A Comprehensive Guide to Every Type of Manicure

How to tell your acrylics from dip powder, according to nail experts.

Close up of brown skin tone hands with light pink manicure
Photo: Cavan Images/ADOBE

When you're studying the spa menu and trying to figure out whether you should get a basic manicure or gel, there's more to consider than what you want your nails to look like. Maintenance, design, price, and time are all important factors that influence your choice.

Yes, getting a manicure is supposed to be a relaxing, treat yourself moment, but it can turn into a stressful experience. That's why we turned to four nail experts to break down the most common types of manicures you'll find at salons. Keep reading to find out the difference between acrylics, gel extensions, and more.

Basic Manicure

Simple and classic, this manicure includes nail cleaning (cuticles cut and filed), shaping, and a polish of your choice. If you want to get fancier, nail art can be added on for an additional price.

Lifespan: Up to a week.

How to Remove: Nadine Abramcyk, co-founder of tenoverten says to soak a cotton pad in non-acetone nail polish remover to easily take the polish off at home.

Damage: A classic manicure is easy on nails, but Abramcyk recommends removing the polish after seven days to keep it from drying out your nail beds.

Cost: $10-$25.

Hot Stone Manicure

This kind of this manicure is like a therapeutic massage for your hands. It incorporates the use of hot stones, oils, and a massage into a classic manicure service.

Lifespan: Up to a week.

How to remove: The oils are rinsed from the hands before the polish is applied. Nail polish can be removed at home using a cotton pad soaked in non-acetone nail polish remover.

Damage: As a classic manicure, this service is gentle on nails. Abramcyk says to take your polish off after seven days so it doesn't dry out your nail beds.

Cost: $40 and up.

French Manicure

The French manicure peaked in the '90s and early '00s, but it's become more than a nail art trend. Today, the manicure is considered a classic look. It's defined by a sheer pink or nude painted nail with a white tip.

Lifespan: Up to a week.

How to Remove: Use a non-acetone nail polish remover and a cotton pad to take a French manicure off at home.

Damage: A French won't damage your nails, but Abramcyk suggests taking it off after a week to prevent the polish from drying out your nail beds.

Cost: $30 and up.

Gel Manicure

A gel manicure includes the same process as a basic manicure, except the nails, are painted with a gel polish that has to be cured by a UV light. Then, a topcoat is added and set. This type of polish stays shiny and chip-free longer than a traditional manicure, and if you're into nail art, it's a good option because your design will hold up.

Lifespan: Up to three weeks.

How to Remove: Natalia Urbina, lead nail artist at Local Honey Salon, says that gel polish can be soaked off with 100 percent acetone. While it can be done at home, getting it removed at the salon will ensure you don't damage your nails.

Damage: Gel manicures can be tough on nails if the polish is removed incorrectly. Moisturizing the nails with a cuticle oil post-manicure can help keep them from getting brittle.

Cost: $20 and up.

Acrylic Nails

"Acrylic uses liquid and powder mix to create a hard extension or overlay on the nail," explains Urbina.

Lifespan: Up to three weeks.

How to Remove: Acrylic extensions can be removed with 100 percent acetone. "First, cut the length down, remove the color, and file down acrylic as much as you can without filing the nail plate," says Urbina. You can do your own removal at home, but getting it done at the salon is the best option if you want to avoid damaging your nails.

Damage: "All nail enhancements should be removed and replaced or filled in about every three weeks, give or take, depending on the quality of product and service," says Urbina. "They can last longer but can begin to break down and do damage to the nail."

Cost: $50 and up.

Gel Extensions

Instead of a liquid and powder mix, a false tip is created using gel hardened by a UV light.

Lifespan: Up to three weeks.

How to Remove: While soft gel can be removed using 100 percent acetone, Urbina says that hard gel has to be filed down and slowly grown out.

Damage: The actual gel won't hurt your nails, but the wrong removal process can break, weaken, or dry out nails.

Cost: $50 and up.

Shellac Manicure

Gel and shellac manicures are often used interchangeably. The process for both are essentially the same, but the difference is in the actual polish. Shellac polish is the brand name of CND, the first company to invent and trademark this type of polish. "Shellac is a polish-gel fusion that applies like a nail polish but wears tough like a gel for lasting results," says Jan Arnold, style director and co-founder of CND. "It combines the best properties of gel (for wear and protection) and the best properties of polish (for glorious color and shine)."

Lifespan: Two weeks, or longer.

How to Remove: "Shellac was formulated so that when a remover is applied, the coating actually breaks into tiny pieces and releases from the nail, allowing for a seamless, more gentle removal," explains Arnold. CND makes specific foil wraps to use, but 100 percent acetone also works.

Damage: Since Shellac is specially formulated so that it doesn't have to be scraped or forced off, you usually won't experience any damage with this type of manicure.

Cost: $45 and up.

VIDEO: Beauty Now: Gel Manicure Removal

Dip Powder Manicure

Instead of traditional nail polish, a pigmented powder is used. After a base coat and sealant, your nails are dipped into a pot of your chosen color. During the application, less precision is required since the excess powder is brushed off the nails in-between coats. Before the nails are dipped, they're treated in order for the powder to adhere properly. Joy Terrell, founder of Powder Beauty Co. previously told InStyle that once the cuticles are pushed back and the nail plate is clear, a dehydrating product like 99-percent alcohol is used to wipe nails clean because powder sticks to dry nails better.

Lifespan: Up to three weeks.

How to Remove: Like a gel manicure, the powder can be removed by soaking it with 100 percent acetone. However, it doesn't always slide off as easily.

Damage: Since dip powder doesn't always come off effortlessly, soaking your nails longer or scraping the polish off can weaken your nails.

Cost: $30 and up.

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