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Gel Nails or Shellac - Choosing the Best Nail Treatment

If your usual manicures just don't cut it in terms of longevity, it's time to consider an upgrade like gel nails or shellac. These two methods offer stunning, long-lasting polish with less frequent touch-ups required. However, they differ in key ways such as the application process and impact on natural nails. This review examines the pros and cons of gel versus shellac so you can decide which is the right semi-permanent polish for you.

What are gel nails? 

Gel nails refer to a type of nail enhancement treatment that utilizes a gel polish formulation. Gel nail differs from traditional nail lacquers in a few key ways. For one, it contains acrylic polymers, photoinitiators, and pigments that allow it to transform from a liquid to a hard substance when cured under LED or UV light.

Perhaps most importantly, gel polish is specially formulated to chemically bond with the natural nail plate when cured. This creates an incredibly durable, glossy finish that becomes much harder than traditional nail paints. In essence, gel nails work by turning the compliant gel formula into a rock-solid protective coating fused directly onto the nail surface.

Gel nail process 

Getting gel nails involves more than just painting color on your nails. There is a methodical application process that is followed to achieve the long-lasting results these manicures are known for.

Preparing the nail plate 

The first and very important step is properly preparing your natural nails. This involves gently filing the nails into shape, pushing back cuticles, and cleaning nails free of any debris. Proper preparation creates a smooth nail surface to ensure optimal polish adhesion.

Using a bonding gel primer

Once nails are cleaned and shaped, a layer of bonding gel primer is applied using a small brush. This acts like glue, adhering subsequent layers of gel polish directly to the nail plate for maximum durability.

Building up color coats

The nail technician will then paint on thin coats of your chosen gel polish shade, no more than two brushes full at a time. Minimal amount prevents runs and uneven color. Each coat gets "cured" under an LED lamp for up to 60 seconds to harden it before adding another.

Finishing Touches

After the final layer of gel nail is cured, nail design such as delicate art can be customized onto your nails if desired. Everything is then sealed in place with a clear top coat layer for added shine and protection.

Average time frame

With all the curing time needed between precise coat applications, you can plan for a full gel manicure to take approximately 30 to 45 minutes in total. Proper process ensures polished results that stay fresh for weeks.


  1. Gel manicures are known for their long-lasting wear, typically lasting 2-3 weeks without chipping or fading.

  2. Once cured, gel nails are hardened but not rigid, allowing for normal hand movement and activities.

  3. Gel mani offers a beautiful, high-gloss finish that lasts throughout the wear time.

  4. Gel comes in a vast array of colors, finishes, and designs, allowing for endless customization and creativity.

  5. Gel nails can add strength to your natural nails, helping them resist breaking and splitting.

The downsides 

  1. Improper application or removal of gel nails can damage your natural nails, causing thinning, and weakening.

What are shellac nails?

Shellac refers to a specific brand of nail treatment available at certain nail salons in Fredericton. These formulas are unique from traditional nail lacquers or standard gel polishes in both the composition and application process.

Made by Creative Nail Design (CND), Shellac contains selected resins and polymers that dry quickly when exposed to air. Then, the high-shine color and protective finish are cured and locked in place using LED light technology.

Rather than transforming the polish from liquid to solid during application like gel does, Shellac paints on like regular polish but air dries to a handleable state before final curing. This efficient process, along with the non-damaging polish formula, makes for a gentle and natural-looking manicure.

Shellac nails process

Just like gel nails, shellac manicures follow a precise application process to achieve long-lasting polished nails.

Let's break down the key steps:

Prepping nails

The nails are first shaped, cleaned and dehydrated using an alcohol wipe. This removes oils so the polish better adheres to the nail plate.

Base coat

A thin layer of special Shellac base coat is applied and cured under an LED lamp for 30-60 seconds. This protects the nails.

Color coat

Thin coats of color are painted on and cured between each layer. Multiple coats ensure high coverage and prevent patching.

No bonding agent needed

Unlike gel, shellac adheres well without a bonding gel priming the nails first.

Faster curing

LED curing hardens shellac faster than UV lamps cure regular gel polish between coats.

Top coat

Everything is sealed and protected with a clear top coat cured under the lamp.

Finishing touches

Optional nail art designs may be added before a final cure.

Softer removal process

Shellac comes up more gently in acetone without filing compared to gel removal.


  1. Shellac doesn't require buffing, so the application is gentler on nails. Buffing can weaken natural nails.

  2. Shellac nails last around 10-14 days while maintaining shine without chips.

  3. Thanks to LED curing under a lamp, shellac dries much faster than regular nail polish.

  4. Manicurists consider shellac slightly more breathable than gel, potentially promoting better natural nail health.

The downsides 

  1. Shellac polishes may not have quite the 2+ week long-lasting power of gel manicures.

  2. While offering some protection, shellac might not significantly strengthen weak or brittle nails as much as the gel can.

Gel Nails vs Shellac Nails

Now let's directly compare some of their key aspects to help you decide what might work best:


Gel: Last 2-3 weeks, offering superior chip resistance and strength, ideal for long-lasting wear.

Shellac: Last 10-14 days, still chip-resistant and shiny, easier removal, but not as strong as gel.

Nails health 

Gel: Potentially higher damage risk due to harsher removal and buffing. Long-term impact on nail health unclear.

Shellac: Generally, less damaging with gentler removal, and no buffing, but proper care is still important.


Gel: Requires buffing potentially more time-consuming and damaging.

Shellac: No buffing needed and slightly gentler acetone soak remover.


Gel: offers countless color and design options 

Shellac: is best if using CND brand polishes for high-quality results.

How to choose between shellac nails and gel?

Several personal factors should inform your choice:

  • Gel is best if you're hard on your hands but want a salon look for 2+ weeks. Shellac works well for low-key tasks.

  • Gels may be too harsh if your nails are weak, dry, or damaged already. Shellac is gentler.

  • Gel manicures can cost more initially but save money long-term with their longevity.

  • Shellac is lower maintenance overall though you visit the nail salon more often for fills.

  • Gel allows for elaborate nail art. Shellac offers naturally enhanced nails.

Visit Fredericton's favorite nail salon

Vibrant Salon & Spa is proud to be the premier destination for hair, skin, and nail care in Fredericton. Our licensed professionals have perfected their craft, ensuring every client's nails look and feel their vibrant best. We pride ourselves on cleanliness, safety, and continuing education - always staying up to date on the latest techniques. Whether you prefer the durability of gel or the breezy wear of shellac, we have you covered with our wide selection of long-lasting manicure and pedicure services. With our focus on personal service in a peaceful oasis, we cater to groups too - accommodating up to 3 clients simultaneously for manicures or 4 for pedicures. It's no wonder we've become the best for all your pampering needs. Consider booking your next appointment at Vibrant Salon & Spa Fredericton - we can't wait to help you shine!


Both gel and shellac nail polish can enhance your natural nails with long-lasting polished looks. But choosing the best option depends on considering your unique nail needs, lifestyle factors, and nail health. Overall gel may last longest, while shellac is lower risk for sensitive nails. With the right application and removal care, either treatment can keep your nails gorgeous for weeks.

The key things to remember are:

  • Gel lasts 2+ weeks while shellac remains shiny for 10-14 days

  • Shellac is gentler on nails with its application process

  • Consider your activities and nail strength when deciding

  • Budget the costs of initial applications and follow-up fills


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