For your next manicure: The difference between Shellac, SNS, gel and acrylic nails.

Ask your mum about simpler times and she’ll tell you that back in the day most women had just lippie, blush (which they called rouge – so retro!) and nail polish in their beauty bag.

Now most of us have 45 concealers and 18 mascaras and umpteen choices when it comes to getting our nails done.

Hence a lot of confusion around the difference between Shellac nails, a SNS manicure, and gel and acrylic nails – are they all the same thing? We weren’t even sure ourselves, so we asked some pros.

Life with and without nails. Nail fans will understand:

Video by MMC

What is SNS?

“SNS, short for Signature Nail System, is a powder dipping system,” Monika Carvalho, owner of The Nail Lab, told Mamamia.

“A base coat is applied, followed by the nail being ‘dipped’ into a coloured powder. This process is repeated one or to more times.”

“There is no ‘curing’ or ‘setting’ under a LED or UV light. Because the powder is coloured no painting is required and there is zero dry time. Professional removal is advised with a reapplication required every two to three weeks depending on the client’s nail growth and also wear and tear,” Carvalho said.

difference between Shellac, SNS, gel, acrylic nails
SNS uses a powder dipping technique to provide a manicure that promises to last. Image: Unsplash.

Though Carvalho advises that people fully understand SNS before getting it done.

"What is concerning for us in the nail industry ​at the moment is the misinformation surrounding SNS and it's perceived benefits.​ ​It is ​being marketed as a product that is very different from acrylic and very healthy for your nails, In fact the main 'adhesive' ingredient is also the main ingredient in super glue and the coloured powder us​ed​ is essentially acrylic powder (polymer)."


What is Shellac?

“Shellac is a product of CND rather than a type of service,” Cherie Pollard, CND Education Ambassador explained. “Shellac is a type gel polish offering. There is no natural nail filing for preparation or removal for a Shellac service.”

So if Shellac is a type of gel, let’s jump straight onto exactly what a gel manicure is.

The Royals are only allowed to wear a single shade of nail polish, and we’re not sure we love it. Post continutes after audio. 

​​What is gel?

“​Gel nails are a system or process and Shellac is a brand of gel polish. Many consumers tend to confuse the names and think that Shellac and gel are two different things,” Carvalho said.

“The gel polish process involves preparing of the nail bed, then a base and top coat with two to three coats of colour in between. Each layer is applied like a regular polish but cured under either an LED or a UV light. There is zero dry time. Professional removal is advised, and reapplication is required every seven to 14 days depending on the person.”

difference between Shellac, SNS, gel, acrylic nails
Image: Getty.

What is acrylic?

​"When a customer is wanting to change the shape of their nail or extend the length, acrylic is the answer,” ​Carvalho said.

​"Usually for an initial full set, tips are applied (think 'fake nails') and then the acrylic, which is a polymer powder, and monomer liquid are used together by your nail technician to overlay over the top. Your nails can then be painted with either regular polish or gel polish. Customers will then have an 'infill' every three weeks, as opposed to removal and reapplication.”

difference between Shellac, SNS, gel, acrylic nails
Image: Unsplash.

Regardless of which option you go for, make sure you’re going to a nail technical or salon that actually cares about your natural nail health. Ask about the process and products they use before you get started.

“At The Nail Lab we are very pro natural nail health yet still have a huge gel nail client following. This is because our team do not over-buff the natural nail prior to application and our removal process is a 15 minute treatment that involves soaking each nail individually in foil pads with a very low acetone remover, as opposed to 100 per cent acetone which dehydrates the nail bed and surrounding skin and cuticle."

"We soak the nail until the gel lifts off as opposed to scraping. We will also never drill your nail before an application or to remove it,” Carvalho said.