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 • Nails  • Nailcare Guides  • There Are 9 Different Types of Manicure – Here’s How to Choose the Best One

There Are 9 Different Types of Manicure – Here’s How to Choose the Best One

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Main image – Shavacueva/Stocksy

Nails are big news in beauty, but there’s so much choice when you head to the salon that it can get confusing. 

If you’re not sure about the difference between acrylics, gel nails, gel polish and all the rest you really aren’t alone.

Add to the confusion that- although we tend to think of these treatments as manicures- acrylics, gels and extensions are technically ‘nail enhancements’ instead and no wonder it’s all a bit of a mystery.

That’s why I’ve asked nail artist Ashton Forster to break down *all* the salon nail treatments out there, who they’re best for and how much they cost.

Here’s everything you need to know about nail enhancements, so you can head to your next nail appointment with confidence (and plenty of inspo pics to get the look you want).

 


1. Nail polish (aka nail varnish)

Nail polish is an old-school nail enhancement that’s been around for a long time. Chances are, you’ve painted your nails at home at least once or twice. 

You can DIY nail polish pretty easily, but you’ll usually get a better – and longer-lasting – finish with a salon polish session. Plus, it’s easier to get nail art and cute designs, unless you have a really steady hand.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Betina R. Goldstein (@betina_goldstein)

 

Who’s it for?

It is an ideal choice for those who prefer a quick and budget-friendly way to add colour to their nails. If you like changing your nail colour or designs really regularly, this is a great choice for you. 

How long does it take?

A regular nail polish application can take around 15-30 minutes, including drying time.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for a nail polish application at a salon can range from £10 to £30 in the UK and $20 to $40 in the US.

Additional nail art or manicure services (like hot stone or paraffin treatments) along with your choice of nail polish can increase the price of your service.

How long does it last?

Regular nail polish typically lasts for about 5-7 days, though it can chip sooner depending on how much you use your hands and what you do about aftercare.

How is it removed?

Removal is really straightforward and can be done at home with nail polish remover. Nail polish is perfect if you have commitment issues when it comes to sticking to just one colour.

 


2. Gel polish (aka Shellac, Gelish or ‘soft gels’)

Gel polish (sometimes known as brand names like Shellac or Gelish) is a popular choice for people who want a longer-lasting and chip-resistant option than regular polish. 

It’s applied in a similar way to regular polish, but with an added base and top coat. It’s also “cured” ( the name for the chemical process that dries out each gel layer) under a UV or LED light for a longer-lasting finish. 

You can get nail art or designs using gel polish, and you can look forward to a glossy finish for up to 3 weeks.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Anna Walton | Mobile Luxury Manicurist | London (@thenailsthat)

 

Who’s it for?

It’s great if you want a glossy finish that can withstand daily activities. 

If you find that regular polish chips quickly on you, you do lots of sports and exercise or you have a hands-on job that takes its toll on your nails then gel polish could be what you’re looking for. 

It’s also a great choice if you love the look of having your nails done, but want less maintenance than nail polish.

How long does it take?

Gel polish application can take about 30-45 minutes, with the curing process under UV or LED light.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for a gel polish manicure at a salon ranges from £25 to £45 in the UK and $25 to $65 in the US. You’ll need to pay for infills if you want to keep your colour, or you can have a new set applied – both of these options come with an ongoing cost.

How long does it last?

Gel polish tends to last longer than regular polish, often for 2-3 weeks with proper application and care. However, it may need to be removed and reapplied when new growth occurs.

How is it removed?

Gel removal is usually done at the salon using acetone, and it can take around 15-20 minutes. Don’t be tempted to pick it off as you run the risk of damaging your nails.

 


3. Acrylic nails (aka acrylics)

Acrylic nails are ideal for those looking to add length and strength to their natural nails.

They involve using powder and monomer liquid together to create a hard, protective covering for your nail. This mixture is then applied with a brush and left to cure in the air as part of the process.

Tips can be added to the ends of your nails to add length, or length can be added by sculpting acrylic over the edge of the nails. If you nail tech decides to sculpt your acrylic themselves they’ll use ‘nail forms‘, a type of plastic or paper template placed under your nail which your tech can then build the shape of the acrylic onto.

Acrylic tips tend to be stronger than other types of manicure and they can be customised with colours and designs or used to create natural-looking length and strength. 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by AMI STREETS (@amistreets)

 

Who’s it for?

People who want a customisable and lasting nail enhancements. If you struggle to grow your nails or you want to experiment with long-lasting nail art, then acrylic nails might be the option for you.

You’ll want to avoid HEMA (or hydroxyethyl methacrylate), a light-curing monomer commonly found in salon nail products though, according to the expert.

Forster explains, “If you’re sensitive or prone to allergies look for brands that are HEMA free when wearing gel, gel polish, BIAB and dip powder (acrylic) – we all have a tolerance to HEMA and it is lower for some of us than others! Plenty of small brands are now providing a HEMA free range.”

How long does it take?

Acrylic nails can take around 1 to 1.5 hours. This includes the time needed for acrylic application, shaping and drying. If you go for intricate designs or sculpted nails, it can take longer.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for acrylic nails can range from £30+ in the UK and $35 to $60 in the US, depending on the design and style you go for. After that time you usually need an infill or you can get them removed (and replaced if you want to).

How long does it last?

Acrylic nails can last anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks, but they may need fills or maintenance as your natural nails grow.

How is it removed?

Acrylic removal is typically done at the salon by soaking the nails in acetone, and it may take about 20-30 minutes. Acrylic nails are suitable for those who want something long lasting that they can do different things with, especially if they have weak or brittle natural nails.

 


4. Gel nails (aka gels, hard gel or gel extensions)

Gel nails are similar to acrylic, with the main difference being that the gel nails are cured underneath a UV light whereas acrylic nails are cured by air. They offer a lightweight and natural-looking alternative to acrylic nails.

Like acrylics, hard gel nails can be used to create extensions using a nail form to create any shape or length you want.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by JESS YOUNG NAILS (@jessyoungnails)

 

Who’s it for?

They are suitable for people who want a flexible and glossy finish to their nails, or if you struggle to grow your own nails. They add a protective coating and length, colour and designs to your natural nails.

How long does it take?

Gel nails, similar to acrylics, can take 1 to 1.5 hours, including gel application, curing and shaping. However, just like acrylic nails, the more complex the design, the longer the service will take.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for a gel nail application is similar to acrylic nails, ranging from £30+ in the UK and $35 to $80 in the US. 

How long does it last?

Gel nails, similar to acrylics, can last 2 to 4 weeks. At this point you’ll need to get them infilled or a fresh set put on after removing the previous set.

How is it removed?

Removal is typically done at the salon with acetone, similar to gel polish removal. Gel nails are recommended for those who prefer a sleek and natural appearance with added durability.

 


5. BIAB Nails (aka Builder in a Bottle or Builder Gel)

BIAB nails (also known as Builder in a Bottle, or Builder Gel) is a soak-off soft gel that’s specifically formulated to be used as an overlay on the natural nail. It adds strength and can extend the nails slightly if your nail tech uses nail forms to create length and shape.

The application involves using slightly thicker layers than in a gel manicure, but the process is similar and uses UV light to cure the nails.

Forster explains, “BIAB is stronger than regular gel polish and needs to be applied properly to create a strong ‘structure’ on your nail but not as hard as hard gel so can be soaked off – this makes it perfect for growing your natural nails.

“It’s trending right now with more and more clients looking to grow their natural nails with something softer than acrylic and hard gel but which lasts longer than regular gel polish.”

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by @lillypalm__

 

Who’s it for?

BIAB nails are a great choice for anyone who struggles with weak, brittle nails or has nails that they can’t seem to get past a certain length. It creates more natural, everyday looks than acrylics or gels do. If you want to add strength and flexibility to your nails, this is the one for you.

How long does it take?

BIAB nails typically take 1 to 1.5 hours, as the gel used is layered and cured separately which takes time.

How much does it cost?

The average cost is similar to gel nails, ranging from £25 to £40 in the UK and $35 to $60 in the US, and they can last around 2 to 3 weeks.

At this point you can either choose to get your BIAB infilled – where they fill in the area that’s grown away from the nail with more BIAB and remove any areas that are damaged – or they can be removed and fresh BIAB applied.

How long does it last?

BIAB nails can last 2 to 3 weeks, similar to gel polish. Maintenance may be required for new growth.

How is it removed?

Removal is usually done in the salon with acetone, similar to gel polish removal. 

 


6. Dip powder nails (aka SNS nails)

Dip powder nails (also called SNS nails) are somewhere between gel nail polish and acrylic in terms of adding strength and colour, but are applied a little differently.

With dip powder nails you dip the nail into a carton of pigmented powder then top it with sealant. There’s no need to cure or dry it as the chemical process does this itself. 

Forster explains that often dip powder is marketed as completely different to acrylic but that they’re more similar than most people realise.

“Dip powder is often quoted as being different to acrylic nails by non professionals when they are actually the same – both are acrylic treatments just in different application methods!”

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Chelsea | Dip Powder Nails (@sip_and_dip)

 

Who’s it for?

Dip powder nails are perfect for those who want a long-lasting and low-maintenance option with a range of colour choices.

They’re not as easy to make creative designs with as other services. Some people DIY their dip powder at home, but this may not give as good results as a salon treatment.

How long does it take?

Dip powder nails can take 45 minutes to 1 hour. This includes the application of the dip powder layers and sealing.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for dip powder nails ranges from £30 to £50 in the UK and $30 to $60 in the US, and they can last around 3 to 4 weeks. 

How long does it last?

Dip powder nails can last 3-4 weeks or even longer, depending on how well they are applied and your nail care routine.

How is it removed?

Removal involves soaking the nails in acetone or using a specialised dip powder removal product to remove them. 

 


7. Fibreglass nails

Fibreglass nails are a lightweight and natural-looking nail enhancement used to add strength to the nail, though they’re not widely offered in salons as a treatment.

Fibreglass is a thin material that’s made up of small strands which is then layered onto the nail with glue to add strength, without adding the bulkiness that some fake nails have.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by Isabella Moreira (@bybellamoreira)

 

Who’s it for?

People who want a natural-looking set of nails that adds strength to their natural nails. This can mean your natural nails grow longer.

How long does it take?

Fibreglass nails take around 1 to 1.5 hours, similar to most other types of nail enhancements.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for fibreglass nails is similar to gel or acrylic nails, ranging from £30+ in the UK and $40 to $50 in the US. They can last around 2 to 3 weeks before you’ll need infills or a fresh set.

How long does it last?

Fibreglass nails can last 2 to 3 weeks, similar to gel and acrylic nails. Maintenance may be needed as your natural nails grow.

How is it removed? 

Removal is usually done by soaking the nails in acetone in the salon.

 


8. Silk wrap nails

Silk wrap nails are created by applying a thin layer of silk to the nail, which adds strength and can be used to add length too.

It’s not a new technique, and it isn’t one that you’ll find offered in the salon that often, but it has gotten more popular over the last few years.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by ?????’? ???? ????? (@olivessilknails)

 

Who’s it for?

Silk wrap nails are recommended if you have damaged or weak natural nails as they provide strength and support. They’re a great option for strengthening nails.

How long does it take?

Similar to fibreglass, acrylic and gel nails, silk wrap nails take about 1 to 1.5 hours.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for silk wrap nails is comparable to other artificial nail options, ranging from around £40 in the UK and $50 to $65 in the US.

How long does it last?

Silk wrap nails, like fibreglass, can last 2 to 3 weeks, with the need for fills or maintenance.

How is it removed? 

Removal involves soaking the nails in acetone, similar to gel or acrylic nails. 

 


9. Polygel Nails

Polygel is a hybrid of acrylic and gel. It’s used as a nail enhancement to add a hard, protective overlay to your natural nails, or it can be used to extend their length too using nail forms to create any shape or length you’re looking for.

It does need to be cured under a light, similar to gel nails.

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
View this post on Instagram
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

A post shared by GelPerfect Poly Gel Nails (@gelperfect)

 

Who’s it for?

Polygel nails are recommended if you want lightweight and natural looking nail enhancements that are easy to apply and flexible.

How long does it take?

Polygel nails take around 1 to 1.5 hours.

How much does it cost?

The average cost for polygel nails is similar to other artificial nail options, ranging from £30+ in the UK and $50 to $60 in the US. Polygel is also another nail enhancement that picked up in popularity as a DIY treatment.

How long does it last?

Polygel nails can last 3 to 4 weeks, similar to other types of nail enhancements. Maintenance may be required as your natural nails grow.

How is it removed? 

Removal is typically done with acetone, similar to gel or acrylic nails. 

 


The takeaway

There’s no one-size-fits-all option when it comes to nail enhancements, even when application methods or products sound pretty similar.

Depending on what you’re looking for – longer nails, stronger nails, creative designs or a temporary look that’s easy to apply – there’s a nail service out there that’ll suit, it’s just a case of finding the right one.

Forster advises on caring for your nails after removal of enhancements too, saying, “many of those who have had nail enhancements find their nails are weak or soft after regular wear.

“Unless their enhancements have been removed poorly (likely due to over-filing) our nails do feel weaker when the enhancements are removed because we lose that extra protection we are used to! 

“Ask your nail technician to apply a base and topcoat of regular polish to give you some protection while you adjust to your natural nails! Application of cuticle oil multiple times a day really does prolong the wear of any manicure or enhancement and encourages the growth of healthy nails.”

 

Meet the expert

Ashton Forster is a celebrity nail artist and freelance nail technician whose work has been featured at London Fashion Week and published in multiple magazines including Noctis, Mob and VGXW magazine. Currently in the process of launching her first Spring/Summer Limited Edition capsule of hand painted press on nails due 1 April 2024. 

 

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Freelance Beauty Writer

Lucy is a beauty writer from the UK who writes about everything from skincare to beauty trends and all the good stuff in between. A trained beauty therapist, she regularly writes for the likes of Refinery29 and PopSugar.

Expertise: Skincare, makeup
Education: The Open University
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