A close-up shot capturing a hand elegantly displaying perfectly manicured nails coated in shiny, chip-resistant shellac nail polish, showcasing its glossy finish and durability.

What Is Shellac Nail Polish? A Detailed Guide

Nail polish trends come and go, but shellac nail polish has remained a popular choice for its durability and long-lasting color. If you’ve seen those perfect, glossy manicures that look like they just left the salon days later, they were likely done with shellac polish.

In short, shellac is a type of gel nail polish that is cured under UV light. It typically lasts 2-3 weeks without chipping or fading. But there’s more to this popular polish than that quick explanation. Read on to learn all about what makes shellac different and why it has staying power.

What Is Shellac Nail Polish?

Shellac nail polish by CND is an innovative power polish that applies like polish but wears flawlessly for up to 14 days of high-gloss shine with zero chips or smudges. It goes on smoothly and provides stunning results that last.

A durable, long-lasting polish

Shellac is formulated to be extraordinarily durable and long-wearing. The advanced polymer technology flexes with the natural nails so it doesn’t damage or thin nails while wearing. And since Shellac is a soak-off gel polish, it peels off easily without drills or nail damage.

Cured under UV or LED light

After applying like a regular polish, Shellac is cured under an LED or UV light, allowing it to dry quickly and completely to a hard, glossy finish. This curing process sets Shellac and allows for long wear without chipping, cracks or dullness.

Lasts 2-3 weeks on nails

A Shellac manicure typically lasts between 14-21 days on natural nails, making it a convenient choice for people who want an extended wear polish option that doesn’t require frequent touch ups. Some users report Shellac lasting 3+ weeks before needing filled.

Soak-off formula

Shellac Peels off nails easily with acetone soak
Gel polish Requires drilling/filing for removal
Regular polish Removes quickly with acetone or non-acetone remover

Unlike damaging gel polishes, Shellac’s patented soak-off gel formula allows for safe, easy removal by soaking nails wrapped in acetone-soaked cotton pads for 5-10 minutes. No drilling, picking or peeling.

Provides a glossy, scratch-resistant finish

The ultra glossy finish of a Shellac manicure resists dulling, yellowing and surface scratches for up to 14 days of flawless wear. Even as the polish grows out, Shellac retains its crystal clear glossy look on nails.

Over 500 trending and classic CND Shellac colors let you match any mood or style for beautiful pop of color that doesn’t fade, chip or lose its depth and dimension over time.

How Shellac Nail Polish Is Applied

Shellac nail polish is applied similar to regular nail polish, but it requires some additional steps for preparation and finishing. Here’s a typical process for applying Shellac:

Applied like regular polish

The Shellac polish itself is painted onto the nails just like regular nail polish. A thin, even coat is brushed over each nail from base to tip. Shellac tends to be slightly thicker than regular polish, so you don’t need to apply multiple coats to get an opaque color.

Cured under light for 30-60 seconds per coat

After each coat of Shellac is applied, the nails are cured under an LED or UV nail lamp for 30-60 seconds. This quickly “sets” the polish and allows you to move on to the next step. Without this curing process, the Shellac would never dry or adhere to the nails.

Typically 2 coats are applied

In most cases, two thin coats of Shellac polish is all you need for full, even coverage and a glossy finish. If applying a sheer color, three coats may be needed. But in general, Shellac is highly pigmented and a second coat builds on the first to create a durable, vivid manicure.

Nails are prepared with primer and base coat

Before painting on the color, the nails must be properly prepared. First, a dehydrator/primer is applied to cleanse the nails and help the Shellac adhere. Then a base coat is brushed on to further prep the nails and even out the surface. Proper prep ensures the Shellac won’t chip or peel off prematurely.

Sealed with top coat for shine and protection

Once the colored Shellac layers have been cured, the manicure is sealed and finished with a top coat. This final top coat protects the polish underneath and adds a beautiful high-gloss shine. Like the base coat, the top coat helps adhere and seal the Shellac to the natural nail.

Shellac vs Gel Nail Polish

Both are gel polishes cured under light

Shellac and gel nail polish have quite a bit in common. Both contain ingredients that allow them to be cured and hardened under ultraviolet (UV) or LED lamps, giving them a glossy, durable finish that resists chipping and smudging better than regular nail polish.

When applied properly and cured correctly, shellac and gel can last over 2 weeks on natural nails without needing a touch up.

Shellac is a brand name of gel polish

While shellac has become nearly synonymous with gel manicures, it’s important to note that Shellac is actually a brand name belonging to CND. So shellac is a type of gel polish, but not all gel polishes are considered shellac.

The Shellac brand debuted in 2010 and quickly became popular thanks to its wide color selection and reputation for resisting chips and fading longer than the average gel manicure. Over a decade later, shellac remains a top choice at many nail salons.

Most gel polishes last 2-3 weeks

On average, a gel manicure such as shellac or any high-quality gel polish will last 2-3 weeks on natural nails before needing to be soaked off and reapplied. However, duration can vary based on factors like nail condition, activity level, and application technique.

Gel polish lasts longer than regular nail polish because:

  • It “cures” under UV or LED light to harden it
  • Layers of gel adhere better to each other and the natural nail
  • The thickness helps protect the nail underneath

Shellac known for wide range of colors

One reason CND Shellac became so popular is the huge selection of colors and finishes available. Whereas some gel polish brands may offer just a couple dozen shades, shellac has over 100+ options.

Shellac colors span classic cremes, pretty pastels, striking shimmers, glitter galores, and more. Some of the latest collections play with textures too, like foils, velvets, and chrome effects. Many collections are released matching upcoming fashion trends and seasons.

Thinner than some gel polish formulas

The Shellac formula tends to be thinner in viscosity compared to some other gel polish brands. This makes application slightly easier, allowing smooth spreading and layering over the nail.

However, it generally still takes a skilled nail tech to apply shellac properly. Trying to apply gel polish at home often leads to messes, unevenness, and peeling or chipping after just days. Visiting a reputable nail salon is best for long-lasting shellac manicures.

Advantages of Shellac Nail Polish

Long lasting color – 14+ days chip-free

One of the best benefits of shellac nails is their incredible durability and long-wearing color. The application process bonds the polish to your natural nails, creating a protective layer that resists chips and peels for 14+ days on average.

While regular nail polish may chip within a day or two, a shellac manicure keeps your nails looking freshly-painted for weeks at a time.

Dries quickly under UV light

Another advantage is shellac’s quick drying time. Instead of waiting 30+ minutes for regular polish to dry, shellac nails are cured in a UV LED lamp, setting the color in a matter of minutes. This means no more smudges or messy fingerprints as you go about your day.

More durable than regular nail polish

The unique application and curing process also makes the shellac more hard-wearing compared to standard polish. Applying multiple thin layers results in an ultra glossy and flexible finish that grows out with your natural nails, resisting chips and scratches in the process.

So whether your job is tough on your hands or you just lead an active lifestyle, shellac is less likely to break or peel.

Wide range of colors and finishes

From classic reds and nudes to bright neons, glitters, French tips, and more – shellac comes in a huge variety of fashionable shades and finishes. Their extensive color collections and ability to mix polishes allow for endless unique nail designs.

You can choose a solid color, glam French style, or get creative with artistic prints, patterns, and 3D effects.

Mirror-like shine when topcoat applied

Lastly, the glossy topcoat complete the shellac manicure service by imparting a stunning glass-like sheen. This ultra high-shine finish reflects light for an eye-catching wet look that lasts and lasts.

Compared to the duller finish of regular polish, shellac’s clarity and depth of color helps your manicure pop.

How to Remove Shellac Nail Polish

Shellac nail polish, while long-lasting and chip-resistant, can be tricky to take off. Unlike regular polish, shellac cannot simply be removed with a basic nail polish remover. The hardened gel formula needs to be properly dissolved and soaked off to avoid damaging the natural nail underneath.

Cannot remove with regular nail polish remover

Shellac has an ultra-strong bond to the natural nail, thanks to its gel-like resin formula. Traditional acetone nail polish removers lack the intensity to break down this sturdy shellac barrier. Using a weak nail polish remover will get you nowhere when trying to remove shellac polish.

The shellac needs a more powerful solvent to penetrate the layers.

Needs to be soaked off with acetone

To successfully break down the shellac nail coating, you’ll need 100% pure acetone, which is a much stronger nail polish remover. Chemically, acetone contains tiny molecules that can seep into the layers of shellac and cause it to dissolve.

The shellac layers need to be sufficiently saturated and soaked in the pure acetone before the shellac will begin coming off the nail.

Cotton balls soaked in acetone wrapped on nails

Start the removal process by saturating cotton balls with the pure acetone nail polish remover. Tightly wrap each cotton ball around the tip of your finger, ensuring it makes full contact with the shellac coating. Wrap foil or tape around the nail to hold the cotton ball in place.

This allows the acetone to be contained on the nail, softening the shellac so it can be scraped off.

According to nail care experts Sally Beauty (source), you’ll want to soak the cotton balls on your nails for 10-15 minutes. This gives the acetone enough time to break down the layers of pigment and dissolve the shellac’s adhesive grip to the natural nail underneath.

Be patient during this process and allow full soaking throughout.

Takes 10-15 minutes to dissolve shellac

Within 10-15 minutes of acetone soaking, you should notice the shellac layers starting to wear away. Gently press down on the cotton ball to help rub away any lifted edges or chips in the shellac. The combination of acetone saturation and friction helps debond and dissolve the polish.

If you try to peel off the shellac too soon, you risk tearing layers off your natural nails, leading to damage.

Scrape off polish gently with wooden stick

After sufficient soaking time, use a wooden manicure stick, toothpick or orangewood stick to gently scrape off the shellac residue. Rub the stick against the softened shellac to fully remove it down to your natural nail.

Avoid metal tools as these can be too harsh on natural nails if scraped over them with pressure. The shellac should slide off with light force thanks to the acetone’s dissolving effects.

You may need to soak another round of cotton balls if some stubborn patches of color remain. But after 10-15 minutes per soak, the shellac should fully breakdown for removal. Avoid vigorous scraping or peeling, as the goal is to protect nails’ integrity.

Patience during the removal process is key for safely getting shellac off without damage.


Shellac nail polish first appeared in salons but has become widely available for home use. With proper application and removal, it delivers long-wearing color for special occasions or everyday wear. While traditional nail polish may take a backseat to gel manicures, shellac remains a leader in innovation and lasting protection with a vast palette of shades and finishes.

Give it a try for your next manicure when you want nails to look freshly polished for weeks.

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