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What Are Shellac Nails and Are They Worth the Hype?

They're very similar to gel nails.


The next time you’re at the nail salon, if your manicurist offers a Shellac manicure or pedicure, do it. What’s a Shellac manicure, you ask? Only the greatest nail care advance in 25 years. As a nail art addict, I’m constantly on the lookout for new types of manicures. Having recently tried Shellac nails, I can attest to their beauty, function, and longevity. Honestly, it’s probably one of the best manicures I’ve ever had. 

But why do they have such a huge following, and are they worth the hype? Read on for the benefits of Shellac nails and insights to whether or not they’re right for you. 

What are Shellac nails?

Shellac is a brand name. Much like “Crockpot” and “Bandaid,” Shellac has taken over as the go-to term for a gel manicure. Owned by the increasingly popular nail brand Creative Nail Design (CND), Shellac is made up of half Shellac nail polish (for color and shine) and half chip-free gel (for durability and nail protection). The finished look is natural and can last for over two weeks. 

What’s the difference between shellac nails and a gel manicure?

A Shellac manicure and a gel manicure are almost the same things: shiny, long-lasting polishes 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. Here are a few other differences worth noting.

  • A gel manicure is harder to remove. Although a well-trained nail technician can remove both types of polish without damage, removing gel nail polish typically requires extensive scraping and filing. This is both time-consuming and rough on natural nails. Conversely, Shellac soaks off easily and, thus, reduces nail damage. 
  • Shellac and gel polish are formulated differently. Gel nails are made with liquid gel comprising acrylic monomers that harden under UV light. (This is what creates their smooth, shiny finish.) Shellac, on the other hand, combines gel polish and regular polish, making it much thinner and lighter than its gel nail counterpart. 
  • Gel nails last a bit longer. One slight drawback to Shellac is that it doesn’t last as long as gel polish. This is because of its lighter formula. However, both gel and Shellac last much longer than traditional nail polish.  

Are Shellac nails different from nail extensions?

Shellac nails are not the same as nail extensions. Due to Shellac’s thinner consistency, it can’t be used to extend or strengthen natural nails. That said, it’s much gentler on natural nails than the harsh chemicals used to apply acrylic nail extensions. 

Are there any advantages to using Shellac?

Indeed there are. Here are some of the best benefits of using Shellac.

  • Shellac is free from harmful chemicals. Unlike many popular nail polish brands, CND Shellac has no formaldehyde or toluene. 
  • Shellac is resistant to scratches. As Shellac is cured under UV light, it creates an extra layer of protection, ensuring that the polish is resistant to scratches. 
  • Shellac is available in a wide range of colors. There are hundreds of Shellac colors created by CND — from pastel pinks and sunny yellows to vibrant greens and calming blues.  
  • Shellac yields long-lasting shine. Another awesome benefit of Shellac is that it can last up to two weeks. As the polish is cured on your nails underneath UV light, it ensures you get a strong, glossy scratch-free manicure that doesn’t chip as easily as a traditional manicure using regular polish. 
  • Shellac creates a natural-looking finish. Acrylic nails used to be all the rage, but a natural look is today’s preference. Shellac combines the best of both worlds  — a polished finish without the fake feel. 
  • Shellac nails are easy to maintain. Since Shellac is much stronger than traditional nail polish, it’s harder to chip and scratch, making it easier to maintain. 
  • Shellac gives you more bang for your buck. A traditional manicure can require weekly visits to the nail salon for touch-ups. A Shellac manicure, on the other hand, lasts up to two weeks, giving you greater value. 

What does the Shellac application process look like?

The application process is very similar to a gel manicure. Here’s a step-by-step rundown.

First, the nails are cleaned, and a base coat is applied. The nails are then cured under a UV lamp for 30 seconds. After the base coat comes two coats of color under the UV lamp for another 30 seconds of drying time. Finally, a top coat is applied, which is also cured under UV lighting. The result? A gorgeous, long-lasting finish that requires no time under the dryer.    

Can you remove Shellac nails at home

Whatever you do, avoid going the DIY route (a.k.a. picking at your polish) to remove your Shellac manicure. Instead, make an appointment with a nail technician. Unlike gel polish, Shellac nails have a specific remover that won’t dry skin or damage nails. There’s no need to buff off the topcoat as you would with a gel manicure; simply saturate a bit of cotton in CND’s specialty-formulated Shellac remover and wrap the nails tightly in foil. Depending on which Shellac topcoat was used, the polish will come off cleanly (and easily) in 10 to 15 minutes. 

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.  

Any tips for long-lasting Shellac nails?

A Shellac manicure lasts up to two weeks, with some lucky few getting a good three weeks in! To keep your Shellac nails in flawless shape, consider these tips:

Protect. If you’re going to wash dishes, scrub floors, or spend time in the garden, wear gloves to protect your Shellac manicure. This is especially important if you’ll be using harsh detergents or chemicals (think: bleach), which can cause your polish to chip. 

Moisturize. Keeping your skin moisturized will extend the life of your Shellac manicure while also keeping your hands healthy and wrinkle-free. Use a quality hand cream during the day and nutrient-rich cuticle oil at night to keep nails from flaking due to lack of moisture. 

Maintain. 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.  

The Bottom Line

So, are Shellac nails worth all the hype? Absolutely. Shellac not only lasts longer than a traditional manicure using regular polish, but it’s resistant to scratches, easy to maintain, and — in my opinion — a better bang for your buck. Plus, with more than a hundred color options, you’ll never get sick of wearing the same polish. The only real drawback to Shellac is that it can’t be removed safely without the aid of an experienced nail technician. Fortunately, the removal process takes just 15 minutes.

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