What’s the Real Difference Between Shellac Nails and Gel Manis?

Shellac Manicure: A close up of a shellac manicure

Shellac Nails Versus Gel Manicures, ExplainedCoffeeAndMilk

When you’re debating a long-lasting manicure at the salon, you’re usually presented with two main options: gel or shellac. But what, exactly, is shellac? The name refers to the signature shine proprietary to one brand in particular, CND. And while you can DIY a gel mani at home, shellac is a salon-exclusive (fancy!).

So if you’re deciding between shellac and gel nail designs, read on for the full breakdown, including just what shellac is, how long it lasts, what it costs, and more.

What Is Shellac Polish?

The shellac nails vs. gel nails debate first comes down to the formula used for their similarly shiny, durable looks. As mentioned, shellac nails are a patented form of polish from CND, with over 100 shades available at verified salons. Shellac polishes mix two types of nail coating: gel (for durability and nail protection) and traditional nail polish (for color and shine). Shellac is thinner and softer than gel polish, but harder than traditional varnish.

On the other hand, gel nails are made with—you guessed it—liquid gel. It’s not exclusive to one polish distributor. Gel polishes are made with a mix of acrylic monomers and oligomers that harden under UV light to create a hard, glossy coat.

How Long Do Shellac Nails Last?

If you’re looking for a long-lasting manicure, you can’t go wrong with either shellac or gel nails. Both manicure variations last between 10 and 14 days. But because shellac nails are partially made with standard polish (and therefore softer), they’re more vulnerable to chipping than gel nails.

How Do You Remove Shellac Nails?

Where shellac nails lost a half-point for chipping, they earn extra points back for a breezy removal process. Shellac nails can be removed with by a manicurist within five to fifteen minutes—without scraping, thanks to a special acetone-based remover made specifically for shellac polishes.

Gel nail removal takes a bit more work. Peeling off a gel manicure can do serious damage to the surface of your nails—so it’s more common to have gel nails removed at the salon via a good, long acetone soak and scrupulous filing.

If you can’t make it into the salon for a professional removal, there are some at-home hacks for taking off a gel manicure. These DIY strategies, however, lose to shellac nails in a polish removal race.

How Much Do Shellac Manicures Cost?

A shellac mani is comparable to a gel mani in cost, and will typically set you back about $25-$45. That said, cost varies depending on the salon you go to, and where you live.

The Takeaway

Shellac nails and gel manicures have earned their shared reputation for long-lasting nail color. Both have pros and cons depending on what you want your finished product to look like, and how often you like to switch up your nail design. Choosing between the two comes down to personal preference, so we’ll let you be the judge on the cadence that’s best for you.

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