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Choices are great. We love choices. But when it comes to manicures, we don’t want to be stuck with the wrong kind for the next four weeks. Here’s the real deal on every type of nail option out there.

Basic Polish
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Basic Polish

You know the one. Paint it on yourself or hit up your manicure spot for a pristine application (complete with hand massage, might we add). 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 $15 per application.
How long it takes: 30 minutes.
How long it lasts: About five days with no chips.
How to take it off: Easy. Just 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. It might even help to prevent nails from splitting or breaking.

RELATED: The 6 Best Nail Polishes for At-Home Manicures

Shellac Mani
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Shellac

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. 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 hard than gel and soaks off with acetone.

Cost: $25 to $40 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: Do it at home with cotton pads, acetone, aluminum foil and a cuticle pusher, or visit a salon.
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. Take the time to gently soak them off for strong natural nails in between salon visits.

Gel Mani
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Gel

Also known as “hard gel,” it 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.

Cost: $25 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 have 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.

Acrylic Nails
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Acrylic

The OG of nail extensions. It’s a combination of a liquid and powder 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.

Cost: About $35 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.
How to take it off: Do it at home with cotton pads, acetone, aluminum foil and a cuticle pusher or visit a salon.
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.

Dip Powder
@nuvonails.esthershiner/Instagram

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 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.

Cost: $40-$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. 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).

RELATED: What Nail Polish Color Should You Really Be Wearing?

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