Shellac Nails Versus Gel Manicures, Explained

Choosing a manicure you’ll still love to see on your fingertips two weeks post-appointment comes with a laundry list of choices: funky nail design or solid color? Round or squoval nail shape? And the most fraught manicure choice of them all: shellac nails vs. a gel manicure?

Shellac nails and gel nails are crowd favorites for semi-permanent manicures. They’re both used by top nail artists and they’re both known for low-chip, long-lasting quality. But there’s a few minute differences that make shellac nails a better fit for some manicure lovers out there. Allow us to clear up the differences between shellac nails and gel nails—so you have one less thing to decide ahead of your next manicure.

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The Polish

The shellac nails vs. gel nails debate first comes down to the formula used for their similarly shiny, durable looks. Shellac nails are a patented form of polish from Creative Nail Design, with over 100 shades available at CDG-verified salons. Shellac polishes mix two types of nail coating: gel (for durability and nail protection) and traditional nail polish (for color and shine). The finished look errs on the natural side.

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.

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The Timestamp

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 shellac nails are partially made with standard polish, so they’re more vulnerable to chipping than gel nails.

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The Removal

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 nails aren’t known for stress-free removal. 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.

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The Takeaway

Shellac nails and gel manicures have earned their shared reputation for long-lasting nail color. Choosing between the two comes down to precisely how often you’d like to switch up your nail design. We’ll let you be the judge on the cadence that’s best for you.

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