It’s possible you’ve been asked if you want Shellac nails the last few times you were at the nail salon. And maybe you politely declined, not because you weren’t interested — you just simply weren’t familiar with what they are. While Shellac nails have been around for years, they are regaining popularity again thanks to TikTok where videos tagged with #Shellacnails have amassed over 40 million views. This manicure is actually a type of gel polish, but there’s a few things that set it apart from gel nails, especially in terms of damage. Keep scrolling for all you need to know about Shellac nails and why you should ask for them at your next manicure.
What are Shellac nails?
Shellac is actually a brand name of gel polish, much like how “BeautyBlender” for makeup sponges and “Band-Aid” for bandages have become umbrella terms, that is a commonly used term for a gel manicure. Created and owned by the the nail brand Creative Nail Design (CND), Shellac is made up of half regular nail polish (for color and shine) and half of gel polish (for durability and nail protection). CND Shellac launched in 2010 after over 5 years of testing and perfecting the polish to thwart the dulling, chipping and break down that occurs with traditional polish, says Tamara DiLullo, nail artist and CND Education Ambassador.
Shellac nails vs gel nails
Shellac nails and a gel manicure are very similar: They both use shiny, long-lasting polishes that are cured under ultraviolet (UV) light. However, unlike Shellac, gel nails are not exclusive to one polish distributor. In other words, a “gel manicure” is the generic term for nails cured under a UV lamp. Read on for a few more differences worth noting:
Shellac nails are easier to remove
Although both types of polish can be removed without damage, removing gel nail polish requires extensive scraping and filing. This can be both time-consuming and rough on natural nails. Conversely, Shellac soaks off easily and in turn reduces nail damage. The removal process for Shellac nails is also referred to as the “butterfly method,” notes DiLullo as the polish fully curls up into a butterfly-like shape that can easily be taken off.
Shellac nails are thinner
Gel nails are made with liquid gel comprised of acrylic monomers (this gives the manicure its smooth, shiny finish) that harden under UV light. And as mentioned above, Shellac combines gel polish and regular polish, which makes it a thinner and lighter formula than gel polish.
Gel manicures tend to last slightly longer
One slight drawback to Shellac is that it doesn’t typically last as long as gel polish (more on this below). That’s because of its lightweight formula — but both gel and Shellac have more longevity than traditional nail polish.
6 benefits of Shellac nails
1. Shellac is free of harmful chemicals
Unlike many popular gel nail polish brands, CND Shellac has no formaldehyde or toluene. These compounds can cause allergic reactions and formaldehyde has been linked to cancer.
2. Shellac protects nails + helps them grow
The polish shields natural nails from outside factors like pollution, toxins and UV rays that can cause damage. In turn, this protection can help nails grow long and strong, notes DiLullo.
3. Shellac still allows you to keep nails hydrated
Wearing a gel polish doesn’t mean you have to dry out your nails. DiLullo explains that the breathable layers that result from Shellac’s formula allow moisture and hydration from cuticle oil, for example, to seep through and still condition nails.
4. Shellac is resistant to scratches and provides long-lasting shine
Since Shellac is cured under UV light, it creates a hardened an extra layer of protection that ensures the polish is resistant to scratches. DiLullo notes that this helps nails keep its shine longer as well.
5. Shellac is available in a wide range of shades
There are over 160 shades of Shellac. From pastel pinks and sunny yellows to vibrant greens and calming blues, there’s a color for everyone. And you can also enhance a solid Shellac color with nail art.
6. Shellac creates a natural look
While acrylic nails are still common, a more natural look has become increasingly popular in recent years. Shellac combines the best of both worlds — a polished finish without the fake feel.
How Shellac nails are applied
The application process is very similar to a gel manicure. First, the nails are cleaned, and a base coat is applied. Then, the base coat is cured under a UV lamp for 30 seconds. “Curing is one of the most important parts of the process,” says DiLullo since it ensures the polish will adhere and wear properly (and remove easily as well).
After the base coat comes two coats of Shellac color that’s applied one layer at a time and each layer is cured with the UV lamp for 30-60 seconds. And lastly, a top coat is applied and cured for 30 seconds. The result? A gorgeous, long-lasting finish that requires no additional drying time!
To see the process in action, watch the below video from The Salon Life YouTube channel:
How long do Shellac nails last?
DiLullo says Shellac lasts 2+ weeks — most fans of these manicures get at least 2 weeks of wear while some get up to 3 weeks.
How much do Shellac nails cost?
On average a Shellac manicure costs $24-$45 depending on the salon you go to and where you live. To find a salon that offers Shellac nails, CND has a handy salon locator.
How to remove Shellac nails
While it may seem tempting to pick or peel off Shellac once nails have grown, avoid the temptation. Why? Peeling off Shellac and pulling at your natural nail bed can cause damage to nails. Instead, make an appointment with a nail technician to get the polish professionally removed or remove it at home with a few simple steps (see below).
To do: Soak cotton balls with acetone, then place one over each nail and wrap pieces of aluminum foil tightly around it to hold in place. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Remove the foil and cotton balls and gently use a cuticle stick to
Check out the video below from YouTuber Liv Judd for a tutorial on how to remove Shellac nails at home.
Is Shellac safe to use?
In short, yes. Shellac polish is widely considered safe. That said, although there’s nothing wrong with Shellac itself, the curing process raises safety concerns. The LED light that cures Shellac contains powerful UV rays that can have side effects ranging from premature skin aging to age spots and even skin cancer. To protect your skin from UV rays, apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater to your hands prior to your Shellac manicure or wear UV protective fingerless gloves.
3 ways to make Shellac nails last longer
To keep your Shellac nails looking flawless, consider these tips:
1. Protect nails by wearing gloves
If you’re going to be doing any manual labor or will need to use hands a lot, such as when washing dishes, scrubbing floors or spending time gardening, wear gloves to protect your Shellac nails. This is especially important if you’ll be using harsh detergents or chemicals (think: bleach), which can cause your polish to chip or breakdown sooner.
2. Moisturize hands and nails daily
Keeping your skin moisturized will extend the life of a Shellac manicure while also keeping hands healthy and wrinkle-free. Opt for a hand cream made with hydrating hyaluronic acid, like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hand Gel Cream (Buy from CVS, $8.79), during the day and a nutrient-rich cuticle oil, like essie Apricot Nail & Cuticle Conditioning Care Oil (Buy from Ulta, $11) at night to keep nails from flaking due to lack of moisture.
3. Avoid chips and cracks with extra top coat
To maintain a strong layer of protection against everyday wear-and-tear, add a layer of clear top coat polish to your Shellac manicure once a week. Tip: Adding an extra swipe horizontally along the free edge will also thwart chipping.
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