The battle of the big three gel polish brands: OPI GelColor versus CND Shellac versus Gelish.
In this photo of my practice hand you’ll see that the nails are painted with (from left to right) OPI nail lacquer in “A Definite Moust-have” for reference on the pointer finger, with OPI GelColor “Strawberry Margarita” on the middle finger, Shellac “Gotcha”on the ring finger, and Gelish “Don’t Pansy Around” on the pinky finger.
For this test I applied two coats of each polish color and did not use a base or top coat on any of these. Let’s look at the consistency of each polish, including viscosity and opacity, application, brush, bottle, and finish for each. We’ll compare all three products to nail lacquer, using the OPI brand lacquer on the pointer as the baseline. I chose lacquer as the baseline because it is the product that gel polish was purported to emulate when it was first released a few years ago. Note that this is not a wear test; these products were applied directly to acrylic enhancements on a practice hand and there is no top coat. I decided to go with pinks simply because they seem to be a popular choice for many clients.
So let’s see how they stack up!
First – the lacquer was not too viscous so as to be thick when applied to the nail, but also not too thin or runny. It was opaque so that the nail was not visible after one coat, but application was somewhat streaked so I applied two thin coats for even coverage. A third coat would have been unnecessary. Application was easy and familiar; the polish applied smoothly and did not flow onto the cuticle or nail fold areas. The lacquer, with no topcoat, dried to a somewhat dull, yet smooth finish.
Of the three gel polishes, I struggled the most with the OPI GelColor application, mostly due to the consistency of the polish. It goes on very thick yet runny, and I had to clean up the nail fold areas with a polish remover pen prior to curing. As you know, it’s very important that gel polish not run onto the skin, so this is a big minus for me with the OPI GelColor brand. (The runny consistency was not unique to this bottle of polish or this particular color; I used another color on a pedicure client a couple weeks ago, and the polish flooded the cuticle area then, too.) Overall application was smooth but not easy to control because the polish ran.
However, this OPI gel polish provided good coverage with just one coat. I did apply two coats, though, to remain consistent with my applications during this test. The brush seemed to be OPI’s usual thick brush with long bristles, which we were introduced to as the Prowide brush back in 2008. I really like the OPI brush for nail lacquer application but it doesn’t seem to work so well with the GelColor formula. You can see that there is a bit of shine to the finish of the OPI GelColor, which I’m sure would be enhanced with application of top coat. Cure time is 30 seconds in an LED lamp and 1+ minute in a UV lamp, and it cured fully and smoothly in that time. The colored wrapper on the bottle lid provided a decent idea of what color was inside, though bottle and wrappers on Gelish polish never seem to be a perfect representation.
The Shellac polish “Gotcha” seemed very thin, almost watery, during application, and I experienced some shrinkage at the tip as you can see in the photo. Though it was thin, I did not have any trouble with the Shellac polish running into the cuticle area. It stayed where I applied it, just like a lacquer would. Unfortunately, it had such low opacity that two coats were not enough. I imagine three coats would be necessary for most Shellac colors, and maybe 4 for the lighter colors like this one. Application and curing were both smooth. The Shellac brush is shorter than the OPI brush, which I found gave me more control during application. Cure time for Shellac is 30 seconds in an LED lamp and 2 minutes in a UV lamp, and it cured fully and smoothly in that time. The finish was somewhat shiny, which will look even better with top coat.
I tried to use pink colors from each brand that were similar to each other, and with the Shellac in particular thought I was getting a much darker color based on the bottle color.
Finally, the Gelish “Don’t Pansy Around” application, which went on smoothly and easily, was the overall winner for me. Applying it felt the most similar to applying lacquer, of the three. The consistency was not too viscous, so the polish applied like lacquer would. It also was not too thin, so it self-leveled and smoothed out as soon as it was applied. One coat covered the nail fairly well, and the second coat evened out the color nicely. (In my experience a few Gelish colors require three coats to reach an acceptable opacity, but most look great with just two.)
The older style Gelish brushes are shorter than the OPI brush by just a little, and have reasonably wide bristles. Beginning Summer 2017 Gelish has introduced a new brush style, which they advertise as the new gold standard. The brush in this bottle is the older style, and it works very nicely for Gelish application. The bottle has a small circular window through which the client can get a view of the color, and therefore the color representation is very accurate. However, the clear window in the side of the bottle leaves the polish vulnerable to unintended curing in ambient UV light. It’s very important to store Gelish in a dark area (unless you’ve purchased one of the new collections. The new bottles are designed to extend the life of the polish, using a color callout on the outside of the bottle rather than a viewing window like the previous design). Like the OPI GelColor and Shellac, the Gelish fully cures in 30 seconds in an LED lamp, and has a shiny finish that is enhanced by applying the top coat. Cure time in a UV lamp is typically 1 minute, and up to 2 minutes for darker colors.
For me the clear winner is Gelish on all accounts. Based on my blog posts one might believe that I exclusively use Gelish and therefore am biased. But I do occasionally use Shellac or OPI GelColor in the salon, and those occasions serve as reinforcement of my decision to purchase Gelish. So, what do you think? Have you had any different experiences when applying these products? Leave a comment below!