Shellac vs Gel Nails in 2021

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What’s worse: waiting forever for your gel nails to soak off, or waiting forever for paint to (literally) dry with a regular manicure? Yeah, I don’t know either. But what if I told you that you don’t have to play an annoying game of Would You Rather every time you want to get your nails done? If you have yet to try shellac nails, let me introduce you to the polish-gel hybrid that will change your nail life—or, at the very least, prevent you from ever having to ask your nail tech to dig through your purse for your wallet because of your wet fingernails (IYKYK).

Below, celebrity nail artist Trenna Seney of Very Shameless Nails shares everything to know about shellac—i.e., the key to a long-lasting, super-glossy mani without the time commitment.

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What are shellac nails?

Shellac nails are created with a special in-salon nail polish that was developed and patented by the nail polish brand Creative Nail Design (CND). Half-gel and half-regular polish, shellac combines the benefits of both, like no dry time, long-lasting results, shine, color, and easy removal. The formulas bind together when the teeny molecules (called monomers) and larger molecules (called polymers) in the formula are exposed to LED light, creating a shellac effect—hence the term: shellac nails.

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How are shellac nails done?

As Seney explains it, the application process is very similar to a gel polish manicure, starting with cleaning the nail, followed by a base coat, two coats of color, and a topcoat. In between each layer of polish, your nail tech will cure your nails under an LED light. The result? A shiny, long-lasting finish that requires no dry time.

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What is the difference between gel nails and shellac?

Think of shellac nails and gel nails as sisters—they’re in the same family, but it’s annoying when people get them confused. Here are a few key differences worth noting:

1. They’re formulated differently.

Gel nails are made with a liquid gel formula that’s a mix of acrylic monomers that harden under UV light, creating that smooth, glossy finish. The formula used for shellac nails, however, is a combination of gel polish and traditional polish. As a result, Seney says shellac nails are thinner than gel nails and not as heavy.

2. Gel nails do last a little bit longer.

One drawback to shellac, Seney points out, is that because it has traditional polish mixed in the formula, gel nails last longer. Although shellac is a little bit more susceptible to chipping than gel, both still last much longer than regular polish.

3. Gel nails are harder to remove.

A trained nail tech can remove both without damage, but generally speaking, removing gel polish requires a lot of scraping and filing down, which is annoying, time-consuming, and can be a little rougher on the nails. Shellac, on the other hand, is much easier to take off (and, thus, less prone to damaging your nails).

How long does shellac nails last?

Shellac nails are suuuper long-lasting, and you can probably get anywhere from 10 to 14 days out of ’em. You don’t want to keep them on longer than two weeks though—by this time, your real nail will have started to grow out, and it’s not the cutest look.

Can you remove shellac at home?

The absolute easiest way to remove shellac nails is to go to a salon to get your shellac nails removed, and if you’re wanting a polish change, why not knock ’em both out at once?! (FYI shellac requires no downtime between applications.) Seney says the removal process only requires filing and soaking, so it’s super quick (15 minutes max) and won’t add much time to your manicure appointment. Not only does shellac have its own specific remover, but the unique formula of the polish also allows the acetone to better penetrate the polish so that it loosens from the nail much easier. In other words, no scraping necessary.

If you are in a pinch and can’t pop into a salon, follow these steps to get rid of your manicure at home:

  1. Lightly file off some of the polish.
  2. Place a cotton pad soaked with acetone on each nail.
  3. Wrap the cotton around your nail with a piece of aluminum foil.
  4. Wait 10 minutes, then twist off the aluminum foil and cotton pads.
  5. Wipe your nails down again with the remover, and you’re good to go!
    1. Do shellac nails ruin your nails?

      If you go to a salon to get your shellac nails applied and removed by a trained nail tech, Seney says no, you typically won’t leave with damaged nails. But if you decide to pick at and peel off your nails at home, it can also take off the top layers of your nail’s surface (ouch!), making it weak and brittle. Moral of the story: Whether you’re removing them in salon or at home, take the time to remove them properly. Don’t. Just. Peel. Them. Off.

      Are shellac manicures safe?

      Okay, so we all know that UV exposure isn’t good for you, and UV lamps are needed in the shellac manicure process to harden your nails. However, a recent study found that the risk from the UV lamps on your hands is minimal, so you don’t have to give up your salon trips. If it makes you feel better, though, you can smooth on a sunscreen before you get your nails done to have 100 percent peace of mind.

      The bottom line

      If you’re trying to switch up your manicure, shellac nails are definitely worth a try. They’re long-lasting, cute, and easy, and as long as you get them removed properly, they won’t cause any major damage. What’s not to love?

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