What’s the Difference Between Shellac And Gel Nails?

Shellac vs. Gel Nails: Both shellac and gel can be used as false nails or nail enhancements, but there are some key differences between the two. The primary difference lies in their formula. Gel nails are achieved with a hardened gel polish, whereas shellac is more similar to thin acrylic.
Shellac vs Gel : Différence, Sûreté, Avantages et Inconvénients

Shellac vs. Gel Nails: Both shellac and gel can be used as false nails or nail enhancements, but there are some key differences between the two. The primary difference lies in their formula. Gel nails are achieved with a hardened gel polish, whereas shellac is more similar to thin acrylic. 

Shellac vs Gel: Definitions

The major differences between gel nails vs shellac nails can be found in their definitions.

Gel nails use a gel nail polish which is hardened under an ultraviolet light. Soft gel nails are used to cover natural nails, whereas hard gel nails are robust enough to be extended over the nail to create longer artificial nails.

Shellac, on the other hand, is a blend of gel and polish, and cannot be used to extend the natural nail as it is not hard enough. Due to this, however, it is a more flexible application.

Shellac vs Gel Nails: Pros and Cons

Gel Nails Pros

  • Good for people who are allergic to other forms of nail products.
  • Kinder to the nail.
  • Dries quickly.
  • A more natural feel.
  • (Soft) gel nails can be easily removed.
  • Quick cure time.
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Gel Nails Cons

  • Difficult to apply yourself.
  • Expensive.
  • (Hard) gel nails are difficult to remove and may require a professional.
  • Improper removal can damage the natural nail and bed.
  • Repeated uses of UV light can damage the natural nail.

Shellac Nails Pros

  • Long-lasting.
  • The process for a shellac vs gel manicure is essentially the same.
  • Healthy for your nails.
  • More flexible.

Shellac Nails Cons

  • The nail and bed must be healthy before application.
  • Cannot be used as a nail enhancement: they cannot extend beyond the natural nail.
  • The same UV concerns exist, although as shellac is provided by a single company their bulbs may be safer.
  • Can only be done at a licensed professional establishment.

Shellac vs Gel Polish: Similarities

The similarities lie in the application process. Shellac vs gel nail polish both involve liquid application which is then hardened under a UV light. They can both make your nails look much different, with different colors and even patterns. They are both used to cover the natural nail.

Key Differences: Which is Better Shellac or Gel Nails?

Deciding whether shellac nails vs gel polish are better, that depends entirely on your requirements. The flexibility gained with shellac nails is a big plus for a lot of people. They are less likely to be damaged if you bang your nails on a hard surface, and grasping small objects can be much easier. If you have short nails, however, and are looking for something to enhance the length of them, then (hard) gel polish will serve you better. 

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Which is Kinder to Nails Gel or Shellac?

It is true, however, that shellac nails are safer for your nails. They require no intensive filing to remove the artificial nail. Repeat users of gel nails can suffer from split or bleeding nails and nail beds. Shellac is gentler to remove. 

There are concerns from the UV light required to harden the polish, whether it is gel or shellac. Because shellac is a specific product, testing on the process can be more conclusive. The UV lights that professional licensed appliers of shellac nails use have been scientifically tested and this test suggests that due to the filtering of the specific bulbs used, the UV light is safer than the exposure your hands experience simply from driving in bright sunlight. 

How Long Do They Last?

Shellac nails last for up to a month, although new nail growth tends to become visible after two weeks, and customers may prefer to touch up their shellac nails after this time, so no natural nail is visible. Gel nails last for approximately the same time, but the removal process for shellac is less intrusive and intensive than for gel nails. However, these are best-case figures. Because shellac is a thinner application than gel, they do tend to begin to chip a little quicker than gels under normal wear. Thankfully, however, this breaking down usually occurs at around the two-week mark, so at just about the time you might want a new application due to natural nail growth anyway.

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The removal process involves the same soaking in acetone, but gels require filing off of the top layer. Shellac nails do not, which makes removal friendlier for the nails. 

Can You Do Gel and Shellac Nails at Home?

It is not recommended that either are applied at home. Indeed, official shellac products are only sold to licensed professionals so you would be unable to apply official shellac at home. For removal, both can be removed at home, but as we’ve seen, gel nails require more work and improper filing can badly damage the natural nail and the nail bed. It is recommended to have both gel and shellac nails removed by professionals. It doesn’t take long (approximately an hour) and is relatively inexpensive.

How Much Do They Cost?

Shellac nails will cost approximately $30 for the basic application. Gel nails have a wide range of costs, from approximately $35 for a basic, single color application. For an extensive gel manicure, with more variation to the nail, the cost can be as high as $120. Do note, however, that this cost includes the labor of the professional working on your nails, as well as the base cost of the product. 

Comparison Video

Shellac vs Gelish: What’s the Difference?

Comparison Chart

Shellac vs. Gel Nails Comparison Chart. What’s the Difference Between Shellac And Gel Nails?


To conclude, the difference in shellac nails vs gel polish is in the flexibility of the shellac nails and the removal process, which is longer and more intensive for gel nails. Gel nails, however, have the benefit of being able to lengthen the appearance of natural nails, which cannot be achieved with shellac. You must consider what you wish to achieve with your artificial nail. Longer artificial nails will be best suited to gel polish, whereas a more flexible, thinner layer which is friendlier to the nail can be better achieved with shellac.

Image Courtesy:

  • Photo by Korie Cull on Unsplush
  • Photo by Budka Damdinsuren on Unsplush
Alex Stantor
Alex Stantor

Alex Stantor is a Sorbonne University (Paris, France) graduate in Philosophy and Data Analysis. Currently, he is an Author and Researcher at Difference 101, he writes articles/blog posts on topics such as "thinking differently" and "the importance of difference". Alex is a passionate advocate of diversity in the workplace and in companies, and diversity and inclusion in corporate communications. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

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