What is Overlay Nails – Understanding Overlay Nails

In the ever-evolving world of nail art, there’s a technique that’s been making waves – overlay nails. But what exactly are overlay nails, and why are they gaining popularity among nail enthusiasts? In this article, we’ll dive into the world of overlay nails, exploring what they are and the difference between gel and acrylic overlays. By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of this trendy nail enhancement method.

What Is an Overlay on Nails?

An overlay on nails, in essence, is a protective layer applied to natural nails. This overlay serves several purposes, including strengthening the nails, providing a smooth canvas for nail art, and enhancing the overall appearance of your nails.

Overlay nails can be created using two primary materials: gel and acrylic. These materials are applied over your natural nails to achieve different outcomes.

Difference Between Gel and Acrylic Overlay Nails:

Gel Overlay Nails:

Gel overlay on natural nails involves the use of a special gel polish or builder gel. This gel is applied directly onto your natural nails and then cured under a UV or LED lamp. Gel overlays are known for their flexibility and natural appearance. They are perfect for those seeking a glossy finish that lasts for weeks without chipping.

The advantages of gel overlays include their ability to strengthen weak nails and prevent breakage. They are also more flexible than acrylic, making them an excellent choice for those who want a bit of extra durability without sacrificing a natural look.

Acrylic Overlay Nails:

Acrylic overlay on natural nails, on the other hand, utilizes a combination of liquid monomer and acrylic powder. When these two components are mixed, they form a malleable dough-like substance that can be sculpted onto the natural nails. Acrylic overlays are popular for their strength and durability.

Acrylic overlays are particularly beneficial for those with brittle or easily broken nails. They can provide a sturdy protective layer that allows your natural nails to grow underneath. However, acrylic overlays tend to be thicker and less flexible than gel overlays, which can affect the overall aesthetic.

Acrylic Overlay Nails
Acrylic Overlay Nails

How to Apply Overlay Nails:

If you’re considering getting overlay nails, it’s important to know what to expect during the process. Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what typically happens:

1- Nail Preparation:

The first step involves cleaning and prepping your natural nails. This includes removing any old nail polish and trimming your nails to the desired length. Your nail technician will then gently push back your cuticles to create a clean canvas for the overlay.

Also Read: How to Prepare Your Nails for Gel Polish Magic

2- Selection of Material:

Depending on your preference and the recommendations of your nail technician, you’ll choose between gel or acrylic for your overlay.

  • Gel overlays typically involve the application of several layers of gel polish, each of which is cured under a UV or LED lamp.
  • Acrylic overlays entail the mixing of liquid monomer and acrylic powder to form a sculpting material, which is applied to your nails and shaped.

3- Overlay Application:

  • For gel overlays, the technician will apply each layer of gel, ensuring that it’s evenly distributed and cured after each application.
  • For acrylic overlays, your technician will use a brush to sculpt and shape the acrylic mixture onto your nails. This may require skill and precision to achieve the desired look.

4- Shaping and Smoothing:

Once the overlay material is applied and cured, your nails will be shaped to your preferred length and style. Your technician will use files and buffers to create a smooth and even surface.

overlay on natural nails
overlay on natural nails

5- Nail Art and Design:

If you’re interested in nail art or additional designs, this is the stage where your creativity can shine. Gel and acrylic overlays provide an excellent base for intricate designs, whether you prefer simple patterns, 3D embellishments, or stunning colors.

6- Finishing Touches:

To complete the process, a top coat or sealant is applied to protect the overlay and give your nails a glossy finish. Your nails may also be moisturized to keep your cuticles healthy and your skin soft.

Overlay Nails Maintenance Tips:

Regular Fill-Ins: Depending on the growth rate of your natural nails, you may need to visit your nail technician every two to three weeks for fill-ins. This involves refreshing the overlay to maintain its appearance and strength.

Protect Your Nails: While overlay nails are durable, they are not indestructible. Avoid using your nails to open packages or perform other tasks that could cause stress or damage to the overlay.

Moisturize and Condition: Keep your cuticles and the skin around your nails hydrated with cuticle oil or a moisturizing cream. This helps prevent dryness and keeps your nails and skin healthy.

Gentle Nail Care: When cleaning your nails, use a gentle nail brush or a soft toothbrush to avoid scratching the overlay. Harsh abrasives can dull the shine.

Nail Hardener: Consider using a nail hardening product as part of your nail care routine. This can help strengthen your natural nails even further.

How to Remove Overlay Nails
How to Remove Overlay Nails

How to Remove Overlay Nails:

When it’s time to remove your overlay nails, it’s generally best to have a professional nail technician handle the process. However, if you prefer to do it at home, here’s a general guide:

For Gel Overlays:

  • Gently File: Use a fine-grit nail file to gently file the top layer of the gel overlay. Be cautious not to file into your natural nails.
  • Soak in Acetone: Soak a cotton ball or pad in acetone and place it over each nail. Wrap each finger with aluminum foil to hold the cotton in place. Let your nails soak for approximately 15-20 minutes.
  • Gently Remove: After soaking, the gel overlay should start to lift. Use a wooden or rubber cuticle pusher to gently push off the softened gel. Be patient and avoid forcing the overlay off, as this can damage your natural nails.
  • Finish with Hydration: Once the overlay is removed, moisturize your nails and cuticles to restore moisture.

For Acrylic Overlays:

  • File the Surface: Begin by filing the acrylic overlay gently with a coarse nail file. This step helps break the seal and reduce the thickness of the acrylic.
  • Soak in Acetone: Similar to gel overlays, soak your acrylic overlay nails in acetone. Use cotton balls or pads and aluminum foil to hold them in place. Soak for 20-30 minutes.
  • Gently Scrape: After soaking, the acrylic should become soft. Use a wooden or rubber cuticle pusher to gently scrape away the acrylic overlay. Be patient and avoid excessive force.
  • Final Care: Finish by moisturizing your nails and cuticles to replenish lost moisture.


Overlay nails, whether achieved with gel or acrylic, are a fantastic way to combine the beauty of natural nails with the durability and versatility of nail enhancements. They offer a protective shield for your nails while allowing you to express your style through nail art and designs. If you’re looking for a long-lasting and attractive nail solution, consider trying overlay nails and enjoy the confidence and elegance they bring to your fingertips. Remember to consult with a professional nail technician to get the best results and care for your overlay nails properly.

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