Do gel nails damage your natural nails? Everything you need to know about 'shellac'.

Gel nails – sometimes called shellac nails – are known for their durability. They are thicker in texture than regular nail polish and last up to three or four weeks without chipping (#miracle).

For people like me (i.e. extremely clumsy) they are excellent in the way they withstand violent toe-kicking and all-too-frequent falling over. But before you make the plunge and head to a salon, here’s everything you need to know first.

How are they different to acrylic nails?

Gel nails are not the same as acrylic nails, or SNS nails for that matter.

Acrylic nails are designed to extend the length of the fingernail. They are created using a powder dipped in solvent and reach beyond the length of the existing nail. Gel nails don’t add length, but rather are applied like a nail polish (in a pre-made solution) and they extend only to the tip of your existing nail. They’re also a lot easier to remove than acrylic nails.

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How does it work?

The gel is a substance that comes from the acrylic family of plastics. It’s applied to the nail similarly to regular nail polish and then dried under a UV light.When exposed to the light, short chains of molecules partner with longer ones within the gel, creating products called polymers. This causes the gel to harden.

“Gels have a harder, non-porous surface [compared to acrylic nails] so they’re less likely to stain,” Alisha Rimando, creative director of Artistic Nail Design in the US, told Racked.

Fun fact: gel and acrylic nails use the same technology seen in tooth fillings or crowns. We have dentistry to thank for our nail art.


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Do gel nails damage the natural nail?

Shellac nails have a bad rap for weakening the nail underneath, but it’s reported, however, that the only reason gel nails weaken the nail bed is because of the way they are removed. “The downside for me is they don’t soak off. You can’t get them off unless somebody files them off,” Rimando said.

You can’t just pull them off. If you do (I have done. It didn’t end well), you will also rip the top layer off your natural nail. Yes, this weakens your nail. Yes, it will take months for the natural strength to return.

The worst part though is that you will likely damage the nail bed and your cuticles. These are the ‘living’ sections of your nail and damaging them could affect future nail growth.

To be safe, only have your gel nails removed at a salon. They will use a solution that will help the product crumble off. It might cost you money, but it will protect your nails in the long run.

Gel nails are more durable than regular nail polish. Image via Getty.

How much do gel nails cost?

In Australia, gel nails usually cost anywhere from $30 upwards in regular salons. They can be decorated with crazy fun nail art, and this is more expensive.

You can also find DIY gel nail kits that come with an LED light. These won't last as long as in-salon treatments, but they're likely to stick around longer than your regular at-home polish job.