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From Price to Quality to Longevity: Here’s Your Official Guide to Every Type of Manicure

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OK, we can all agree that a spankin’ new mani can put us in a good mood. But while we love a classic mani or a French tip moment, did you know that there are so many other types of manicures out there? Look, we get it—it’s already tough deciding what nail polish, nail art or shape to rock, so the last thing you want to be is overwhelmed by more choices. Luckily, we made you a manicure guide that will surely help you find the right style for you.

How to Choose the Best Manicure Style

When it comes to choosing which types of nails to get, you’ll want to factor in a couple of things. Ask yourself, what does my budget look like? Can my lifestyle fit this type of manicure? What is the occasion? Plus, figuring out how much time you’re willing to spend getting the manicure done and how often you should come in for touch ups. From basic to polygel, here’s the real deal on every type of nail option out there.

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1. Basic Manicure

You know the one. It’s among the most popular and affordable options on the list. Paint it on yourself or hit up your manicure spot for a pristine application (complete with hand massage, might we add). The standard manicure also comes with a trim, shape and buffing process—with cuticle time too. Just make sure you spend ample time under the nail dryer or you'll risk those dreaded dings on the way out.

Cost: $10 to $30 per application (but cheaper if you consider no nail polish or do it at home).
How long it takes: 30 minutes.
How long it lasts: About five days with no chips.
How to take it off: It’s pretty simple. Grab some polish remover and cotton pads and you’re good to go.
How it affects nail health: Wear it as often as you like—it has no negative affect. A basic manicure is one of the safest types of manicures from the bunch. It’s an easy process and removal allows little to no room for splitting or breaking nails.
The downsides: It’s prone to chipping quicker and losing its shine than most manicures (even with a good top coat). Simply put: Don’t expect this one to last more than a week. 

2. Shellac Manicure

This is probably what you’re getting when you book a gel mani. It’s basically a hybrid of gel and nail polish that’s cured and hardened with a UV light, so zero drying time baby. The word Shellac is actually just the trademark name of CND, the first company to invent and register this type of polish. It’s less harder than gel (and soaks off with acetone), but it’s tougher and more flexible to wear than a basic manicure. 

Cost: $25 to $60 per application.
How long it takes: 45 minutes to an hour.
How long it lasts: About two to three weeks with no chips.
How to take it off: You’ll need cotton pads, acetone, aluminum foil and a cuticle pusher to try the soaking method at home. You can also visit a salon to get a less damaging removal.
How it affects nail health: Some peeling or breakage might occur if you just go ahead and rip them off without using the proper removal technique (ahem, see above). Take your time to gently soak them off for strong natural nails in between salon visits.
The downsides: It can be a bit expensive depending on the salon. Plus, its tougher exterior can make it difficult to remove which can damage your nail bed if not taken off properly. 

3. Gel Manicure

Also known as “hard gel,” this mani can be applied over natural or fake nails. The main difference from Shellac (or soak-off gel) is that you can extend the length of the nail, which can be sculpted and shaped just like acrylic. From square to coffin style, this manicure can last longer than soft gel styles. Plus, it’s more flexible and can resemble your natural nails to a T. 

Cost: $26 to $60 per application.
How long it takes: 45 minutes to an hour.
How long it lasts: Two to three weeks with no chips.
How hard to take off: You might want to visit a salon to get these babies off. The nail technician will use an electric file to sand away gel before wiping nails with acetone-free remover to get rid of excess nail powder. But nail aficionados, beware: Some salons won’t remove this type of polish, so check with them before you go.
How it affects nail health: Again, gel shouldn’t damage nails if applied and removed properly by a skilled technician. But you might notice some peeling or weakness in the days following removal. Just be sure to keep nails hydrated with cuticle oil and they'll regain their strength in no time.
The downsides: It can be on the pricey side and the removal process can be tough if you don’t go to a salon. 

4. Acrylics

The OG of nail extensions. It’s a combination of a liquid (monomer) and powder (polymer) that creates a hard protective layer over your natural nail and false tips. The mixture hardens from exposure to air and creates a transparent canvas for regular nail polish. This extension technique can be super fun to try out new shapes and overall extend your natural length. It’s also popular for trying intricate nail art that you can’t do with shorter nails. 

Cost: $35-$100 for a full set; $15 for a fill.
How long it takes: About 1.5 hours or more for a full set and 45 minutes for a fill.
How long it lasts: Two to three weeks before your next retouch.
How to take it off: Do it at home with cotton pads, acetone, aluminum foil and a cuticle pusher or visit a salon. But under no circumstances should you try pulling or popping it off.
How it affects nail health: If removed properly, you shouldn’t expect much damage. Nails may appear a bit weaker due to the fact that they’re filed down before application to give the mixture added grip. Just make sure your technician doesn’t over-file them, and use cuticle oil to keep nail beds hydrated.
The downsides: Acrylic is one of the most expensive manicures. It can also take more time in the salon chair (especially if you decide on nail art). And if you’re looking for a low-maintenance mani, this isn’t the one for you. You will need frequent fill-ins to avoid damaging nails and having a funky gap because of nail growth. 

5. Dip Powder

Dip powder can be applied quickly and doesn’t require as much skill and precision as other manicure types. Instead of a lacquer, the color comes from a pigmented powder. Between base coats and a sealant, you dip your nails into a little jar (or sprinkle on top) of your chosen color. The powder will only stick to the sealant, so it leaves less room for messy cuticles. It’s also more flexible than other extensions, so you may either find it more comfortable or more prone to breakage if you’re not gentle on it. Oh, and no drying time is necessary, so you can rock this mani longer than a basic or gel style. 

Cost: $30 to $50 per application.
How long it takes: About 45 minutes.
How long it lasts: Up to three to four weeks without chips.
How to take it off: You can remove this type of polish at home just like you would acrylic or Shellac, but beware, it might take a little longer. Powder adheres to the nail slightly better than both other methods, so you may have to leave acetone on longer (about 10 to 15 minutes or more). Or if all else fails, just go to the salon.
How it affects nail health: Some people say that dip powder is better for your nails than acrylic, Shellac and gel. But they all come down to proper application and removal. Hygiene is really key here—make sure your technician isn’t dipping your nails into a communal pot of powder, which can cause infection (gross).

6. Paraffin Manicure

A paraffin manicure involves dipping your hand in paraffin wax—a colorless, odorless wax derived from beeswax and petroleum—and placing them in plastic gloves and wrapping in a hot towel. Once the paraffin hardens around your hands, it opens up your pores to release any dirt or toxins, while also removing any dead skin cells. It's often mixed with essential oils like lavender, tea tree, peppermint or aloe vera to double the benefits in the process and give it a soothing scent. Once the substance has cooled, the technician will peel it off and apply a standard manicure. Paraffin manicures are great for healing dry and cracked hands, making them silky and smooth again.

Cost: $20-$40 on top of the cost of a regular manicure.
How long it takes: Up to an hour or more based on how many layers you do and waiting for the wax to be the right temperature.
How long it lasts: It’s just a treatment, so expect softer hands for the rest of the day.
How to take it off: This technique is usually done in the salon, but if you want to try your hands at doing it at home, follow the instructions of the product. On average, it takes seven layers of wax before you should remove and continue with the rest of the manicure.
How it affects nail health: It's a completely natural ingredient, so it won't affect your nails one bit.
The downsides: Paraffin wax is not recommended for people with hypertension, diabetes or varicose veins as you could experience numbness, unusual sensations or poor circulation if you are diabetic. Also, skip the treatment if you have super-sensitive skin and are prone to heat rash. As always, it’s best to talk to your doctor to decide if paraffin wax is right for you.

7. Press-Ons

Forget the funky press-on nails you wore as a teen. These fake nails have come a long way and are making a huge comeback. In fact, press-on nails are often the quickest and easiest manicure of the group. You can rock a different set every few weeks and play around with length, shape and color. Some may feel it’s too temporary, but there are a few ways to make them last longer (for one: a good strong-hold glue is key). 

Cost: $6 to $100. (FYI: It all depends on where you buy the press-on nails. Also, if they’re pre-made, custom or a luxury brand.)
How long it takes: 15 to 30 minutes.
How long it lasts: Up to two weeks if taken care of properly.
How to take it off: All it takes is soaking them in acetone and those babies will pop right off. The best part about press-on nails is some of them are reusable, so you can rock them again for another event.
How it affects nail health: Since it’s a temporary manicure, press-on nails do little to no damage to your nails. Again, don’t try pulling them off and risk ruining your nail bed (or breaking a perfectly good mani).
The downsides: It’s the most temporary manicure out there, so it’s prone to pop off if you don’t provide the right amount of adhesive. Also, some affordable picks may look and feel fake, so if you’re trying to give the illusion of real, natural nails you should opt for some custom or luxury ones instead. 

8. VinyLux Manicure

A VinyLux manicure takes basic and gel manis to the next level. Developed by CND, the professional nail care brand, the polish is made to last longer than your traditional mani. Other than getting a long-lasting and striking coat for up to a week (with promises of no chipping, FYI), there’s no base coat involved. The polish actually has built-in technology that attaches to your nail minus staining or damaging the nail bed upon removal—meaning less time in the salon chair. You simply apply the polish and then add some VinyLux top coat, which also has special tech to dry and strengthen the color with natural light exposure (so no UV light is involved).

Cost: $10 to $15.
How long it takes: 30 minutes.
How long it lasts: One week.
How to take it off: It’s similar to a basic or gel manicure, so grab some acetone and cotton pads before wiping that polish off.
How it affects nail health: Again, this mani is close to a basic manicure (just a little tougher), so it has little to no affects on your nail health. Visit a salon or just coat your nails right at home with no issues.
The downsides: The removal process might take a while. Similar to gel, consider the soaking method to scrub the polish off. 

9. Polygel Manicure

If acrylics and gel nails made a baby, it would be the polygel manicure. The process involves a thick, gel solution that is used to sculpt the nail length you want before being cured under a UV light to harden the shape. Whether you’re into the square, ballerina or coffin style, the manicure will be strong (like acrylics) and flexible (like hard gels). The main driver is its lighter, more natural so the nail technician can take their time sculpting (which is the complete opposite of the acrylics technique).

Cost: $50 to $100 for full set; $30 for a fill-in.
How long it takes: 30 minutes to an hour. 
How long it lasts: About three to four weeks.
How to take it off: The soaking method will remove this manicure with no problem. Use some acetone and foil to make the removal process easier.
How it affects nail health: Polygel is considered a safer option than acrylics based on the lack of chemicals found in the solution. Plus, if removed and applied properly you should have no problem in the nail health department.
The downsides: Since not that many salons do it, this process can be on the expensive side, so be prepared to drop some major cash on the mani. 

10. Gel Nail Extensions

Another new manicure that’s surging in popularity. It was first created by Aprés Nails, which is made out of gel polish that you cut and sculpt. The extensions sit on top of your natural nails (which is different from acrylics which focus on the tips). They are considered to be stronger and more flexible than acrylic nails. Similar to gel and other manicures, it’s cured directly under a LED light. Like many classic techniques before it, you can rock different shapes and lengths, so have fun.

Cost: $80 to $100.
How long it takes: Up to an hour and a half.
How long it lasts: About three to four weeks. 
How to take it off: You guessed it, the soaking method. It might help to file your nails first before soaking them in acetone and foil. However, there’s also the option of letting a nail technician use an electric file to remove the manicure without harming your nails.
How it affects nail health: If applied and removed properly there should be no issues. Similar to any other extension technique, spend some time in between to give your natural nails a breather.
The downsides: This manicure takes the longest and it’s the most expensive technique to try out. So if you have patience and a flexible budget then go for it. 

Bottom Line

The types of manicures out there are not all created equal, and one is not often better than the other. When choosing the right style for you, it boils down to what you want. Consider price, time and shape, to find a technique that suits you. Or hey, why not just try them all?