Dip vs Acrylic Nails: What’s the Difference?

So many pretty nail styles out these days! But what if you’re a newbie when it comes to professional manicures? When you’re finally ready to pull the trigger and get your nails done, how do you decide? Powder dip vs acrylic nails for example…

Acrylic nails and powder dip nails look very similar, but which one is better? And how are dip and acrylic nails different?

Read on for the skinny on these beautiful nail types, so you know just what to order next time you’re at the nail salon.

How are Powder Dip and Acrylic Nails Similar?

At first glance, it’s hard to tell the difference between acrylic nails and nails made with a powder dip technique.

They both look amazing, can have beautiful designs, and can help your short nails grow out. When either kind of manicure is complete, it can be hard to tell the difference unless you know how it was done.

That’s about where the similarities end. How dip and acrylics are made are where the differences come in.

This post may contain affiliate links. My full disclosure policy is sort of boring, but you can find it here.

How are Acrylic Nails and Powder Dip Nails Different?

The biggest difference between the two is the type of material used to make the nail:

  • Acrylics use a liquid monomer to build the nail
  • Acrylics can change the length and shape of your nail with extensions
  • Dip nails use a resin to activate nail powder
  • Dip nails use colored powders which when activated turn into both a hard layer and colored polish, while acrylic nails will still need to be polished after application.

Follow along for a brief rundown of the way these two popular manicures are achieved.

What are Acrylic Nails?

Acrylic nails used to be the only game in town. Acrylics are great if you have trouble growing your nails out, or have weak or thin nails. They can be as long or as short as you like.

If you’re getting a “full-set” of acrylics, the nail tech will usually glue on tips (you can choose the shape, length and style). Then a blob of acrylic is plopped on and formed into your desired shape. The acrylic uses a chemical called a monomer to hold the nail and the acrylic together. That monomer chemical is what give nail salons that strong chemical smell.

This forms a hard, protective layer over the natural nail bed.

The combo of your natural nail, tip and acrylic are then allowed to air dry before they’re filed, shaped, smoothed and polished.

Acrylic nails can also be used to discourage chewing or biting if that’s a habit you’re trying to kick. Because who wants to nibble on a gorgeous manicure you just spent a pretty penny on?

powder dip or acrylic nails, which is better
Acrylic nail extensions require super glue, which can be toxic.

Pros of Acrylic Nails

  • You can use both regular and gel nail polish.
  • They can help your natural nails grow out if you have weak or short nails.
  • You can change the shape, length and style of your natural nails to keep up with the trends.
  • Acrylic nails can last up to six weeks without chipping, which is longer than most dip manicures.
  • Acrylics can be used to extend the length of your nails or create different shapes.

Cons of Acrylic Nails

Before you run out and drop your money on a full set of acrylics, you should also know about the cons of acrylic nails:

  • They’re time consuming to apply.
  • Toluene, part of nail glue, is considered a toxic chemical.
  • They require a lot of upkeep. Expect salon visits every 2-3 weeks to get them filled where your nail has grown out.
  • They’re expensive. A full set can run upwards of $75 in a big city.
  • They can damage your natural nails if they’re done incorrectly.
  • It can be hard to find a skillful technician.
  • If they’re not done properly, you can get a nasty infection on your nail bed if water and bacteria gets between your natural nail and the acrylic.
  • They should be professionally removed by soaking in acetone

Acrylic Nail Kit Acrylic Powder and Liquid Set, Monomer Liquid Set with Nail Brush, Pink White Clear Nail Powder Kit for Acrylic Nails Extension Beginner set (Coloful)

If you’re dextrous, doing your own acrylic nails is possible, but it’s pretty complicated for a beginner.

What is a Powder Dip Manicure?

Dip manicures use powder and a resin to make a strong, durable layer on your natural nail. There are tons of different colors of powders available to choose from.

To get a dip manicure, the tech will apply a special base coat to your natural nail. Then, the nail is dipped into the colored powder of your choice. This is repeated a few times depending on the thickness you desire.

Next, a special sealant is painted on which hardens the underlying powder layer.

Pros of Powder Dip Nails

  • A regular dip powder manicure costs between $30 and $50 on average, which is way cheaper than a full set of acrylic nails.
  • A dip powder manicure looks more natural.
  • Dip powder manicures can last up to a month.
  • A dip manicure is more simple than getting a set of acrylics.
  • A powder dip manicure is a lot faster than getting acrylics.
  • A dip manicure can help you grow out your short or weak nails.
  • There’s no strong chemical smell with dip manicures, unlike an acrylic manicure.
  • Dip manicures are great on short nails.

Cons of Powder Dip Nails

  • If your salon actually “dips” your nail into a pot of powder, it can be unsanitary because other clients nails have been dipped into the same pot. You don’t want to pick up a nail infection so make sure there are cleanliness protocols in place before you book your appointment.
  • It’s harder to find a nail tech who can do nail extensions with a dip manicure.
  • They should be professionally removed by soaking in acetone

17 Pcs Dip Powder Nail Kit Starter, AZUREBEAUTY Nude Pink Glitter 8 Colors Acrylic Dipping Powder System Essential Kit for French Nail Manicure Nail Art Set

Application process: Acrylic nails vs. Dip Powder

Here’s a quick summary of the differences in application between an acrylic manicure and a powder dip manicure:

Dip Nail Application

  • Select the nail color you like, and then apply a basecoat.
  • Dip nails in powdered silica
  • Repeat until desired thickness is achieved
  • Apply the sealant to harden and cure the powder.
  • After the powder has dried, decorate nails with nail art or accessories if desired.

Acrylic Nail Application

  • Nail extensions are sized to each nail and glued in place.
  • Once the extensions are glued in place, the nail tech will use a liquid acrylic mixture to fill in the spaces between your natural nails and artificial ones.
  • Next, surface of your nails is shaped and smoothed.
  • Manicure with regular or gel polish.
  • Dried nails can be decorated with nail art or accessories if desired.

What’s Easier to Remove: Dip Nails or Acrylics?

Both types of manicures require a soak in acetone to remove completely.

The difference is that acrylics can be filled and re polished multiple times before the entire nail needs to be removed so you won’t have to do the acetone soak as often as with a dip manicure.

With dip nails, the dip is the actual color, so if you want a color change, you’ll have to remove the cured dip layer.

dip vs acrylic
Once acrylic nails are applied, they still need to be polished.

What looks more Natural : Acrylic or Dip Nails?

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, it depends on your personal preference. Some people prefer the feel of powder dip nails because they are lighter and feel more natural.

Others prefer the feel of nails with acrylic because they can be made as long or short as you please.

The Takeaway: Dip vs Acrylic Nails ?

Dip powder manicures have become increasingly popular because they offer a long-lasting alternative to traditional acrylics. Dip powders are also said to be less damaging to the nails than acrylics because they don’t require the use of harsh chemicals and toxic glues.

Acrylics, on the other hand, can last up to six weeks without chipping. If you’re looking for a quick way to lengthen or strengthen your nails, then acrylics are a good option.

However, if you’re looking for a more natural-looking option, then dip powder manicures are the way to go.

So, it’s still confusing, but head on out to your local salon and get your favorite!

If you have the perfect manicure, but you’ve broken a nail, check out this post on how to fix a broken nail with gel polish on.