A close-up shot of a woman's hand showcasing perfectly manicured nails coated in a glossy lacquer nail polish, highlighting its shiny and protective finish.

What Is Lacquer Nail Polish? A Detailed Guide

Nail polish is one of the most popular ways to decorate fingernails and add a pop of color. But with so many kinds of nail polish out there, it can be confusing to know the differences. Lacquer nail polish is a specific type of nail polish known for its high shine, durability, and extensive color options.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Lacquer nail polish is a fast-drying nail polish made with nitrocellulose lacquer as the main ingredient. It provides a glossy, hard finish that resists chipping and scratching.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about lacquer nail polish including what lacquer nail polish is made of, the pros and cons of using it, how it differs from other nail polishes, tips for applying and removing it, and the most popular lacquer nail polish brands and colors.

What is Lacquer Nail Polish?

Lacquer nail polish is a type of nail polish made from a blend of solvents, pigments, resins, and plasticizers that produces a hard, glossy finish on nails. It provides long-lasting color and shine while protecting the nails underneath.

Let’s explore the details of lacquer nail polish and what makes it unique.

Lacquer Nail Polish Definition

The term “lacquer” refers to the formulas used in these nail polishes. Lacquer is a clear or colored varnish that produces a hard, durable finish. Unlike regular nail polishes that chip and scratch off quickly, lacquer nail polishes are designed to be tougher and more scratch-resistant.

Lacquer nail polishes first rose to popularity in the 1930s. Their hard setting and brilliant shine made them a mainstay in nail salons. Today, lacquers remain a top choice for their eye-catching effects and durable wear.

Main Ingredients

Lacquer nail polishes get their unique qualities from the blend of ingredients used to create them. Here are some of the main components:

  • Nitrocellulose: The key ingredient that forms the base of the polish and provides the shiny finish.
  • Plasticizers: Soften the nitrocellulose base and help the lacquer better adhere to nails.
  • Resins: Improve the polish’s toughness and resistance to chipping or peeling.
  • Pigments: Provide the color and affect the coverage and depth.
  • Solvents: Allow the polish to smoothly spread over the nails and quickly dry.

The amount and quality of these ingredients determine the quality, durability, and color intensity of each lacquer polish.

How Lacquer Differs from Other Nail Polishes

Lacquer nail polish stands apart from other types of nail polish in a few key ways:

Lacquer Polish Regular Nail Polish
Creates a smooth, glossy finish Tends to be less glossy
Very durable and scratch-resistant Chips and scratches more easily
Very pigmented and bold colors Less pigmented, more natural looking
Longer wear, 7-10 days Shorter wear, 2-5 days

The main advantage of lacquer nail polish is its strength and resilience. It resists chips, cracks, and scratches better than regular polish. Lacquer also provides lush, vibrant color choices that really stand out.

All of these benefits make it a great choice for special occasions or when you want your manicure to last.

With the glossy shine and durability of lacquer nail polish, it’s easy to see why it has been a trusted nail product for nearly a century. Its eye-catching look and protective qualities continue making it a go-to polish today.

Pros and Cons of Lacquer Nail Polish

Lacquer nail polish has several advantages that make it a popular choice among many nail polish users:

Long Lasting

One of the biggest pros of lacquer nail polishes is their incredible staying power. Thanks to their durable formula containing nitrocellulose and plasticizers, lacquer polishes can last over a week without chipping or fading on most people.

This makes lacquer an awesome option if you want a polish that will hold up for as long as possible without the need for frequent touch-ups.

Easy Application

Lacquer nail polishes tend to have a smooth, easy-to-apply formula. Their viscosity is perfectly balanced – not too thick or runny. This allows the polish to glide evenly over the nail on the first swipe, minimizing the need to go back and forth adding extra layers.

One coat is sometimes all you need with a good quality lacquer polish for full, even coverage.

Vibrant Colors

The pigments used in lacquer nail polish formulas allow for rich, vibrant shades. The color payoff is exceptional, allowing you to achieve eye-catching pops of color. Pastels come out soft yet still vivid rather than washed out. Glitters and shimmers shine brightly without needing multiple coats.

This makes lacquer polishes a top choice for bold, head-turning manicures.

Wide Variety

Lacquer polishes come in just about any shade or finish you could want – crèmes, shimmers, glitters, flakies, chromes, holos, and more. Major nail polish brands like OPI and Essie offer extensive lacquer polish collections with tons of on-trend colors and effects to choose from.

You’ll never be lacking options with lacquer nail polish.

Harsh Chemicals

While lacquer nail polishes are durable, their tough formulas do contain chemicals like formaldehyde, toluene, and dibutyl phthalate (DBP). Many polish brands have removed at least some of these chemicals from their lacquers.

However, those with sensitivities may still react to ingredients like nitrocellulose. Allergic reactions and irritation are potential cons to consider.

Difficult Removal

Getting stubborn lacquer polish off your nails can be a hassle compared to regular polish. The tenacious formulas bond tightly to the nail plate. You’ll likely need pure acetone and a good bit of scrubbing rather than gentler nail polish removers. This can result in dried out nails and skin.

However, there are now many lacquer “soak off” gel polishes that allow easy, damage-free removal.

Long Dry Times

While lacquer polish itself dries to a hard finish fairly quickly, it takes significantly longer for it to fully cure and harden compared to regular polish. It’s best to avoid any activity that could dent, chip or smudge the manicure for at least 24 hours after application.

For those with busy lifestyles, this can be rather inconvenient.

How to Apply and Remove Lacquer Nail Polish

Applying Lacquer Nail Polish

Applying lacquer nail polish properly is key to getting that perfect, long-lasting manicure. Start by making sure nails are clean and dry – scrub nails with soap and water, then wipe with nail polish remover to remove any oils. Use a base coat first to help nail polish adhere and prevent staining.

Allow base coat to dry completely before painting color coats. Apply thin coats of lacquer polish, allowing 2-3 minutes of drying time between coats. Most polishes require 2-3 thin coats for full color coverage.

Cap the tips by lightly swiping extra polish on the ends of nails to help prevent chipping. Finish with a top coat for extra shine and chip resistance. Stay still with hands flat while polish dries to prevent smudges. Reapply top coat every other day to refresh shine and smooth small scratches.

Some tips for easier application: Rest hands on a flat, sturdy surface for stability. Wipe excess polish off brush before stroking onto nail to prevent globs. Start polish strokes in the center of the nail and lightly stretch to each side. Don’t pump bottle neck – this can cause air bubbles in polish.

Store polishes at room temperature away from light to maintain quality.

Nail Polish Removal Tips

Removing lacquer nail polish thoroughly keeps nails healthy and prepped for your next colorful manicure. Always start by filing nails to remove length and shape polish if present. Apply pure acetone-based remover liberally onto cotton pads, and press onto each fingernail for 10-15 seconds before swiping off to break down polish.

Repeat until all traces are gone. Don’t forget to remove from sides and cuticles! For glitter polishes, hold the acetone-soaked pad on nails for 30 seconds before swiping to dissolve all glitter particles. Use an extra pad afterwards with remover to take off residue.

Moisturize nails after removing polish by massaging in cuticle oil or nourishing cream. This helps rehydrate nail beds and cuticles after exposure to drying acetone removers. Consider using foil finger wraps or remover jars for easier, mess-free soaking of cotton pads during removal.

Look for acetone-free removers if you have sensitive skin or nails – while gentler, they may require more scrubbing to fully dissolve lacquer polishes. With the right products and techniques, taking off nail polish can be quick, easy and painless!

Popular Lacquer Nail Polish Brands and Colors

Top Lacquer Nail Polish Brands

Some of the most popular brands for lacquer nail polishes include OPI, Essie, China Glaze, Sally Hansen, and Revlon. OPI is known for its exceptional quality, stylish color selections released in seasonal collections, and creative shade names.

Essie is a salon favorite brand offers a wide variety of fashionable shades. China Glaze has fun, unique colors and is affordably priced. Sally Hansen and Revlon are available at drugstores and have great basic shades at budget prices.

Other notable brands are CND and Dior for their high-performance and luxurious polishes, and indie brands like Zoya, ILNP, and Cirque Colors for their vegan formulas and stunning multichrome shades. Major factors that make a lacquer nail polish brand popular are color selection, formula quality, price point, availability, and trendiness.

Most Popular Lacquer Nail Polish Colors

Classic reds and pinks will always rank among the most popular lacquer nail polish colors. True red shades like OPI’s Big Apple Red and Essie’s Forever Yummy are perfect when you want a bold, classic manicure.

For softer glam, pinks like Essie’s Ballet Slippers or Sally Hansen’s Mudslide are pretty and feminine year-round.

Nudes and neutrals also remain sought-after for their versatility to complement any outfit. Essie’s Sand Tropez is a best-selling beige nude. OPI’s funny-named Tickle My France-y is a more pinky nude. China Glaze’s Recycle is a nice basic light grey that matches everything.

More unique colors that are currently trending include pastels for spring, deep plums and berries for fall/winter. Holiday glitters and metallics are always hugely popular for seasonal manicures. The most in-demand lacquer polish colors tend to reflect seasonal fashion trends as well as classic shades that stand the test of time.

Brand Notable Colors
OPI Big Apple Red, Funny Bunny, Tickle My France-y
Essie Ballet Slippers, Forever Yummy, Sand Tropez
China Glaze Recycle, Turned Up Turquoise
Sally Hansen Mudslide, Commander in Chic

To get more inspiration for trendy and classic lacquer nail polish shade ideas, browse sites like Cosmopolitan, InStyle, and nail blogs showcasing seasonal collections and swatches.


With its fast drying time, extensive color selection, and glossy hard finish, it’s easy to see why lacquer nail polish is a top choice. While it can be more difficult to remove than regular polish, proper nail polish remover and technique makes taking off lacquer nail polish easy.

With lacquer manicures lasting over a week without chipping or smudging, it’s the perfect polish when you want your manicure to look freshly-painted for days on end.

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