What’s The Difference Between Acrylic, Gel, & Shellac Nails?

Knowing how they differ can help you make better choices at your next manicure session.

By Esha Saxena

There is no denying the aesthetic and hygiene-related benefits of a manicure. But how often do you find yourself staring down the list of services at the nail salon, all confused about the difference between acrylic, gel nails, and shellac nails? True, we are spoilt for choice (and we aren’t even complaining!), but it helps to know the difference between various manicures to understand what we are getting ourselves into. Check out this article for all the information on different manicures, techniques, and benefits to make an informed and wise choice next time you visit the salon. Read on.

What Are Acrylic Nails?


Acrylic nails are done with a mix of liquid and powder monomer that’s rounded into a ball of dough, shaped onto your nails with a brush, and air-dried. When you’re getting acrylics, the nail technician usually fashions them into tips to achieve a more natural look. After this, each nail is shaped and painted with polish. If you want more length or are looking to change the shape of your nails, acrylics are ideal for you.

Acrylic nails last about two weeks with proper care. Nail refills performed by a technician can make them last a few weeks longer.

  • Durable
  • Versatile
  • Uniformity in length and shape
  • Long-lasting
  • High maintenance
  • Dealing with the chemical odor while getting them done
  • Can damage your natural nails
  • Expensive

What Are Gel Nails?


Gel manicures promise chip-free, ultra-glossy nails for up to two weeks. Whether you have natural nails (short or long) or would like to get tips glued on first, gel manicures are for everyone. The technician starts off by applying a base coat that primes your nails for the gel. Then the gel polish is cured under a UV light. After each coat is painted on, you have to place your hand under the UV lamp for 30 seconds. Finally, a glossy topcoat and one minute under the light wraps up the process.

  • Shiny and glossy finish
  • No damage to the nail bed
  • No chemical odor while getting them done
  • Long-lasting
  • Quick drying time
  • No chips and smudges
  • Expensive
  • Exposure to UV rays

But, the big question still remains…

What Is The Difference Between Acrylic And Gel Nails?

To put it plainly, acrylic is a mixture of liquid and powder, while gel is gel. Both these formulas can be made to match the shape of the nail or lengthen it. So, if you want longer or stronger nails, you can opt for either acrylic or gel extensions. However, gel nails are typically more flexible and can endure significantly more force than acrylics. They also cost around 15-20% more than acrylics.

Now, you must be wondering where shellac polish fits into this picture. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Shellac Nail Polish?


Shellac is a patented nail product by the company CND (Creative Nail Design). It is basically a hybrid of gel and regular nail polish. As it is like polish, it can’t be used to extend your nails. However, it does a great job at adding strength and durability. Shellac also happens to be a lot less damaging to nails when compared to traditional gels or acrylics.

  • Lasts for 14 days
  • Mirror finish
  • Long-staying
  • No drying time
  • Does not chip, peel, or fade
  • Free of formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP
  • UV exposure
  • Not meant for brittle or thin nails

Here’s how shellac nail polish differs from gel nail polish.

Shellac Nails Vs. Gel Nails – All You Need To Know

While the processes for getting both manicures are similar, there are two significant differences between the two. The first one has to do with the formula. Shellac is a type of permanent nail polish (half gel-half polish), while gel polish is basically a gel in the form of polish. The second big difference is in the removal time. Shellac is faster and easier to remove than gel nails.

How Do You Know Which Ones Are Right For You?

A woman getting a manicure at the salon


In the end, all these manicures are going to give you beautiful, smooth, and long-lasting results. But if you have to pick, you need to know what you’re trying to achieve. Here are some pointers to help you make a decision:

  • If you want longer nails, acrylics are your best bet.
  • If you want stronger nails and a long-lasting mani, gel or Shellac is the way to go as it will give you chip-free, durable nails.
  • Shellac works best if you want the most natural finish.

Infographic: Acrylic Vs. Gel Vs. Shellac Nails: Which One To Choose?

While the perfect manicure may appear simple, it is actually more difficult than you believe. How to achieve chip-free, long-lasting, ultra-shiny, and eye-catching fingertips? How can a nail enthusiast choose what to try with so many manicure possibilities? As each treatment has its benefits, we’ve compiled a list of everything you need to know about gel, shellac, and acrylic before booking your next manicure. Check out the following infographic to find out the perfect manicure best suited to you.

Infographic: acrylic vs gel vs shellac nails

Illustration: StyleCraze Design Team

The state of your nails reflects your overall health. Taking care of them is as important as your skincare, haircare, dental care, or general health care routines. When experimenting with your nails, try looking into all your available options and approach well-trained estheticians for the best results. We hope you find this article useful where we have detailed the differences between acrylic and gel nails and more. All these manicures have their unique charm and pros and cons. They all look great after the finishing touches. You just need to figure out your desired style, and the experts will work their magic for you!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is gel or acrylic more expensive?

Gel nails are more expensive than acrylic nails. However, acrylic nails have a more natural finish than gel nails. Ensure that you understand the pros and cons of gel and acrylic nails before opting for one.

Which is easier to remove – acrylic or gel nails?

Gel nails are easier to remove because they are more flexible. However, incorrect gel or acrylic nail removal techniques may damage the nail bed. Exercise caution while removing gel or acrylic nails.

What lasts longer, gel or acrylic?

Both gel and acrylic nails can last up to a few weeks if done and maintained properly. You can choose either gel or acrylic nails based on your preference.

Key Takeaways

  • Acrylic, gel, and shellac are different types of manicures that can glam up the look of your nails.
  • The difference between them lies in their formula, way of application, and ease of removal.
  • All these types of manicures give you smooth, beautiful nails. You may choose one as per your budget, occasion, and preferred finished look.

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Esha Saxena is a writer and journalist and holds a master’s degree in media and mass communication. She firmly believes... more