Shellac Nails Vs Gel Nails: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better? (2023)

When it comes to feeling instantly put together and polished (pardon the pun) having Shellac nails or gel nails is a sure-fire winner.

Neither chip and look incredibly slick, and whether you're popping to the shops or heading out for date night – having a fresh set of ultra-shiny nails helps you feel that little bit glammed up at all times. But, the question remains: which should you opt for? Shellac nails or gel nails?

Before you hit up the salon to book your appointment, keep scrolling for the answers to all the gel versus Shellac nails questions you’ve been asking.

Shellac versus gel nails: choosing the right one for you

What is Shellac nail polish?

Let's start with the lingo. Some people reference this type of nail as shellac gel nails. This is because the product is half regular nail polish, half gel and is typically applied with two colour coats and a topcoat.

Between each coat, you cure the colour and set the polish by putting your nails under a special UV light.

So what is the difference between Shellac nails and gel nails?

The difference between gel and shellac nail polish isn't going to blow your mind, but none the less, there is one.

‘Shellac is a patented brand of gel polish,’ explains celebrity manicurist Jenni Draper. ‘It’s a bit like calling a vacuum cleaner a ‘Hoover’, it’s just the name of one brand of polish. It's a hybrid nail polish and gel i.e. half polish and half gel.’

Put simply, a shellac nails manicure is a semi-permanent polish, while gel is a semi-permanent gel.

How long do Shellac nails last?

Shellac nail polish is thinner than gel, so generally shellac nails tend to start to ‘break down’ around two weeks.

And how long do gel nails last?

‘A gel manicure is a pure gel, which isn't mixed with other solutions,’ says Draper. ‘So you can expect a gel manicure to last a bit longer – up to three weeks.’

However, gel nails' worst enemy is hot water (remember soaking helps to remove them). To keep gel nails looking their best, avoid long soaks in the tub, steamy showers and always wear rubber gloves when doing the washing up!

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How do I remove Shellac nails?

It's always going to be best to head to a salon to have your gels or Shellacs dissolved by a pro. If you do want to do it at home, however, know that because shellac is a polish, it’s easier to remove than gel and kinder to your nails as you don’t have to buff your nail plate to ‘break’ the bond.

When you remove gel nail varnish, you file the top layer off and then soak your nails in acetone, but when you remove shellac nails, you simply soak in acetone. Pro tip: cover the skin around your nails in Vaseline before, to stop it from drying out from the remover.

How do I remove gel nails?

Again, you can ensure a fuss-free removal by heading to the salon to get them removed by the pros, But, given that this takes an hour-ish out of your day and costs around a tenner, plenty of people prefer to DIY it.

First off, you need to break the bond between the gel and your actual nail. Very, very gently, buff the nail. This will break the gel's seal. Next, cut out ten pieces of cotton pad, one for each nail, and soak in acetone nail varnish remover. Cut out ten pieces of tin foil. Pop each cotton pad piece on top of a nail, then cover with one of the tin foil pieces, twisting at the top.

Chill for 15 minutes, unwrap and gently push off, using a cuticle stick.

Is there natural Shellac?

Unfortunately not.

As it's a mix of regular polish and gel, the regular part can be closer to natural than just gel nail polish, but you can't get 100% natural shellac nail polish — yet.

Are there natural gel nails?

This depends on your definition of 'natural.' It is possible, however, to hit a 'non-toxic' nail bar, which does gel nails that are free from ingredients such as dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde. You can find a list of salons, here.

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How much should a Shellac treatment cost?

It will depend on where you live and how fancy of a salon you head to. Mayfair is likely to be more spenny than your local part time beautician, natch. But between £20-£35 for a Shellac mani is about right.

How much should gel nails cost?

Similarly, it's going to vary depending on where in the country you are and how bougie your salon is. But around the £25 mark is ballpark.

Are Shellac nails bad for you?

There's been a lot of debate as to whether shellac and gel nails could be implicated in cancerous cells, because they use UV lights to cure your polish.

Like anything to do with UV, caution is always key, so apply an SPF30+ sunscreen at least 20 minutes beforehand.

Are gel nails bad for you?

It's the exact same story as above. Apply sunscreen to be safe, and you should be fine.

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Can you get Shellac nails at home?

Sadly, the official CND Shellac service is an in-salon only treatment. But you can certainly have a crack at getting a close effect, by using a gel-style nail varnish. Gelish and OPI brands are both good, with a decent base coat and gloss top coat. Barry M also have a Gelly Hi-Shine range, with pots of polish costing less than a fiver.

Always remember to buff your nails before you start to give the polish a better chance of adhering.

(Video) Shellac and gel manicure warning

Can you get gel nails at home?

Yes. There are some really great at home nail kits that you can invest in, should you fancy.
You can also buy a quality gel-style varnish, use a base coat and a glossy top coat, for a professional vibe without the cost.

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Is there anything else I should know about Shellac and gel nails?

One thing that applies to both gel nails and Shellac nails is that your nail beds do not need to 'breathe' – and that having coatings on top of them are hindering this. Just like your hair, your nails are already dead (sorry, aware this sounds grim).

However, your cuticles and nail bed are very much alive, and caring for them is super important. As such, make sure you never try and rip them off and instead head to a salon for a pro removal, or follow the steps for safe DIY removal, above.

(Video) The Difference Between Acrylic, Gel Nails and Gel Polish & What The Heck Are SOLAR NAILS?!

So, is Shellac or gel better?

When it comes to shellac vs gel, there’s also the colour selection to take into consideration. While gelish colours are 388 strong, with a range of natural and vibrant shades, shellac colours lag behind at only 116, so you're more limited in choice.

It all depends on what you’re looking for.

If you're planning to remove your semi-permanent polish at home, go for shellac nails so you have less chance of ruining your natural nail.

But if you’re after a particular shade and can’t find it in the shellac nails collection, go for gels — just get a professional to remove them, later.

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Does Shellac last longer than gel? ›

A Gel manicure typically lasts anywhere from 3 weeks to a month and there is a very low chance of a Gel manicure chipping. In comparison, a Shellac manicure typically last about 2 weeks if it is taken care of properly and has a higher chance of chipping after a few weeks go by.

Which is kinder to nails gel or Shellac? ›

If you do want to do it at home, however, know that because shellac is a polish, it's easier to remove than gel and kinder to your nails as you don't have to buff your nail plate to 'break' the bond.

What type of manicure is healthiest for your nails? ›

A basic manicure, with the right polishes, is the healthiest for your nails. When we say the 'right polishes' we mean the best nail growth polish or breathable nail polish. The harsh chemicals in many polishes often degrade our nails. Using an organic polish that contains vitamins, is the best way to avoid damage.

Which is more expensive gel or shellac? ›

Does treatment cost vary with shellac nails vs gel? If removal is included, then yes, gel nails typically cost more to remove because of their more complex process. However, in terms of application, the costs are usually the same.

Can shellac ruin your nails? ›

Shellac polish can ruin your natural nails. Scraping and peeling off cured nail polish can physically remove the top layers of your nail bed. If the damage is already done, learn how you can repair broken, brittle, or flaky nails with all-natural ingredients.

Which nails are less damaging? ›

If you're one of them, these tips from dermatologists can help you reduce the damage: Choose soak-off gel nails instead of acrylic nails. While gel nails can cause nail brittleness, peeling, and cracking, they're more flexible than acrylic nails. This means your own nails are less likely to crack.

Can you do Shellac on short nails? ›

Shellac can even look nice on very short nails with a bit of nail art | Nails, Halloween nails diy, Nail art designs.

How long should Shellac nails last? ›

Your shellac nails should remain shiny and chip-free for 14 to 21 days if you take care of them responsibly. Don't worry about your day to day activities: taking out keys, working on the computer and (light) cooking are no match for shellac.

How long should Shellac last? ›

Your shellac nails should remain shiny and chip-free for 14 to 21 days if you take care of them responsibly. Don't worry about your day to day activities: taking out keys, working on the computer and (light) cooking are no match for shellac.

Why does my Shellac peel off after two days? ›

Shellac manicure starts peeling within a day or 2:

Your tech may have not dehydrated your nail bed well enough. You don't always need to rough up the nail but the natural shine should be buffed down first (unless you are using Shellac brand gel polish they require no buffing). The polish might be older.

How often should Shellac be redone? ›

“The optimum time between CND Shellac manicures is 2 weeks,” says Marian. “However, slow growing nails can go up to 3 weeks. The main reason is that after 2 weeks the Shellac starts to take a little bit longer to remove as it continues to harden.


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