hi cruiser, hopefully someone far more informed than me can reply as I am interested in learning more about this myself and have recently posted the basic same question on the Nail Board. While someone there replied, which I appreciate, I didn't feel that it really quite got to the question I was asking. But, I know more now than what I knew before so it was good progress
From what I know, which is admittedly very little, but to share what I know with you at least, the acrylic nails apply a product using both liquid and powder to the top of your natural nail where an artificial nail is built and extended for length. The silk wrap is very thin silk woven fabric that is glued to the top of your natural nail and wrapped around the end of your natural nail--does not build on length. The silk wrap nails can be more easily removed than the acrylic nails which require more aggressive process which could result in permanent nail damage if not done correctly. As I understand it, the gel nail is an actual form of acrylic; it is just applied through a different process using a light cure. The major difference from what I can tell so far is that the gel nail is less porous, though more flexible and natural looking in appearance, but also has less strength than the acrylics.
My specific question is which among all the nail application systems is less likely to weaken the natural nail structure. The bottom line of the answer I received was basically that it isn't the nail products that weakens the nail, but rather it is the technician--the recommendation was to use a quality high end salon. Well, I was using a quality high end salon for acrylic nails, and it still resulted in natural nail weakening; so, I am just not sure that is be all the answer.
I don't know if it is just me or what, but it seems that professionals just might not really want to answer this question---afterall we must remember that they do make their living applying these products, so it stands to reason I guess.
For me, I tend to be leaning toward silk wraps as all I want to do is strengthen my natural nail and allow them to grow just a little length. I would say if you are happy with your current nail length or are willing to strengthen your natural nail and give it time to grow out to a reasonable moderate length then silk wraps might be an option for you to consider. However, if you are desiring to quickly and/or substantially add nail length, then acrylics or gel nails might be a consideration, but in my experience, and I had acrylics off and on for many years using different technicians, and in every instance my own natural hail health was substantially compromised and weakened and took about 2-3 years to recover nail strength and still experiencing splitting and breakage more than what I had prior to having acrylic nails----but, then I am also about 20 years older now too
Looking forward to others posting on their experiences/thoughts