We pit acrylic vs gel vs shellac to determine which one is best

Acrylic, shellac and gel are buzz words that have been circulating the nail industry for a minute now and if you want to upgrade your nail game, it’s best you familiarise yourself with them as soon as possible.

Many people are actually aware of each term and frequently select their preference when booking a manicure without the backing knowledge of which is actually best suited to the occasion.

The perfect manicure may seem simple but it is indeed, more complicated than you think. If finding the right nail tech isn’t hard enough (after you’ve already spent hours evaluating all of the possible nail colours that won’t clash with your future ensembles), there are now an array of different polish formulas to choose from, each weighing in some pretty exciting benefits. Talk about evolution.

The main difference and focus points of each is strength, longevity and health. How long do you want your manicure to last for? Is your main focus the health of your real nails? We have taken the time to find out exactly what makes that perfect manicure and why you need one that is best suited to you.


Although acrylic may be the more popular option, gel was actually the first in line to hit the beauty industry and has been an area of interest ever since. There are also different types of gel, but we’ll tackle hard and soft gel.

Hard gel comes in a gooey consistency and can be artificially placed over your real nail to match the current shape, extended, and is the strongest of all three. It can also be built to preference, or buffed down before being placed under UV light to dry. Hard gel is applied with a brush and can only be removed by filing it off.

Soft gel on the other hand, is applied like a polish and cannot be used to extend the nail. It is more durable than regular nail polish and can be removed with acetone. This is less likely to damage your real nails than hard gel, unless it is forcefully removed without acetone.


To form an acrylic a polymer powder and monomer liquid are mixed and carefully applied to the nail. They are usually placed over an already cured acrylic extension. Acrylic dries as it is exposed to air, so this needs to be worked with very quickly. Once again, improper removal can damage the nail bed so it is best to go to a professional to do so. This type of manicure also produces a strong chemical type odour so the room must be well ventilated.


Shellac comes in the form of a polish but contains gel and polish mixed together. This makes it stronger than regular polish, but not as strong as a gel. Shellac is actually a brand name and it was created by Creative Nail Design. Once placed over the nail, it is also cured under a UV lamp and can last around 14 days. Due to the fact that it does contain polish, it is still susceptible to chipping.

The advantages and disadvantages

In terms of price, acrylic takes the lead. It is quick and easy to source and simple to do. However, you do obviously get what you pay for so when the nail does eventually begin to lift, not only is it rather unsightly but dirt and bacteria can become trapped underneath. The best way to avoid this is soaking the acrylic in acetone, a very basic removal process.

Hard Gel on the other hand, will not lift but the formula is harder to remove so it is pretty time consuming, especially as it cannot be removed with acetone. The bonds of soft gel also need to be thoroughly broken, but once this has been done the rest can be removed with acetone. Shellac does not take as long to remove, but still slightly longer than acrylic and also requires acetone. It is healthier for the nail and definitely boasts the more natural finish. As you do not need to wait for shellac and gel to dry, the finishing process is quite simple.

So which manicure should you get?

It is completely down to preference, which at this point, is probably the last thing you’d want to hear. If we really had to simplify it in the most basic terms, acrylic is best for experimenting with your nail shapes and designs and when you are not looking for something too complicated. You can combine this with other manicures (such as adding shellac polish over the acrylic nail) and have them as long or short as you desire.

Gel nails are best for longevity and preserving your nail underneath. It strengthens them and does not require too much manipulation to apply, meaning it is beneficial for the health of your nails. Shellac is best for a natural finish as it was literally created to resemble your real nail and has an undetectable feel on the fingers. It is also slightly longer lasting than regular nail polish.

Ultimately, you can always just take the good old trial and improvement route by trying out the different manicures and seeing which one you love the most. Your nail technician is also always the best point of call as after all, it is all in their hands!

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