What Are All The Types Of Nail Polish And Which Should You Choose?

Nail Polish

There are so many options to choose from these days when it comes to doing your own nails or getting your nails done professionally – regular polish, gel polish, powder, acrylics, etc. In this article we are going to review each of the nail polish options out there so you can make an informed decision the next time you are at the nail salon or deciding which to choose to do it yourself at home.

Regular Polish

Traditional nail polish has been around for thousands of years. The modern-day polish contains several chemicals including hardeners, dyes/pigments, adhesives, thickeners, and ultraviolet stabilizers. While these polishes can contain certain preservatives that are harmful to one’s health (which is why nail salon technicians often wear masks), they do not necessarily damage the nail itself other than potentially staining the nail. Base coat can also be applied to prevent staining of the nail. To note, there are some brands of nail polish that minimize the harmful chemical content. For example, OPI makes a formaldehyde-free polish. This polish is removed easily with acetone or a non-acetone polish remover.

Gel Polish

Gel polish provides a longer-lasting option, as it can survive up to 2 weeks without chipping. It is painted on the nail in a similar manner to traditional polish, but it does not dry naturally. Instead, it requires a UV light to stabilize it, which can be a standard or LED bulb. This poses a danger, in that it leads to excess UV exposure to the skin and nails. Perhaps if you do this regularly, consider applying UV protection to your hands prior to the polishing phase of your next manicure! Removing this type of polish requires soaking in acetone for at least 5-15 minutes. Significant damage can occur to the nail if this process is done improperly or if the gel polish is peeled off aggressively.


Powder dipped nails (Nexgen, etc.) have been around since the 1980s, but have recently gained popularity. This acrylic-base type of “polish”, that is bonded using a type of glue, uses powder applied to the nail that can last up to 3 weeks without chipping. Additionally, it dries instantly, so it does not require UV light exposure and the manufacturers claim that they do not pose any inhalation threat (although this claim is not regulated). Similar to gel polish, powder-based nails can cause significant damage if removed improperly. These must be soaked in acetone for 15-30 minutes to be completely removed without scraping.


Acrylic nails can be applied as a complete false nail or nail extension. Separation of the nail from the nail bed and subsequent fungal or bacterial infections are most common with these types of nails. Additionally, depending on the length you choose, flammability can be a concern. Thus, it may not be ideal to have longer acrylic nails in close proximity to hair straighteners or flames when cooking.

It is important to keep in mind that the majority of poor outcomes associated with each type of polish or nail extension is due to improper application or removal. Additionally, it is possible to have or to develop an allergy to one or more of the ingredients in these compounds. If you are experiencing redness around the nail, lifting of the nail, and/or tenderness in the area, it is important to see your dermatologist.