What is the difference between acrylic and gel?

 

The word ‘Gel’ lends itself to confusion because it actually describes the product’s physical state, but over the years it has become a generic name of the product category.

Whereas ‘acrylic’ is a two-part system of liquid and powder (L&P) in which the powder has already been polymerised to its full extent, gel is a similar product whereby the monomers and oligomers (strings of monomers) stay in a semi-liquid/semi-solid state because it hasn’t yet polymerised. Think of gel as pre-mixed acrylic.

Acrylics are a special family of monomers and/or oligomers and polymers used to create nail enhancement products, including all gel products such as hard gels, soft gels, builder bottle gels, gel polish and L&P enhancements. Wraps and tip adhesives are in the cyanoacrylates category of the acrylics family.

The Chemistry

Gel

Pre-mixed semi-solid monomers and oligomers that are hardened to polymers when exposed to UVA light.

Monomer

More commonly known as ‘Liquid’. A monomer is a molecule, which binds to other molecules to form a polymer. Nail liquid is a monomer made mostly of ethyl methacrylate (EMA) and sometimes also includes other monomers and additives. Monomer often has a purple tone to it, which contains UV Inhibitors and helps to prevent the acrylic from yellowing.

Polymer

More commonly known as ‘Powder’. It is synthetic and consists of large molecules made up of a linked series of repeated simple monomers.

Co-Polymer

Polymers that are made of two or more different types of monomers. A mix percent of ethyl (soft) and poly – methyl (hard) methacrylate monomers.

How L&P and Gel Cure

L&P – cures with a free radical reaction when the peroxide in the powder is exposed to the reactive monomer in the liquid. 

Gel – cures with a free radical reaction when the photo-initiator in the resin reacts with the wavelengths emitted by a UV or LED lamp. 

The chemical process

Petroleum is the raw ingredient used to create both liquid & powder. Both liquid & powder begin as a liquid monomer.

Liquid: The liquid is prepared and synthesised from the petroleum.

Powder: During manufacturing, the monomer is placed in a large mixer, where it is diluted with water. As monomer is hydrophobic (doesn’t like water), it does not dissolve but remains suspended as tiny beads. While mixing rapidly, the initiator and catalyst are added, making the liquid monomer convert to polymer. The water is drained away, the beads dried, and additives such as pigments are added.

Contrary to popular belief, neither product is more superior to the other – each will benefit different clients in different ways. When making the decision of product choice the tech should consider the client’s lifestyle, nail condition along with their preference.


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