Gel and Shellac Nail Polish

What is the Difference Between Gel and Shellac Nail Polish?

The art of manicures has come a long way, from the use of nail polish, which needed a touch up every few days or so, to the current innovative gel manicures. The beauty of gel manicures is that they last longer than the traditional polish, are shinier and do not chip as much as regular nail polish. Since gel manicures became a thing, many companies have come up with gel polish and since the concept is not old enough and known about enough to many, confusion is normal about brands and the technique. So, what is the difference between gel and shellac manicures?

What is the similarity?

It is important to note that shellac is not a different type of polish. Technically, it is a gel type of manicure and like all other gel polishes, it has to be applied under UV lighting. The only difference is that it has a few additional qualities which make it a slightly better version of the traditional gel polish. Here are a few of the important things to know about gel and shellac, and where their product differentiation lies.

The colors and brands

Gel is a general term for all manicures that are done under UV lighting in the salon. Shellac on the other hand is a brand which was created by Creative Nail Design. Shellac is the original long wear polish which comes in a total of 61 colors. On the other hand, there are a number of other brands which are classified as gel polish. These include brand names such as OPI gels and Essie Gels. OPI gels is available in 71 colors whilst Essie comes in 36 colors. Another brand of gel polish that is popular is Gelish, which is available in 141 colors. In short, gel nail polish is a generic term that covers all these nail polishes while shellac is a specific brand of gel polish by CND.

The cost and appearance of the polish

Another important comparison point for these gel polishes is how much it costs to have them applied and how they look when applied. The similarity here is that whether you apply the other gel polishes or you use shellac, your nails will end up looking glossy and natural. Both types of nail finishes will last at least two weeks, but this also depends on your wear and tear. Nails that have both gel and shellac look natural, but they can at times be more flexible than acrylic nails. The cost of getting a manicure using gel or shellac will be higher than a regular manicure. On average, you could pay anywhere between $25 and $60 to get gel polish on your nails.

The application technique

As we have established, these two all fall under the same term, gel polishes. This means that the application technique is also pretty much the same. For instance, in both applications, the process starts with the regular manicure. After the manicure, they will roughen the nail with a buffer. The nail bed will then be dehydrated with alcohol. The base coat is then applied. After the base coat, the polish coats are applied, and they must be both cured under a UV lamp. This procedure generally works for the other gel polishes. When it comes to the shellac polishes, there are a few differences to the process. First, the buffer will not be used to roughen up the nail and the alcohol will not be used to dehydrate the nail bed. The other difference is that shellac needs to dry for only one minute under the UV lamp. In both cases, the completed manicure will smell like nail polish. It is recommended that you get the manicure at a salon in both cases as this will give you the best results.

The differences in removal processes

After two or three weeks, the appearance of both gel and shellac manicures starts fading, and you will need to have them removed and done again. For gel polish, they will file the shine away with a file. After the shine has been removed, the nails will be soaked in acetone for at least eight minutes. This soaking helps loosen up the gel enough to be scraped off with a cuticle pusher. There are nail techs that use a cotton ball soaked in acetone to apply to the nail and secure the skin with an aluminium foil. The only difference for shellac here is that CND makes remover wraps which ensure that your fingers do not soak in the acetone. The nails need to soak for eight minutes, just like the case of the generic gel removals. It is advisable to allow a nail tech to carry out the removal process for you whether you are using gel or shellac to avoid harming your skin and for the best results.

Important notes

There are a few things that you need to know about the application, whether you go for gel or shellac. First, the dehydration process will dry out your cuticles, which means that the processes are not suitable for anyone without healthy nails. Then, there is the fact that after you remove gel polish, your nails may feel very weak because of the dehydrating effect which is brought about by acetone. However, when you are using shellac, your nails will not be as brittle or as weak as the case is with gel.


In summary, gel and shellac are generally the same manicure technique. The big difference is that Shellac is a product that is kinder on nails and has wonderful results. When deciding whether to go for gel or shellac, think about these similarities and differences as opposed to the many cool colors that the other options offer. If you want to enjoy gel nails for a long time, you have to think about the application process, the safety of your skin and the state of your cuticles after the application and removal, and most importantly, how the product will affect the strength of your nails.

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