Gel nails VS Shellac nails: What’s the difference; which is best?

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If you're confused, you're not the only one gel nail polish lamp

When it comes to feeling instantly put together and polished (pardon the pun) having Shellac nails or gel nails is a sure-fire winner.

Neither chip and look incredibly slick, and whether you're popping to the shops or heading out for date night – having a fresh set of ultra-shiny nails helps you feel that little bit glammed up at all times. But, the question remains: which should you opt for? Shellac nails or gel nails?

Before you hit up the salon to book your appointment, keep scrolling for the answers to all the gel versus Shellac nails questions you’ve been asking.

Let's start with the lingo. Some people reference this type of nail as shellac gel nails. This is because the product is half regular nail polish, half gel and is typically applied with two colour coats and a topcoat.

Between each coat, you cure the colour and set the polish by putting your nails under a special UV light.

The difference between gel and shellac nail polish isn't going to blow your mind, but none the less, there is one.

‘Shellac is a patented brand of gel polish,’ explains celebrity manicurist Jenni Draper. ‘It’s a bit like calling a vacuum cleaner a ‘Hoover’, it’s just the name of one brand of polish. It's a hybrid nail polish and gel i.e. half polish and half gel.’

Put simply, a shellac nails manicure is a semi-permanent polish, while gel is a semi-permanent gel.

Shellac nail polish is thinner than gel, so generally shellac nails tend to start to ‘break down’ around two weeks.

‘A gel manicure is a pure gel, which isn't mixed with other solutions,’ says Draper. ‘So you can expect a gel manicure to last a bit longer – up to three weeks.’

However, gel nails' worst enemy is hot water (remember soaking helps to remove them). To keep gel nails looking their best, avoid long soaks in the tub, steamy showers and always wear rubber gloves when doing the washing up!

If you're looking for Gels that last a little longer or are a kinder to nails, seek out BIAB nails.

BIAB is a specially formulated soft-gel, builder in a bottle, specific to the brand The Gel Bottle, which is available in salons.

'Designed to be used as a soft-gel overlay on the natural nail to provide extra strength and protection against breakages, allowing customers to grow their nails to new lengths,' explains Giorgia Cappella, Training and Educator Manager The Gel Bottle.

'BIAB differs from other gel’s and patented brands such as ‘shellac’ due to its formulation. BIAB is not a regular gel polish in itself. It is thicker in consistency and comes in a range of pigmentations, allow it to be worn as an overlay; a strengthening base for gel colours or as the colour, paired with our extreme shine topcoat,' she adds.

It's always going to be best to head to a salon to have your gels or Shellacs dissolved by a pro. If you do want to do it at home, however, know that because shellac is a polish, it’s easier to remove than gel and kinder to your nails as you don’t have to buff your nail plate to ‘break’ the bond.

When you remove gel nail varnish, you file the top layer off and then soak your nails in acetone, but when you remove shellac nails, you simply soak in acetone. Pro tip: cover the skin around your nails in Vaseline before, to stop it from drying out from the remover.

Again, you can ensure a fuss-free removal by heading to the salon to get them removed by the pros, But, given that this takes an hour-ish out of your day and costs around a tenner, plenty of people prefer to DIY it.

First off, you need to break the bond between the gel and your actual nail. Very, very gently, buff the nail. This will break the gel's seal. Next, cut out ten pieces of cotton pad, one for each nail, and soak in acetone nail varnish remover. Cut out ten pieces of tin foil. Pop each cotton pad piece on top of a nail, then cover with one of the tin foil pieces, twisting at the top.

Chill for 15 minutes, unwrap and gently push off, using a cuticle stick.

As it's a mix of regular polish and gel, the regular part can be closer to natural than just gel nail polish, but you can't get 100% natural shellac nail polish — yet.

This depends on your definition of 'natural.' It is possible, however, to hit a 'non-toxic' nail bar, which does gel nails that are free from ingredients such as dibutyl phthalate, toluene and formaldehyde. You can find a list of salons, here.

It will depend on where you live and how fancy of a salon you head to. Mayfair is likely to be more spenny than your local part time beautician, natch. But between £20-£35 for a Shellac mani is about right.

Similarly, it's going to vary depending on where in the country you are and how bougie your salon is. But around the £25 mark is ballpark.

There's been a lot of debate as to whether shellac and gel nails could be implicated in cancerous cells, because they use UV lights to cure your polish.

Like anything to do with UV, caution is always key, so apply an SPF30+ sunscreen at least 20 minutes beforehand.

It's the exact same story as above. Apply sunscreen to be safe, and you should be fine.

Sadly, the official CND Shellac service is an in-salon only treatment. But you can certainly have a crack at getting a close effect, by using a gel-style nail varnish. Gelish and OPI brands are both good, with a decent base coat and gloss top coat. Barry M also have a Gelly Hi-Shine range, with pots of polish costing less than a fiver.

Always remember to buff your nails before you start to give the polish a better chance of adhering.

Yes. There are some really great at home nail kits that you can invest in, should you fancy. You can also buy a quality gel-style varnish, use a base coat and a glossy top coat, for a professional vibe without the cost.

One thing that applies to both gel nails and Shellac nails is that your nail beds do not need to 'breathe' – and that having coatings on top of them are hindering this. Just like your hair, your nails are already dead (sorry, aware this sounds grim).

However, your cuticles and nail bed are very much alive, and caring for them is super important. As such, make sure you never try and rip them off and instead head to a salon for a pro removal, or follow the steps for safe DIY removal, above.

When it comes to shellac vs gel, there’s also the colour selection to take into consideration. While gelish colours are 388 strong, with a range of natural and vibrant shades, shellac colours lag behind at only 116, so you're more limited in choice.

It all depends on what you’re looking for.

If you're planning to remove your semi-permanent polish at home, go for shellac nails so you have less chance of ruining your natural nail.

But if you’re after a particular shade and can’t find it in the shellac nails collection, go for gels — just get a professional to remove them, later.

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