Young woman with marine sailor manicure

Both silk wraps and gel overlays offer popular alternatives to give you beautiful, natural looking nails. Before you head for a nail salon, consider the differences between the techniques.

Silk Wrap Process

Pieces of silk are cut to the exact shape of your nails and applied using a thin coating of glue. Resin -- a thicker glue -- follows, giving your natural nails additional strength. An activator is then brushed or sprayed on to dry the resin. Once shaping is complete, your manicurist will apply the polish.

Silk wraps produce thinner, more flexible nails that are less prone to breaking. If you frequently have your hands in water, silk wraps are more likely to separate than gel overlays. However, silk wraps are less likely to cause any type of fungal infection from separation. Most nail techs don't recommend using tips with silk wraps since they're not as strong as gel overlays. A silk wrap provides a good alternative for natural nails when only one nail needs repair.

Gel Overlay Process

Polymer and monomer gels combine to give you strong, glossy nails. Once the application is complete, the overlays are dried using UV light. If you want longer nails, tips are applied and trimmed to the desired length before the gel overlay process begins. Some nail salons now offer an activator or a process that dries the gel simply by dipping your fingers into water.

Gel overlays provide a clear, glossy, non-porous surface that's more flexible than acrylics and less flexible than silk wraps. The process gives you a polish-free nail application that won’t chip. Gel overlays are far less prone to lifting than silk wraps too. However, if lifting occurs, you run the risk of a fungal infection.


Both silk wraps and gel overlays involve a commitment of time and money. Once your initial set is complete, you'll have to visit your manicurist every other week to get fill-ins done, depending on how fast your nails grow. Putting off regular maintenance is the primary cause of silk wraps and gel overlays lifting from the natural nail bed. To remove, your nails will need to soak in an acetone solution.