Shellac and Acrylic Are Both Buzzy Nail Treatments—Here's How to Pick The Best One For You

blue shellac nails


If you go the extra mile to adopt a popular mani trend (our favorites right now are milky nails and magenta manicures), it’s only natural to want it to last. With all the techniques for long lasting-nails, two types of methods stand out the most: shellac and acrylic. The question is, which should you choose? While they sound similar in name and are both long-lasting nail products, celebrity manicurist and Nailing Hollywood artist Laura Malarkey says the services are very different. Keep reading to learn more.

The Key Differences Between Shellac and Acrylic


Shellac isn't a product but a game-changing brand of gel. Much like people refer to bandages as Band-Aids, Shellac has primarily been adopted as the name for a category of gentler gel polishes. Still, it's important to note that Shellac and acrylic differ entirely, despite their respective popularity.

"Acrylic is made of monomer and polymer mixed to create a hard coating for the nail," says celebrity manicurist Vanessa Sanchez McCollough. "Shellac is a brand of gel polish made by CND that, when applied properly, leaves minimal nail damage." Overall, manicurist and Nailing Hollywood CEO Mazz Hanna says Shellac is less damaging, but acrylic is more durable. 

How Long They Last

Acrylic is more durable and lasts longer than Shellac. “When properly applied, acrylic nail enhancements should last until you or your nail tech removes them, giving your nails strength at any length and minimizing breakage, cracking, and chipping,” Malarkey says.

That’s not to say Shellac isn’t worthwhile, though. Compared to traditional lacquer, Shellac provides up to two weeks of picture-perfect wear. Once 14 days are up (or however long you let your Shellac grow out), the product will be fully removed and reapplied (if you like to go from one mani to the next with no break in between), McCollough says.

This is another difference between Shellac and acrylic, as acrylic is typically maintained every two to three weeks with a fill-in, McCollough adds. 

Structure and Support

Here’s where acrylic shines. “Support and strength are specifically what acrylic is used for as it provides strength, length, and shape to nails,” Malarkey says. Meanwhile, Shellac doesn’t offer anything other than long-lasting, chip-free color.

How They’re Removed

One of the biggest benefits of Shellac is how easy it is to remove. The formula is designed to form teeny air tunnels (which are invisible to the eye), making removal a breeze. To remove Shellac, you must soak your nails in acetone for five to 15 minutes. The acetone will seep into the aforementioned tiny tunnels, effectively loosening the gel from your nails without any filing, buffing, scraping, or peeling necessary. This is why Shellac is said to be so gentle. 

Since the acrylic coating is much harder, it doesn’t easily budge from nails. That’s why most salon settings use E-files to remove the product. If you’re trying to remove acrylic by yourself, you should never do this, as it can be highly damaging to the nails. Instead, read our guide on how to remove acrylic at home safely


The price of any nail treatment will vary based on where you live and the skill level of the artist performing the technique. Shellac costs between $40 to $60, and a complete set of acrylics is around the same range. Their price similarities are another reason why folks waver between which to pick. (You can also DIY acrylic nails at home, but that costs more upfront since you’ll have to buy the materials.)

What Are Shellac Nails?

Shellac nails are coated in gentle, long-lasting color, and Malarkey reminds us many gel products are mistakenly called “Shellac.” According to Hang Nguyen, Nailing Hollywood Artist and author of Nail Art Deck, Shellac is a gentler, longer-lasting nail polish formula comprising regular and gel polish. “Shellac is not a nail enhancement like acrylic, which can add length to your nails,” she says. “It’s a healthier option in comparison to acrylic.”

Hanna adds to this, noting that while Shellac is longer lasting than regular nail lacquer, it’s less durable than traditional gel since it’s blended with regular polish. Shellac is applied and cured with an LED light. “The product is applied differently than traditional gel polishes because you do not have to rough the nail or remove the shine before application,” McCollough says. “It is applied like regular nail polish and then cured in a UV lamp.” 

The key highlight of Shellac is that it offers long-lasting wear without rough removal. “Shellac is the first of its kind that does not have to be filed off for removal,” McCollough says. “This is why shellac can guarantee no nail damage when applied properly.”

What Are Acrylic Nails?

Acrylic nails are artificial nail enhancements made with a mix of monomers and polymers. According to McCollough, it can be applied to the natural nail or with a tip or form, often used for creating stiletto and coffin-shaped nails.

"Most acrylic product lines come in a selection of colors ranging from standard nudes, natural pinks, whites, and clear," Malarkey says. "Some acrylic brands even make a wide range of colored acrylic powders that don't require additional polish." As mentioned above, the key downfall of acrylic is how damaging it can be to remove.

How to Pick the Right One for You

Shellac and acrylic both have benefits, so it can be tough to know which to pick. To help you decide, the nail artists we spoke with offered their suggestions. 

“If you usually wear your nails short and want a clean manicure with polish that lasts up to two weeks, gel and Shellac polish products are right for you,” Malarkey says. “If you love long nails and often prefer nail art with crystals or 3D embellishments, acrylic nail enhancements are a great option.”

According to McCollough, Shellac is best for a client who has a very healthy nail and it can also be applied over acrylic nails. “Acrylics are best for people with weaker nails and need extra support," she says. “Shellac is great for people who have naturally strong nails and want a long-lasting manicure that will not compromise the health of the natural nail,” Nguyen says. “Acrylics are good for people who tend to have a hard time growing out their nails and want a quick way to add length and shape to them.”

The Final Takeaway

Shellac and acrylic are two types of long-lasting nail products. Where Shellac offers gentle, durable, chip-free color, acrylic adds length, shape, and strength to the nail; Shellac is easy to remove but doesn’t offer durability, while acrylic is hard to remove but makes nails much less susceptible to breaks. Now that you’re all brushed up on the topic, choosing which nail treatment to book next is up to you.

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