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Acrylic vs gel vs shellac nails – What is the difference?

Gel nails

Nail art has never been more exciting. With so many innovative techniques, creative ideas & new technologies to choose from – it’s hard to know where to begin! Whether you are looking for the extra shiny, the chip-free, the ultra long-lasting, the wild design or the truly attention-grabbing length – there’s an option for everyone. We are here to help you decipher between acrylic vs gel vs shellac nails, so you can choose your next treatment to fit your exact needs. 

Plus, we’ll tell you about how you can turn your nail art obsession into a lucrative and exciting career!

Let’s start with…

1. Acrylic

Acrylic is a transparent mixture that your nail tech will magic up, that’s hardened by exposure to air (instead of UV lights). It creates a hard, thick nail topper, achieving that dramatic length many clients are looking for. 

It’s also a prime base for art, as the length and space the acrylic surface provides makes an ideal canvas for your wildest creations! Plus, you could even add a gel topping to help the design stay for longer too.

Likewise, acrylic is great for nail biters, as it protects your natural nails if you find the habit hard to break. An acrylic manicure also lasts a really long time, and can be simply refilled to last even longer! The versatility of acrylic means you can have the nail length and shape of your dreams, without waiting for your natural nails to grow. Acrylic is frequently the cheapest option in most salons too. 

However, acrylic does create some chemical fumes, so a salon needs to be well ventilated for you to enjoy the treatment safely. It’s also the most time-consuming application of our 3 options here – so be sure to block it out in your diary!

2. Gel

The manicure revolution began with gel. To start, your nails will be shaped and buffed to remove the natural oils and create the perfect canvas that allows the gel to adhere smoothly. Once you choose your gel polish of choice, your fingertips are placed under a UV light which cures the polish. This creates a superhero version of the traditional mani – glossier, shinier and longer-lasting. 

Gel manicures last a relatively long time (at least 2 weeks, or more with a little maintenance), and make a great base for subtle artistic designs. Plus they are totally anti-chip! Ideal for those with more manual jobs. 

Gel will also support your natural nails and stop them from bending, snapping or tearing in daily life, while still remaining more flexible than an acrylic set. As the UV cures the polish pretty much instantly, this is a super-fast treatment, so you’ll have time to pop in during your lunch break, with no accompanying odour either. 

Gels are generally more expensive than acrylic and don’t last quite as long. They also need professional removal to ensure the nail bed isn’t damaged, whereas acrylics can be removed at home with an acetone soak. 

3. Shellac

Shellac is fast becoming one of the most popular mani’s around, as it produces a beautiful, natural finish. Shellac is actually a blend of nail varnish and gel (sometimes known as a ‘hybrid gel’). It is usually applied in a thin layer, so it doesn’t have the dramatic weight or tapping sound of an acrylic finish. Cured under UV lighting, like a gel mani, the polish will set to a dewy, high-shine finish. 

Great for nails that are already in good condition, a shellac finish will stay intact for up to two weeks. They are chip-resistant and have the effect of a beautiful mani, without the edges fraying. Shellac removal is also the kindest to your natural nails, as there will be no need to file or scrape the polish away, and could be removed at home with an acetone soak.

Shellac does not last quite as long as the other options here and is usually around the same price point as a gel manicure. 

The round up 

If you have strong natural nails, shellac is a top option that will be kind to your nails on removal, with a beautiful natural finish. 

If you’re looking for something that will last for a longer period, say a honeymoon or holiday – go for gel. 

If you have weak nails, or want some drama – go for acrylics. 

Take it to the next level

Do you dream of taking your beauty obsession to the next level? Are you always admiring nail art and wondering how to become a nail technician?

Then you’ll be excited to know it’s never been easier to start your dream nail business, with our online nail tech courses. Our Nail Tech Course will teach you the secrets to mastering, acrylic, gel and shellac – as well as how to create designs that clients will be blown away by. 

Developed by industry professionals to deliver the latest techniques and trends, as part of this certificate, you will learn all about acrylics, gel polish, builder gel application and dipping systems. This is in addition to customer service, consulting with your client and the legalities surrounding offering these services. So you’ll be ready to take on the role of beauty boss!

Unlike other nail courses or acrylic courses, our approach includes both theoretical and practical based modules and is completely self-paced. As one of the leading nail courses online, this means you can fit this exceptional training and education around your current work or lifestyle. 

Nail tech courses can be expensive and inaccessible, so we created a payment plan starting from just $25 a week, to allow you to take control of your career easily. Plus, with this Nail Technician course, you’ll receive a full starter kit included in the price, with everything you need to get started right away! All the essential pro tools and materials to work on live models, future clients and to earn income to cover the original kit costs.

What are you waiting for? Join us today and start creating Insta-worthy tips the world will love!

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