Hard Gel, Soft Gel, or Gel Polish: How To Choose The Best Gel Service for Your Nails

Repainting your nails constantly is time consuming and frustrating. So is ruining your perfectly painted nails the moment you leave the salon.

You want your manicure to last longer. However having your polish smudging or chipping is inevitable as you use your hands constantly throughout the day.

So what can you do?

Give gel nails a try! They are way more durable than regular nail polish, plus they last so much longer.

There are a few different gel types to choose from. So before you go running to the salon, keep reading to find out which one is best for you!

What Are Hard Gel Nails?

One of the most popular types of nail enhancements is hard gel. It is also known as traditional gel.

Hard gel is mostly used to add length to nails. It can be filed to any shape you prefer - anything from Cardi B's super pointy stilettos to a more modest oval shape. 

This is why hard gel is so popular. It can transform an entire set of super short nubs to a set of red carpet (or prom) ready nails in just a few hours.

Hard gel can also be used to repair broken nails. So don't worry if you break a nail on the way to the salon. An experienced technician should be able to build a new one for you to match the rest.

Compared to other types of gels, hard gel is the strongest. It can withstand a lot of everyday wear and tear, and acts as a protective barrier for the natural nail.

It has a thick consistency and is applied by dropping a 'bead' of gel onto the nail surface. This bead is then worked to the edges of the nail with the pushing and dragging movements of a brush.

Once the gel application has been perfected, it is transformed into a solid state under a UV or LED light for about 30 - 120 seconds.

At this point, your nails may look a bit chunky. Don't worry because your technician will be filing and shaping them to perfection. Lastly, colour and art (if you wish) can be added.

A hard gel service usually takes about 2 hours and will cost about $80. Of course, this will change depending on how much nail art or decorations you want to add. 

These nails will usually last about 3-4 weeks with proper care. If you notice that the nail has started lifting, do not pick it off yourself. Instead, contact your nail technician for advice or book in for a fill or removal.

Gels can certainly weaken the nails if they are peeled or pried off the nail, which can strip layers of the natural nail.

Jenna Hipp, Selena Gomez’s Manicurist

What Are the Different Types of Gel Nails?

Now that you know a bit more about hard gel, let's see how it stacks up against other types of gel nails in the summary below.

Hard Gel

Hard gel is lightweight, yet strong and durable. It has a tightly woven structure which is why it can't be soaked off with acetone. [1]

It is also odorless, hypoallergenic, and safe for pregnant women.


  • Can be used to add length instantly
  • Lasts up to 3-4 weeks
  • Lightweight, strong and durable


  • Must be filled or removed by a professional
  • Difficult to shorten or fix at home

Soft Gel

Soft gel is also called soak-off gel because it can be removed by soaking in acetone.

It's not strong enough to hold up an extension, but it does provide strength to natural nails that are short to mid-length.

It's consistency is somewhere between hard gel and gel polish. It's applied with a brush and cures under a UV or LED light in about 30 seconds. [2]

It can be used alone as it comes in many colours, or under or over gel polish (to provide strength).

A soft gel service is usually about 1.5 hours and will cost about $45. They can last and look decent for about 2-4 weeks, but there will be wear on the free edges.


  • Adds strength to short to mid-length nails
  • Longer lasting soak off gel
  • Can be removed by soaking in acetone


  • Can't add length
  • Wears on free edges over time

Gel Polish

Gel polish is sometimes called Shellac, which isn’t entirely accurate since Shellac is a product line made by the CND brand. [3]

It has a runny consistency, similar to regular polish. However, like the other gels we've discussed, it also needs to be cured under a UV or LED light for 30 seconds.

Gel polish applies the thinnest layers compared to other gels, and because of this, it doesn't provide any strength to the natural nail. It's just a longer lasting, smudge proof nail colour.

It can be directly applied to natural nails or over hard gel or soft gel.

When applied to natural nails, it can last anywhere from 2-3 weeks and cost about $45. 

When it's time to remove your gel polish, it's best to go to the salon. However, if you're in a pinch, it's possible to do it safely at home.


  • Thin application
  • Fastest gel service time
  • Possible to remove safely at home


  • Doesn't provide strength
  • Doesn't last as long as other gels 

Types of Gel Nail Polish

Hard Gel

Soft Gel

Gel Polish

What is it used for?

Extending nails, strengthening, nail growth

Strengthening, nail growth

Long-lasting polish

What nail length is it best for?

All lengths

Short to mid-length

Short to mid-length (on natural nails)


Thick gel

Medium gel

Runny gel


Pulled over the nail with a brush

Pulled over the nail with a brush

Brushed on

How long does it last?

3-4 weeks

2-4 weeks

2-3 weeks

How do you remove it?

Removed by filing

Soaked off with acetone

Soaked off with acetone

Usual cost




Gel Nails Vs Gel Polish: Are Gel Nails Better than Shellac?

As mentioned above, the terms “gel polish” and “Shellac” are often used interchangeably, even though it's not correct. Shellac is the name of a gel polish brand from CND.

When comparing gel nails (or hard gel) with a gel polish "Shellac" manicure, gel nails are better by far.

Yes, gel nails cost more and take longer to apply, but they are durable and last much longer. Also, a huge bonus of gel nails is that you can add length and essentially create the dream nails that you weren't born with!

Hard gel can be used on all nail lengths — they can extend short nails and strengthen long ones.

Gel Overlay vs Gel Polish

If you're looking to improve nail health and want stronger nails, a gel overlay is a much better choice than gel polish.

Gel overlay adds a layer of protection, which keeps nails from cracking and splitting [4], which is great for growing out weak and brittle nails.

In comparison, gel polish is very thin and doesn't provide any strength at all.


What is a structured manicure?

Is hard gel better than acrylic?

Can hard gel be soaked off?

What's the difference between soft gel and hard gel nails?

Can gel nails be filed?

Can you put gel nails on very short nails?

What's the difference between gel and acrylic false nails?

Which lasts longer: gel or acrylic nails?

Are dip nails better than gel?

Do nails need to breathe?

What Gel Nail Services are Available at Sunday Beauty Boutique?

There are few different types of gel nail services available at Sunday Beauty Boutique.

First is the Gel Polish/Soft Gel Custom Set, which includes trimming, filing, and cuticle work. Based on your nail health, gel polish, soft gel, or a combination of both will be expertly applied to your natural nails.

If you're dreaming of longer, more durable nails, I would highly recommend trying Hard Gel Extensions! Otherwise, if you're happy with your length, but just need a boost in strength, go for a Hard Gel Overlay.

Products I Use

Akzentz Gel
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Image source: Akzentz

At Sunday Beauty Boutique, the majority of my gel products are from Akzentz. They are a Canadian company and their products are used by nail professionals around the world.

The reason why I love using their gel products is because they are high-quality, odourless, and 100% gel.


Navigating the world of nail services and products can be confusing. So I hope you have a slightly better understanding after reading this article.

Still confused? No worries, all my gel nail services include a free consultation before we start. I truly believe in taking care of my clients nails and selecting the best products for them!


1. https://www.vox.com/2016/9/7/12631314/gels-acrylics-dip-fake-nails-science

2. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/gel-manicures

3. https://cnd.com/

4. https://www.nailsmag.com/599063/what-causes-the-tips-to-crack-but-the-gel-overlay-to-remain-intact

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About the Author Catherine

As a kid, I discovered the world of Japanese nail art through a magazine and since then, I haven't been able to stop thinking about anything related to nails! After following a more traditional educational path and earning my Bachelor's of Science in Food and Nutrition, I decided it was time to pursue my childhood passion. In 2015, I earned my diploma from Blanche Macdonald’s Nail Technology Program. After that, I got certified with YUMI Lashes and opened Sunday Beauty Boutique in 2017. These days, I'm focused on providing a 'no rush' experience to a select clientele, teaching as a nail instructor at Blanche Macdonald, as well as providing resources on beauty related topics to clients and estheticians on my blog.

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