There are two types of gel overlays: soft gel and hard gel. To avoid confusion, soft gel is another name for a standard gel polish, and hard gel is typically referred to as a builder gel. Both types of gel overlays are similar, except for the fact that hard gel cannot be removed with an acetone solution and requires an electric file to remove. Soft gel, on the other hand, is easily removed by soaking one’s nails in acetone.
In terms of nail health, “Hard gels are used for strength and structure,” international nail stylist and trainer Vicki Ornellas explains to Glamour, while “gel polish is just for color and art, and a little strength.” Choose hard gel if you work with your hands, as a soft gel overlay typically chips faster. “Hard gel is [also] better for those who prefer long nails for a longer time,” celebrity manicurist Mar y Sol Inzerillo tells Allure.