Everything you need to know about acrylic nails

Sarah Pelham

There are plenty of things we don’t know (we hope our future partner doesn’t find this 🙈) but, if there is one thing we know it’s that an acrylic set can take you from glum to hun real quick! Ordering a set of acrylic nails might be exactly what you need to turn your Monday mood around.

However, if you’re on the fence and not sure whether to go the whole acrylic mile, we’ve put together a guide to help you decide whether this treatment is right for you. You can just call us your fairy glam-mother 💅.

What are acrylic nails?

Over the last couple of decades there has been an increase of nail treatments you can order at your preferred nail salon. No longer does there stand a single French manicure on the beauty menu (even though we’re partial to a Clueless vibe any day of the week 💁).

Generally, you’ll be heading in for an acrylic set if you’re looking for some extra length, a particular shape and/or extra strength.

For those who are actually on the hunt for what they’re made from, it’s a mixture of liquid monomer and powder polymer (1). When these two love birds are mixed together and exposed to air, they harden. Whoever came across this duo, we say bless you 🙏. When you get a set of acrylics, there will be a fake (kinda like a stick-on) nail applied to your freshly manicured natural nail, which will be the base for adding length and changing shape. These are long to start with and your technician will cut and file these down to your preference. The acrylic mixture is then applied on top of the nail and brushed out to the desired thickness, securing the fake nail underneath. Your new set of acrylic nails will be buffed and whatever pattern and or colour will be added on top.

All in all, there’s a bit of a process, however the time taken out to enjoy the treatment is truly priceless. There’s something meditative about someone fussing about the finer details that can be found at the end of your money-makers 💸.

The process goes a little bit like this:

  • You’ll receive a tidy/manicure to your actual nails and hands
  • A thin stick-on nail will be applied with a glue to your real nail
  • The fake nail will be trimmed and shaped to your preference
  • The acrylic mixture will be applied and brushed out to desired thickness
  • They’ll be buffed and cuticles oiled
  • Your top coat, whether it be art or a one colour will be added on top

How long do acrylic nails last?

It doesn’t matter what side of the working scale you’re on (even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, that’s a full-time job) the acrylic method will have you looking fleek for much longer than a measly week. However, there are a few things to keep in mind when you’re contemplating whether to fake it or not. (Just remember, we’re talking nails here … or are we?🙊)

  • Acrylics require ‘infills.’ Instead of taking the whole acrylic off, the part that has grown out at the cuticle is filled back in with a small amount of acrylic mixture. If you’re looking for a different shade of mauve to match your weekend outfit there’s no issue with changing the colours.
  • How fast do your nails grow? This will dictate how often you need to get them infilled. Generally, it can be expected to book in for an infill (if you want to keep them looking fresh) every two to three weeks.
  • When will you need a whole new set of acrylics? If you visit your technician regularly and keep them up-to-date, you should be looking at a whole new set after eight weeks or so. However, if you look after them like we do our summer body on our birthday, you may need to head in a little earlier than expected (even though you’re sweet enough you’re allowed to take a nibble 🎂).

So, all in all you’re looking at infills every two to three weeks, depending on how quickly your nails grow. And, if you’re on top of the upkeep you’re looking at a brand spanking new set roughly after six to eight weeks.

Why is acrylic better than other treatments?

There are a whole bunch of things to consider when getting your next nail treatment. What is it that you want? In this day and age that’s the looming question, isn’t it? Thankfully for Instagram and Pinterest we can totally find the inspiration for the perfect shade and shape, phew!

Acrylics are one of the best types of nail enhancements if you’re looking for that extra length with added durability. Opposed to gel enhancements, acrylics don’t need to be cured under a UV lamp, which means less salon time for those hustling hunnies.

Also, if you’ve managed to encounter the curse of the single nail snap (dramatic gasp insert here), have no fear, your acrylic solution is here. You can opt for a single acrylic to match the rest of your natural nails. It’s beauty wizardry at its finest.

According to the pros such as Ariela Zuniga (1), director of operations at Vanity Projects, acrylics are great because they “do not require a lamp to cure, and they're great for changing the shape or extending your nails."

They do not require a lamp to cure, and they're great for changing the shape or extending your nails.
Ariela Zuniga, director of operations at Vanity Projects, a high-end nail salon with locations in New York and Miami.

And, if we haven’t already sold you on this treatment, with the extra length you can really pick any style and shape you like. The options are really vast with these babies. Whether you’re looking for that ‘el-natural’ rounded look or the ‘I mean business’ squared-off look, you can expect to indulge in any style you’re feeling on any particular day.

Lastly, you don’t need to remove the whole faux nail every couple of weeks. You only need a little refill to keep them looking absolutely luxe 💕. Also, a colour change can be had at an additional cost every time you have an infill, win win!

As we say, may your Monday coffee be as strong as your set of acrylic nails

So, let’s hear it again to why acrylics may be the dream team 👼:

  • They’re the perfect order if you’re looking for some extra length to grace your nails.
  • You can choose any type of shape. Transforming your whole look never came easier!
  • They’re as strong as an ox, or bear, or Arnold Schwarzenegger 30-something years ago. You get it, they’re “tough as nails” (we had to sneak that one in!).
  • You only need to book in for infills every couple of weeks and new sets are recommended for every six to eight weeks.

Is acrylic good for my nails?

It’s important to know that any nail enhancement can cause damage to the natural nail. The main thing to remember is that it’s all in the care. Looking fierce isn’t a walk in the park, it’s a lifestyle.

We’ve put together a little check-list so you know how to get some extra mileage out of your new set:

Your acrylic nail check-list:

  1. Make sure you go to a reputable and trusted salon/technician. When you book through Bookwell we give you all the right information to make sure your next appointment ticks all the right boxes. We’re a trusted referral for when your friends aren’t writing back fast enough in the group chat - in other words, we got you 😘.
  2. Keep up with the keep up. If you’re committing to the acrylic set, know that you will have to get infills every couple of weeks or so to keep them fresh for the whole six to eight week duration.
  3. Try to keep them as dry as possible. Water under the acrylics can cause them to lift prematurely.
  4. Always, and we mean always, get them removed professionally. Even though you might want to peel them off yourself, this will cause the most amount of damage to the natural nail. So, don’t try to google “DIY acrylic removal” no matter how desperate you are. A Google diagnosis is always a bad idea, trust us!

Keep in mind that any type of enhancement will cause damage to your natural nail. We know, as if we don’t already put in enough work 🙄. However, depending on what you want to achieve you may just have to accept that for the extra length and strength your actual nail may endure some weakening. Although, with the correct care and love they’ll offer more pros than cons.

Acrylic nail comparison

Hold on to your boot-straps, we’re deep diving! Yas kween, we’re here to help you understand what you’re actually ordering when you nod to an “ombre, coffin-shaped, acrylic, top-coat shellac” set of nails.

Acrylic nails vs SNS nails

Ok, so there are slight differences between these two, but primarily it’s the application process and the products used. SNS is a finely milled traditional acrylic powder, they are generally coloured, which compared to an acrylic set skips the polish part, perfect for the busy bees out there 🐝.

With SNS the fake nail extension can be added for length in the same way as acrylics, or the SNS can be added straight to the natural nail for just a colour base with extra thickness/durability. There is a liquid applicator applied to the nail and they are dipped into the milled acrylic powder, which is then activated with another liquid polish. This process is repeated four to five times. Keep in mind, the only nail art available with SNS is ombre (see pic below) and a painted nail art won’t be available with this technique.

Acrylic nails vs gel nails

Ok ok ok, the internet has us in a tizz because the world of gel is confusing. There, we said it! But, this is our attempt at bre-ak-ing-it-do-wn!

There are two types of gel treatments you can get. Firstly, gel nail polish (soft gel) comes from the OG style of polish known as Shellac. It’s a glossy form of polish that is treated under a UV light. You can add this to your natural nail, an acrylic set or on top of your gel hard coat (explained below) set of nails.

Or, there is a gel hard coat you can order that is very similar to the whole acrylic method. The gel is applied to the nail, which will have an extension nail attached, and then treated under UV to harden. The main difference being the chemical compound which is applied on top.

Gel hard coat will generally be pricier compared to acrylic and may take a little longer than an acrylic set. All in all, is it time for mimosas yet?

For those visual hunnies, check out below:

Acrylic nails vs Shellac

Did you know that Shellac is just a brand name for a type of gel polish? With Shellac you can’t get the extra length like you can from acrylic nails. Essentially, Shellac is a stronger and glossier version of a nail polish. It can be added on top of a set of acrylics for colour and ultimate strength purposes. Shellac is a good option if you’re wanting less chips and a glossier finish to a natural nail situation. Oh, and painted nail art truly can be indulged with this treatment, we say lush!

What are the most popular acrylic nail shapes?

It doesn’t have to be the most popular to be right for you. You can quite literally opt for any shape under the sun when it comes to acrylics. Although, you may want to consult your technician beforehand if you’re going full artistic-esk with your nail shape.

The two most popular lewks are 💁:

Round acrylic nails

This style of nail is generally for those that want to keep their nail game looking as natural as possible. Generally a little shorter in length and following a semi-circle style, these are for those who value practicality - you should be able to pick up your bobby pin off the floor.

Square acrylic nails

These are a great option for those who have a narrow nail bed, as well as those who value the safety of a blunt nail edge. Applying mascara with pointy talons can be a health hazard! This style will make your nails look wider, so we recommend getting this style if you’re in need of some extra width.

How can I fix broken acrylic nails?

If it does happen, which with acrylics should be more like a rarity, head straight to your nail technician or nail salon. The best way to fix an acrylic nail is by removing it and applying a new one. The removal should be done by a professional (not your glam guru on YouTube) to avoid any extra damage to your natural nail.

How can I remove acrylic nails?

If it has come to the point and want to remove your acrylic nails completely, or you’re ready for your next set, head down to your salon and get them removed professionally. Generally, (we can’t speak for all salons) they’ll soak the acrylics off with an acetone formula. The recommended method, which will cause the least amount of damage, is soaking a cotton wool ball or equivalent in acetone and securing to the nail with a little tin-foil. You’re looking at about 30 - 40 minutes at minimum before the acrylic can be completely removed. And, keep in mind the tips of your fingers will be out of action, perfect time to catch up on a kip or an old-fashioned paperback read.


  1. http://www.madehow.com/Volume-3/Acrylic-Fingernail.html
  2. https://www.instyle.com/beauty/nails/what-to-know-about-getting-acrylic-nails