling, applying acrylics can be a deterrent. They’ll last two to three weeks, and you can extend that by going back to the salon for fill-ins or fixes if any break.
The Cons: Acrylic nails should both be applied and removed by professionals for best results.
The Cost: Starting at around $35; around $15 for fill-ins.
This starts with a powder (similar to the one used in acrylics) that is tinted with pigment to mimic polish. It gets fused with brush-on nail glue to create a long-lasting manicure, Saunders says.
The Pros: Dip powder manicures can last longer than gel manicures—up to four weeks—and don’t require a UV lamp. Dip manicures create a thick, protective layer over the nails, which is a nice option for people with thin or brittle nails.
The Cons: “The removal process can be quite extensive, so expect that filing, soaking, and scraping will be needed in order to remove the product,” Saunders says. There are at-home dip manicure kits available, but results are best when done professionally. (It may be tricky to find a salon near you that offers dip manis because it is still new.)
The Cost: Between $35 and $50.
The bottom line? “I recommend trying these options, figuring out what works with your lifestyle and nails, and sticking to it,” Saunders says. There’s no one-size-fits all when it comes to manicures.