Kenora, ON P9N 1T1 155 Main Street
Open: Mon 10am-5pm, Tues/Wed 10am-6pm, Thurs/Fri 10am-7pm, Sat 9am-4pm

Shellac, Gel & Acrylic – So what’s the difference?


So you’re ready to join the rest of us and enjoy the benefits of beautiful long-lasting and durable manicures but you are a bit confused on the terms that the nail technicians throw around the salon. No problem! Let’s run through the differences between the three types of common nails trends.


Nail Extensions

It’s important to note that when talking about an acrylic or gel manicure you can usually expect an artificial nail extension to be part of the service. A nail extension is either done by fitting a piece of plastic that is placed on your own nail and then completed with a smooth application of acrylic/gel or by building out and sculpting an extension from scratch thus allowing a variety of lengths and shapes. It is possible to apply these types of products without extending the nail but more often nail extensions play an important role in most gel and acrylic manicure services.


Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails are produced by using a combination of liquid acrylic and powder. Despite its artificial look, and strong odour it has been around since the 1970’s and remains a staple in nail salons today! This classic choice is renowned for its durability, resistance to chips and breaks, and matte finish. Acrylic nails are cured without the aid of a UV lamp. It is not an ideal choice if you are pregnant as the nails can be toxic and the process involves more chemicals than gel nails or Shellac.


Gel Nails

Gel nails are by far the most exciting nail trend to hit the beauty industry in recent times! At the Beauty Cabin, most of our manicure appointments are for gel nails. Gel nails are similar to acrylic nails in that a liquid substance (gel) is spread across the nail and artificial tip. Gel nails require a UV or LED lamp to cure. Adored for their natural look, durability, chip resistance, flexibility, and easier removal process, Gel nails are gentle on the natural nail in comparison to acrylic and thus an excellent choice for someone with naturally brittle nails. This type of treatment is safe during pregnancy, odourless,  and leaves a beautiful glossy finish.  Gel nails do generally cost a few more dollars than acrylic nails but most would agree that it is well worth the few dollars!



Shellac manicures don’t typically involve nail tip extensions. Shellac is a hybrid product that blends nail polish and gel together. It leaves a durable, chip-resistant finish. Shellac is a brand name product by CND (Creative Nail Design). Not surprisingly, Shellac is cured under a UV lamp just like Gel. One other major difference between Shellac and artificial nails (gel and acrylic) is that they cannot be filled. Shellac nails are safe during pregnancy, lasts up to two weeks, and while not able to strengthen nails or add artificial tips it is a great option for someone with a very healthy nail bed. Shellac is a more budget-friendly option.


Confusing Terminology

Gel nails and gel polish are often confusing and conflated terms. As previously mentioned, Shellac is a hybrid nail treatment created by CND that blends gel and nail polish. Competing companies have launched their own line of similar products (OPI, Gelish, IBD, Ugly Duckling etc.) and usually refer to this type of finish as gel polish. Nail salons and spas may offer a service referencing gel polish or Shellac. These are essentially the same services. The real difference is in the brand of product being used. At our nail salon in Kenora, we favour the term “Shellac” but of course offer a variety of gel polishes from all the major product lines.


Pros and Cons

Acrylic Nails


  • Durable
  • Chip-resistant
  • Long-lasting
  • Can extend nail length and alter shape to your desire


  • Strong odours during application
  • Harsh on natural nails and nail bed
  • Not recommended during pregnancy

Gel Nails


  • Natural look
  • Gentle on natural nails
  • Lasts up to 3 weeks between fills
  • Odourless
  • Flexible
  • Durable
  • Chip-resistant
  • Can extend nail length and alter shape to your desire


  • More expensive than acrylic and Shellac
  • Must be removed by a professional
  • Difficult to fill at home

Shellac Nails


  • Inexpensive
  • Can be removed at home
  • Odourless
  • Low risk for damage to natural nail
  • Quick service


  • Does not last as long as artificial nails
  • Does not protect your natural nail from breaking
  • Not ideal for weak or brittle nails


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  • Polish Perfect Posted May 25, 2017 3:18 pm

    Shellac nails (polish or whatever you want to call it)! However for those with weaker nails I would recommend gel nails.

    • Posted November 21, 2017 9:46 pm

      Indeed. Gel nails are a great solution for brittle nails! Thanks for the comment, Polish Perfect.

  • Johanne Posted September 13, 2017 6:20 am

    Je me suis fait poser ongle au gel.
    Dans un salon asiatique et entendu dire que les produits peut-être cancérigène vrai ou faux. Conseil svp

    • Posted November 21, 2017 9:51 pm

      Salut, Johanne. Merci pour le commentaire. Ça fait plus que 15 ans qu’on fait les ongles soit sous le Beauty Cabin ou d’anciennes compagnies. Nous n’avons jamais eu de problèmes de même. Notre conseil c’est de faire les ongles au gel au lieu de l’acrylique comme c’est moins dur sur la peau et sur les ongles.

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155 Main Street
Kenora, ON P9N 1T1