Your Guide To The Differences Between Hard & Soft Gel Nails

If you're someone who enjoys heading to the nail salon and treating yourself to a manicure, you may have heard the terms hard gel nails and soft gel nails banded around a few times. But what the heck is the difference between the two? Well, allow us to explain. One of the main differences is that a manicure created using hard gel cannot be soaked off with acetone, whereas a soft gel can. To understand the basic difference between the two, Vicki Ornellas, an international nail trainer and stylist, explained to Glamour, "Hard gels are used for strength and structure, [whereas] gel polish is just for color and art, and a little strength." 

But then, to complicate things further, there is also the soft gel manicure. That refers to someone having their nails painted using a soft gel polish. Gel polish isn't the same as soft gel extensions, but they are made of the same type of gel. Soft gel polish is simply the painting of color, or some nail art, onto the nail without changing the length or shape (beyond a cut and file, of course). Still with us? Good. Now that we know the basics of what sets these terms apart, there are a few other key differences you'll want to think about before your next salon visit.

Hard gel can more durable and long lasting than soft gel

Hard gel nails need to be filed off the nail, which means they have a lot more wear time in them than soft gel. Board-certified dermatologist Shari Lipner told the American Academy of Dermatology Association that hard gel on your fingernails could take around six months to grow out, while your toenails may not need doing again for a whopping one year to a year and a half. As for soft gel nails? In a polish or extension form, soft gel nails are more likely to last somewhere between two and four weeks on your fingernails.

It's also worth noting that hard gel nails also tend to have more durability than soft gel nails. "The appeal of hard gel is that it can offer a lot of durability and strength, especially important if it's being used for nail extensions," Eunice Park, a nail artist and the research and development manager at Aprés Nail, explained to Makeup.com. Soft gel may be too (you guessed it) soft if you want to go for super long nails, so soft gel extensions are usually only used for shorter manicures, as Park confirmed to Elle. Equally, hard and soft gel manicures both have soft gel polishes beat if you want to extend or change the shape of your nails, as a normal polish won't be able to do that.

But you probably won't be able to take hard gel off at home like soft gel

As we know, hard gel can stay on your nails for months, so it's great for those who don't want a lot of maintenance. But unless you have a nail drill at home, you won't be able to get it off safely without a trip back to the nail salon. As for soft gel extensions and soft gel polishes? They can be soaked off with acetone at home, as it's easy to get from any nail supply store. That means you should be able to remove it yourself in a pinch, potentially saving you an expensive return to the salon. However, that still doesn't make soft gel easy to get off — and you're still going to have to be very careful so you don't damage your nails. "If you attempt to remove them at home, you could damage the natural nail plate," Krisztina Van Der Boom, co-founder of nail and hair salon DryBy, warned while speaking to Refinery29.

And, speaking of money, there can be quite a price difference when it comes to hard and soft gels. A hard gel manicure could set you back somewhere between $80 and $125, while soft gel could potentially cost between $40 and $100. If you're simply looking for a soft gel manicure where your nails are painted with a gel polish, prices usually start at around $35.