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Shellac vs. Gel Nails

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Shellac vs. Gel Nails

A gel manicure and a Shellac manicure are essentially the same thing: long-lasting polishes cured under UV lamps. The difference is that “gel nails” or “manicure” is the generic term for nails done under a UV lamp, while Shellac is a brand of gel nails by the company Creative Nail Design (CND).

Brands and Colors
Gel polish is the general term for long-wear nail polish cured under a lamp. Both gel polish and Shellac are additions to a traditional salon manicure. Shellac is a brand by Creative Nail Design, or CND, and is called “Power Polish.” It is the original long-wear polish and comes in 61 colors.

Harmony Gelish, OPI Gels, and Essie Gels are other typical brands of gel polish. Gelish comes in 141 colors, OPI in 71 colors, and Essie in 36 colors.

Appearance and Cost
After either a gel manicure or Shellac application, nails appear natural and glossy. They maintain a freshly-manicured appearance for up to 14 days, depending on wear and tear. Nails with gel or Shellac are not as flexible as natural nails, but they do tend to be more flexible than acrylic nails.

Gel polish and Shellac cost extra in a salon. Salons may add up to 50 percent to the manicure price. Gel or Shellac manicures usually cost between 25 to 60 euro.

This is a video by the makers of Shellac explaining why their product is better than other gel polish.


Nail technicians start with a manicure. They then roughen nail bed with a file or buffer. Next they dehydrate and clean the nail bed with alcohol then apply the base coat. All polish coats must be cured either under a UV or LED lamp for 30 seconds. After the base coat come two coats of color each cured under either a UV or LED lamp. Last comes the top coat, which is also cured under UV or LED lighting. Finally the nail tech removes a sticky film residue using alcohol.

The application process for Shellac is mostly the same. However, one key difference is the nail tech doesn’t roughen up the nail. The dehydration and cleaning with alcohol is the only preparation of the nail bed. Another key difference is that Shellac requires curing under a UV light for one minute.

Both gel polishes and Shellac smell mostly like nail polish. The best results for gel nails are obtained with a visit to the salon because of the special equipment and products.

For gel polish, nail techs remove the shine from the polish with a file. They then soak the nails in acetone for five to 10 minutes and scrape the polish away with a cuticle pusher. Some nail techs apply a cotton ball soaked in acetone directly to the nail and secure with aluminum foil.

Removing Shellac is mostly the same. However, nail techs don’t need to remove the shine of the polish. Also, CND makes remover wraps so that fingers don’t soak in acetone. Nails need to soak for approximately eight minutes.

Gel polish and Shellac are best removed by professionals, but there are always less expensive options as shown in this video.

During application, customers don’t need to wait for the nails to dry. They are ready after the final curing process. Both gel nails and Shellac result in dry cuticles from the dehydration process. Neither is suitable for weak or damaged nails. A key difference is that gel polish application requires roughing up the nail bed with a file, while Shellac does not.

During the life of the manicure, nails typically remain chip-free up to 14 days with both gel polish and Shellac. They both make the nails feel stronger. For both, as they grow out, a band between the color and the cuticle starts showing.

After removal, cuticles are dry from the use of acetone with both gel and Shellac. However, nails typically don’t feel as weak and thin after removal of Shellac as they do with gel polish.


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