What’s Acrylic, Gel, and Shellac?

Acrylic, Gel, Shellac nails - What's the difference?

What is the difference between acrylic, gel, and gel polish, and Shellac?

To someone new to nail enhancements, telling the difference between the different types can be difficult. Here’s a quick breakdown of some different types of nail enhancements and their features.


Acrylic is the most common nail enhancement service. It adds length and thickness to the natural nail. It is created from a liquid monomer and a powder polymer. These two ingredients combine to create an acrylic material that is shaped onto nail forms using a brush. Acrylic does not need LED or UV lamps to cure – it air dries. You can, however, use a Shellac or gel polish or even just a gel polish top coat on top of finished acrylic nails. This step will, of course, use an LED or UV lamp. (We use high quality LED lamps in the salon to limit our clients’ exposure to UV rays.)

Ann’s Hair Affair & Spa uses CND brand acrylic nail products that are only available to licensed professionals.

To remove, acrylic nail enhancements can be “soaked” with acetone and gently scraped from the natural nail plate. We recommend you do this in the salon. Please do not PULL your nail enhancements off – this will cause damage to your natural nails.

(Acrylic is also available as a powder overlaying a resin/glue – this is known as “dipping” or “dip powder nails”. We do not offer acrylic powder dipping as it can be unhygenic and spread germs. Some dip system providers claim that a dip manicure lasts longer than acrylic or gel manicures – this has been proven false by various methods of testing.)

Gels used for nail enhancements are referred to as “Hard Gels”. A hard gel manicure offers more strength and durability than an acrylic manicure, but there are some drawbacks. Gel manicures must be removed in the salon with an electric nail file – they do not soak off with acetone like acrylic nail enhancements. This can be a good thing for people who do a lot of work with their hands! Gels are applied with a brush after applying nail forms. The gel comes in a sealed container and is not mixed with anything else. Gel requires an LED or UV lamp to cure. (We provide the highest quality LED lamps to limit our clients’ exposure to UV light.)

We use CND Brisa Gel for hard gel nail enhancements, which is only available to licensed nail professionals.

Shellac or “Gel Polish” is a soft gel product that is applied like a nail polish to a natural or artificial nail and then cured with an LED or UV lamp. Our salon uses CND Shellac gel polishes, but there are many other brands out there, each with their own pros and cons. We’ve chosen to work with Shellac because it fits the needs of most of our clients.

Shellac or gel polish is NOT a nail enhancement product and will not extend the length of your nails. Shellac – and gel polishes in general – comes in familiar nail polish bottles, but are not clear like regular polish bottles. Shellac and gel polishes must be soaked off with acetone and gently scraped from the natural nail. Please do not PULL your Shellac or gel polish off – this can cause damage to your natural nails!

Other nail enhancements include silk, fiberglass, or linen wraps. Although not as popular as acrylic or gel, wraps have their uses. Saving broken or weak natural nails is a popular way to use wraps, but they can also be used to create nail enhancements.

If you still have questions about nail enhancements, that’s OK! We encourage you to ask as many questions as you want. Stop by the salon, give us a call, or shoot us an email!