• Orchidee Salon and Spa

Nails: the differences between acrylic, gel, and shellac

We are here to give you the quick answer to what the differences are between acrylic, gel nails, and shellac. Here you go:


Acrylics are applied using a liquid monomer and a powder polymer to create a hard protective layer over your natural nails, therefore considering it a type of plastic. Tips can be used to add length if desired. Acrylics have a strong odor during the application process and only harden when exposed to air. Acrylics are often removed by either filing, soaking in pure acetone, or by lifting the entire acrylic nail off with a nail tip which takes the top layer of nail with it resulting in very thin, fragile nails over time. Removal of acrylic nails usually takes 20-30 minutes to file through all of the layers of acrylic. If acrylic nails begin lifting on the sides, they are a prime breeding ground for fungus and bacteria. Acrylic nails are a very thick and brittle product, so they are susceptible to breakage.

Gel Nails:

Gel nails are less damaging to the natural nail than acrylics. Gel is brushed onto your natural nail to add strength or nail tips to add length. After your nail technician applies each coat, you put your nails under ultraviolet (UV) light for up to two minutes to "cure" or harden the product. (See below for information about ultraviolet lights) There is no odor during the application process, therefore they are considered a safer and more eco-friendly option. Gel nails are more natural and glossy than acrylic nails and not as rigid, so they give a little more flexibility and are less prone to breakage.


Shellac was created in 2014 by Creative Nail Designs (CND).There are many other brands out there that claim to be Shellac, but they are imposters that do not function in the same way. Shellac is a hybrid between a gel and a polish. It is applied like a polish and is cured in a UV light in the same way gel is. Shellac is different than artificial nails in that you cannot add length with tips and it is only applied to the natural nail. Because it is cured in a UV light, Shellac is dry as soon as you leave the salon, doesn’t chip, and is shiny for 14 or more days. Because the top coat is scratch resistant, pedicures done with Shellac are perfect for vacations at the beach! As with any nail service, you will notice minimal grow out of the nail leaving a small portion unpolished. Shellac is removed with small pieces of foil with a cotton pad on them soaked in acetone. The foils are left on for five to ten minutes and the Shellac flakes off with no damage to the natural nail.

Are UV lights dangerous?

As with all services, it is recommended to do your research from reputable sources. According to Dr. Robert M. Sayre, Ph.D., of Rapid Precision Testing Laboratories one of the creators of the SPF rating system: “UV Nail Lamps are safer than natural sunlight or sunlamps. The amount of energy from a UV lamp during a nail service would be roughly equivalent to the amount of UV exposure one would experience during a typical day of exposure in indoor fluorescent lighting.” He continues that “Hands get more UV exposure holding the steering wheel of a car or talking on a cell phone outside than they do from the use of UV nail lamps.” If a client is concerned about the risk of UV exposure, you may choose to put sunscreen on your hands before the service.

Do nails need to breathe?

No! This is a huge old-wives tale. Nails are made out of over 100 layers of dried keratin cells that are dead. Dead keratin does not breathe. Acetone and nail products make nails temporarily feel dried out, but the key to keeping nails feeling healthy is not skipping the nail service, but rather hydration! Nail polish, gels, or Shellac actually trap the oils into your nails keeping them better hydrated. It is recommended to use an oil applied to the nail bed and cuticle to keep nails in their best condition. The best oils for nail hydration include shea butter, jojoba oil, coconut oil, or avocado oils.

Now that you have the education between different types of nails, you can make the best choice for your next manicure. Happy Manicuring!

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