Gel vs. Shellac – 5 Things You Should Know

Shellac nails

Do you know the difference between a gel and shellac manicure? If not, don’t worry: you are not alone. There is a lot of confusion, especially when it comes to the durability of manicures and the exact advantages and disadvantages. So it’s no wonder that many people are groping in the dark.

That’s why we’ve gotten to the bottom of the mystery to get answers to the questions and rumors around the nail sensation. So you will be well prepared for your next appointment in the nail studio and nothing stands in the way of your long-awaited dream nails.

An overview

What is a gel manicure and what is a shellac manicure? In a gel manicure, UV gel is applied in a thin layer. The material is highly pigmented, which in turn produces the desired saturating color tone. Shellac, on the other hand, is also known as a ‘hybrid’ UV gel manicure, it differs in some ways from the traditional gel manicure and nail polish and is often seen as a mix of the two. Both gel and shellac are cured within half a minute after application with UV light – so you don’t have to blow to dry nail polish.

The strength

Although there are also gel nails of varying thickness, the layer applied to the nail during a gel manicure is usually much thicker than that applied during a shellac manicure. Shellac is not really thicker than conventional nail polish and therefore looks more natural. However, if you have brittle nails, the extra thickness of gel nails is a good way to protect your natural nails as much as possible.

Color and shape

Both Shellac and UV gel offer a wide range of colors to choose from. Whether pastel pink, sky blue, or classic dark red – you are sure to find the right color. However, there are differences as far as the shape is concerned: If you want to lengthen your natural nails, the gel is the best choice. We also recommend that you use gel for, particularly pointed nail shapes, as it is harder and therefore does not break so easily. If you want to keep your natural nail shape, Shellac is a good choice.

Durability and removal

How long does your manicure last? The gel is – as already mentioned – much harder than Shellac and therefore lasts longer. Depending on nail growth, a gel manicure can last 3-4 weeks, Shellac 2-3 weeks. This also depends on whether your hands come into contact with chemicals such as cleaning agents or disinfectants – this can significantly reduce the durability of your Shellac manicure.

The removal of gel nails can be a bit daunting, as it takes quite a long time and the complete removal will affect the top layer of nails. Shellac is different: Shellac can be removed by putting your nails in acetone envelopes for a few minutes until the shellac breaks open and can be easily removed without intensive filing.

Is Shellac the perfect manicure?

If you want color on your fingernails, with conventional nail polish there is one thing you need to be above all: patience. Because it takes quite a while for the base coat, color layer, and topcoat to dry. And the reward for this effort usually lasts two to three days. With some paints, perhaps even up to a week. How nice the promise of Shellac and other gel paints sounds: zero drying time, flawless gloss, absolute scratch resistance – and that for up to four weeks. Does this mean that we are all now switching to Shellac and saving ourselves the weekly manicure?

Are gel varnishes gentler than artificial nails?

Gel varnishes are cured with the help of UV or LED lamps. After brushing and drying, the nail polish is not only immediately dry and scratch-resistant but also firmly bonded to the nail. This method is similar to the modeling of artificial nails in nail studios: Here, however, the nail is additionally roughened before lacquering. This causes the nail polish and nail surface to bond together so strongly that the color must be filed off later.

Gel nail polishes, on the other hand, can be removed with a nail polish remover. This is one reason why many manufacturers advertise their products as being much more gentle. A controversial statement. Because to remove the paint, the fingertips have to be wrapped around a pad soaked with a remover for around ten minutes.

Many of these products contain acetone or other strong solvents that remove fat from the nail and dry out the skin. “Cleaning with acetone attacks the nail more than filing off,” says Tanja Krotki, training manager at Douglas. In addition, paint residues that cannot be removed in this way must be scraped off with a wooden spatula.

LED light or UV lamp?

For a while, gel nails could be made exclusively in beauty salons. In the meantime, there are also lamps for home use. With the purchase, one should absolutely pay attention to the kind and certification of the equipment. LED lights are harmless, differently than UV lamps: “With intact quality tubes UV light does not represent a larger load for the skin than normal daylight. Outdated or inferior tubes however harden with UVB rays, the light responsible for sunburn. These rays can lead to cell changes in the skin and in the worst case even to cancer,” says Dr. Helger Stege, head physician of the dermatology department at Klinikum Lippe.

Shellac for brittle nails?

Many women with already brittle nails opt for Shellac or other gel coatings. The hope is that they will not have to remove and repaint their nails so often because Shellac lasts for weeks. A fallacy: removing these paints can quickly make nails even more sensitive. There is also the risk of inflammation if the nail plate and skin are attacked – germs then have an easy time.

So if you are flirting with Shellac, you should definitely give your nails a little break afterward. Rich nail care with nourishing oils is then a must! There are nourishing oils that can be applied with a brush, but also practical nail care sticks for when you are on the go.


Both types of manicures have different advantages, so the decision depends on your personal needs. For brittle nails or if you want to extend your natural nails, we recommend gel nails. If you want to keep your natural look, try Shellac. Whatever you decide to do – the constant repainting of chipped nail polish is over now!

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