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What are the Different Types of Artificial Fingernails?

A. B. Kelsey
A. B. Kelsey

For people who prefer the look of artificial nails to their own natural nails, there are several types of artificial fingernails available, most at your neighborhood nail salon. The four most common types of artificial fingernails are acrylic, gel, sculptured, and wrap nails.

Acrylic nails are one of the most popular type of artificial fingernail and is used as either a nail tip, or a whole nail overlay. These artificial fingernails are created by combining a powdered acrylic product, called a polymer, with a liquid acrylic product, called a monomer. An acrylic brush is used to apply the mixture to the natural fingernail, where it hardens within a few minutes. Acrylic nails are typically the strongest, thickest, and most durable of the artificial fingernails. While acrylic nails are not known for their natural look, acrylic nails that are incorrectly applied can look even less natural.

Assortment of artificial fingernails.
Assortment of artificial fingernails.

Gel nails are made with a light cured or UV gel consisting of pre-mixed polymers and monomers. This special gel is first brushed onto the surface of the natural nail, then is set, or cured, under an ultraviolet light. No-light gels, an alternative to the light cured gel, are slowly gaining in popularity. These gel nails are cured by brushing or spraying a gel activator onto the nails or by dipping the fingernails into water. Gel nails can be used over the entire nail and can also be used to fix split or broken nails. Artificial fingernails made from gel tend to look more natural than acrylic nails, but are not as strong or durable. Additionally, if they are not applied by a qualified professional, they may be hard to remove, resulting in damage to your natural nails.

Ornate flower design on artificial fingernails.
Ornate flower design on artificial fingernails.

Sculptured nails are another popular type of artificial fingernail. These are applied to the natural fingernail with an acrylic or a fiberglass gel, and lengthened and sculpted over a metal or foil form to produce the desired shape and length. Sculptured nails generally last longer than other types of artificial fingernails, but must be filled in on a regular basis in order to maintain a natural appearance.

Artificial fingernails.
Artificial fingernails.

Wrap nails are small, thin pieces of silk, fiberglass, paper or linen that have been cut to a desired shape and glued or bonded to the surface of the natural fingernail. Because wraps are the softest of the artificial fingernails, they are also the least durable. However, because they are so thin, smooth, and lightweight, wraps are usually considered to be the most natural looking of all the artificial fingernails.

A woman with acrylic fingernails.
A woman with acrylic fingernails.

Although artificial nails tend to look and wear better than natural nails, they require a lot of maintenance. It is preferable to use trained and licensed professionals to ensure that they are using safe products, and sanitized tools to avoid damage to your natural nails and fungal or bacterial infections. The chemicals and materials used to make and adhere artificial nails can cause allergic reactions in some, so be sure to check if you have any allergies before getting your nails done.

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Discussion Comments


Sculptured nails are not a type of artificial nail. Sculpturing is a process of applying nail products, just as tips and overlay are a process. These processes can be done with with acrylic or gel. There are three types of artificial nails: acrylic, gel and wraps (fiberglass, silk and linen).


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I came across this site while doing research and thought I should post a few comments.

I've been a nail tech for 15 years. Polish, shellac/gel polish (cured in UV light lasts two to three weeks), wraps, gels (cured in UV) and acrylics are your choices, and if you are offered anything but this, don't do it. Always ask what line of product they use and google it (I only use CND). None of these will damage your nails if applied/removed properly and the tech does not over file your natural nails.

Acrylics are not bad for you when done properly. They may dehydrate your nail once removed by soaking off but getting a manicure after will correct that.

Beware of "gel powder" scams. Gels are gel, powder is acrylic, and gels must be cured in UV light. Shellac/gel polish and wraps come off by putting a cotton ball with acetone on the nail and wrap with aluminum for three to five minutes. It will shed off your nail, leaving no damage.

If your natural nail grows well, get shellac or a gel overlay (maintain two to three weeks). For strong extensions, get acrylic. Teens should get shellac or gels, which are less damaging if they don't maintain them or tend to peel them off themselves.

If you've had nails taken off recently and they are in bad shape, use a ridge filler polish, keep them short until the damage nail grows off, and get regular manicures.


i do the nails myself, but the gel cracks. can you tell me why please? thanks


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I'm sorry, Solar Nail is an outdated technology that was discontinued by the manufacturer. Look for a salon that uses a more current liquid that is chemically advanced, primerless, and designed to be thinner and stronger.

If you have become allergic to liquid and powder nails, then gel can be an option. If you find a salon that offers Brisa Gel, it is hypo-allergenic.

Professional nail products are not harmful for your nails by themselves. Most nail damage is caused by overfilling of the nails by the person applying the enhancements. Further damage is caused by improper removal of the nails.

FYI: a nail service should never require a Tylenol or a Band-Aid; it should be comfortable and enjoyable, during and after!


I had gotten gel nails once, and I really liked them. They lasted for more than a month, and looked very natural. They were expensive to get done and taken off, but I guess it was worth it. I tried taking them off at home (bad idea!). I totally ruined my real nails for a month, and they became paper thin, so don't ever do that. Get them professionally removed!


What are the toughest artificial nails besides Solar Nails?


My 14 year old daughter is convinced she needs artificial nails to cover the nails she has chewed down to almost nothing. Which type of artificial nail material would be the safest in case she continues with her nail biting habit? Would a special glue also be necessary? Thank you, Charles L Seaman, OD


I have been allergic to the acrylic nails in the past. Can I have the "gel" nails done or will I be allergic to those also?


Will wrap nail damage the nails underneath?


Most non-conventional nail salons use different kinds of acrylic but most importantly if they apply a clear coat of a uv sealant to the nail you cannot soak that off. You need to have your nail tech file that product off then proceed with soaking the acrylic nails off in pure acetone. It isn't always that the product isn't good it's just important to ask questions so you know what is being put on your nails so you know how to care for it and how to remove it.


yes, i had the same thing happen with my acrylics. i got them done in a little chinese place and when i went to a well known nail place to get them removed, the woman couldn't get them off!! she ended up filing them off. but she told me that acrylic in general is very bad for your nail, where as gel nails actually strengthen your natural nails. don't know if that was true or not but my nails were left paper thin after getting the acrylics removed.


i got acrylic nails once, and although i really enjoyed them, they were horrible to have removed. i think the nail salon that did them used their "own" formula, and they resisted just about everything my nail person did to try to take them off. she ended up soaking my hands in acetone, then basically sanding them off. my nails were so thin, i had to apply cuticle oil to them a few times a day for several weeks. they finally grew in thicker, but they were very tender for a long time. needless to say, i will think twice about getting acrylic nails again!

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      Assortment of artificial fingernails.
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      Ornate flower design on artificial fingernails.
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