FAQ: What's the Difference Between Shellac and Gel Polish?

What's the toughest part of a trip to the nail salon? For most folks, it's selecting a shade from the heaps of swatches available. However, before you take on that task, your nail tech will ask you one important question; "what kind of manicure?" If you usually wear traditional polish, you might be a bit puzzled when your nail tech throws both gel and shellac® polish options in the mix. As the higher price tag suggests, gel and shellac® manicures are designed to last longer than traditional polish. Often used interchangeably, gel and shellac are similar, but not synonymous. 

There are more similarities than differences between Shellac® and gel polish


Pardon us while we blow your mind. Shellac® isn't actually a thing; it's a brand (hence that little "r" we'll be using next to the name.)

Simply put, Shellac® is a brand of semi-permanent nail polish whereas Gelish, OPI gel, IBD Just Gel, etc. are gel polishes in a bottle. 

The full name of this product is actually "SHELLAC® Brand 14+ Day Nail Color." Gel polish, on the other hand, was first popularised in 2009, by Harmony Gelish. Launched in 2010, Shellac® is often credited as the first mainstream long-wear curable nail polish. After nearly five years in development, this product made a well-deserved splash when it landed in the industry. Shellac® set out to create a hybrid formula that convenience of nail polish with the durability and longevity of more substantial nail enhancements like traditional acrylic. 


Both of these manicures are designed to last longer than traditional polish. The magic behind these methods lies in the formula. Shellac® and gel polish utilize UV or LED light to create a strong durable nail enhancement.

                          Gel  Shellac 
What is it?  Long-wear nail polish   Long-wear nail polish 
Brands we carry:

 OPI gel, Gelish gel polish, IBD Just Gel, 

 CND Shellac
Application process:  Buffing / roughing of nail surface required.  No buffing / roughing of the nail surface required. 
Appearance:  Glossy, shiny colour. Can be made matte with top coat.  Glossy, shiny colour. Can be made matte with top coat.
Durability / Flexibility:  2-3 weeks of durable wear   2-3 weeks of durable wear 
Cost:  $40 - $75 average, incl. manicure  $40 - $75 average, incl. manicure
Removal process:  Soak-off removal. 10 - 15 minutes. Soak-off removal, 5 - 10 minutes depending on top coat used.
Effect on nails:  Non-damaging with proper application and removal  Non-damaging with proper application and removal.



Both gel and Shellac® polish are applied much in the same way you apply traditional polish. Beginning with a base coat, layers of product are painted on and finished with a topcoat. The main difference in application is the method used to seal the product. One of the biggest benefits of both gel and Shellac® polish is the effortless drying time. Both of these nail systems are cured under UV or LED light meaning you can leave the salon immediately after, without having to wait around under a fan for ages. Unlike traditional polish. gel and Shellac® rarely chip or peel if properly cured and stand up to everyday activities without incurring damage. 


The removal process of gel and shellac does include one factor which may sway your choice. The removal of Shellac® polish is considered by some to be a more "nail-friendly" option. Both gel and Shellac® nails should always be removed using a soak-off technique. A cotton pad soaked in acetone should be wrapped onto each nail for the brand's required removal time. After soaking, Shellac® nails can be removed using a wooden nail stick. Gel nails, on the other hand, typically require buffing and/or filing after soaking.

If performed by an experienced nail tech, buffing and filing need not be a cause for concern. The sole purpose of filing is to remove the product, therefore the technician should not continue to a point where your natural nail is subject to damage. For those with sensitive, weak or brittle nails, Shellac® may be a better option to further minimise any potential damage to the natural nails.  


  • Make sure your nails are clean and dry before your nail tech begins the application of gel or Shellac® polish
  • Keep your cuticles nourished after your manicure by applying cuticle oil daily. This will prevent nailbeds from drying out and causing your gel or Shellac® polish to peel or chip.
  • NEVER remove your gel or Shellac® polish by picking it off. This will damage the top layer of your nail. Make sure you go back to the salon to have them removed OR purchase a nail soak-off kit and follow the instructions for non-damaging gel or Shellac®  removals. 


CND Shellac Application & Removal Guide

OPI Gel Polish Step-By-Step Application Guide 

How to Remove OPI Gel Polish Guide