Are Shellac Manicures Worth the Hype? We Investigate

closeup of hands with rings and black nail polish

Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

If you didn't already know, all manicures are not created equal. You may be familiar with more traditional manicure options like gels and acrylics and might have even done your research on more recent trends like dip powder nails. But if you've heard the buzz around shellac nails and assumed that they're the same as the gel mani you can get at almost any nail salon, it's time you gave yourself a little shellac nail lesson. You see, there are quite a few things you should know about this space-age service.

Is it worth the hype? We think so! Not only have we tried it for ourselves, but we also spoke with Jan Arnold, co-founder and style director of Creative Nail Design (CND), to get the lowdown on this popular salon service. So, if you're always on the hunt for your next nail venture, you may just find that a shellac manicure is everything you've been looking for.

Read on to learn all there is to know about shellac nails, including how it differs from a gel mani.

shellac manicure
 Emily Roberts / Byrdie

Meet the Expert

Jan Arnold is co-founder and style director of CND and has been with the company for over 30 years. She is a self-confessed nail fanatic and fashion addict who influenced the change from bare nails to elaborate, fashion-forward manicures on the runway. Her roster of clients includes Marc Jacobs and Jason Wu.

What Are Shellac Nails?

"CND shellac nails combine the best properties of gel (for wear and protection) and the best properties of polish (for glorious color and shine)," says Arnold. What is shellac? It's a patented system that includes a branded base coat, color coat, and top coat. With over 100 shades, there's something for everyone, from ethereal pinks to dark metallics.

The manicure is cured with a special LED lamp made exclusively for shellac, so there's virtually no drying time, according to Arnold. "Curing is one of the most important parts of the process," she explains. This is when ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths hit molecules called photoinitiators in the gel formula and activate them. "When the product formula is specifically calibrated to the light energy output of the lamp, [then] proper adhesion, wear, and removal are assured."

She adds, "These groundbreaking features were made possible with an intensive R&D process and technology that has roots in aerospace polymer coatings along with 13 patents. I often say it’s not rocket science—but it’s close!"

Gray shellac manicure
mikroman6 / Getty Images

How Are Shellac Nails Different From Gel Nails?

Let's tackle the shellac vs. gel debate. The fact is, the differences between these two nail types are slim, but it does have an effect on your overall manicure experience. Essentially gel nails use a semi-permanent gel to color your nails, whereas shellac nails use semi-permanent polish. There are also nearly triple the amount of color options for gel nails as there are for shellac nails, but there are still plenty of shades to choose from for either.

Arnold says the removal process is one of the biggest things that sets a shellac manicure apart from other gels or gel polish. She explains, "When acetone-based remover is applied, the coating actually breaks into tiny pieces and releases from the nail," allowing for a seamless removal (more on that later).

How Long Do Shellac Manicures Last?

"A manicure applied following the proper CND Shellac system will deliver 14-plus days of high-performance, high-shine, trouble-free wear," Arnold says.

We can attest, the finish is very durable and rarely chips or peels. This manicure does stand up to most household chores like washing dishes.

While this finish is known for its durability, some chemicals can damage your manicure, so you should still be careful and wear gloves when cleaning and doing other harsh tasks.

Pink shellac manicure
mikroman6 / Getty Images

How Much Do Shellac Manicures Cost?

As with most beauty procedures, the cost of a shellac manicure can vary. You can expect to pay between $40 to $60 for the salon service.

Are Shellac Manicures Safe For Your Nails?

Here's one thing to remember with any manicure that uses a lamp that emits UV light, as CND's does: Protect the skin on your hands with SPF to avoid any UV damage and accelerated aging. If this is a concern for you, CND recommends applying sunscreen 20 minutes prior to your appointment.

Shellac manicure
Sara Gagliardi / Getty Images

How Are Shellac Manicures Removed?

It might be tempting, but you should never attempt to peel off a shellac manicure, as you can do a lot of damage to the top layers of your nails if you do. It's best to go back to the salon for proper removal. The process can take anywhere from five to 15 minutes.

The removal process is seamless because "shellac has a unique formula that forms tiny microscopic tunnels throughout the coating when cured in the CND LED lamp. When it’s time to remove, the acetone penetrates through these tiny tunnels, all the way to the base layer and then releases from the nail—no scraping and forcing the coating from the nails."

Neon shellac nails
mikroman6 / Getty Images

Are Shellac Manicures Bad For Your Nails?

If you have brittle or thin nails to begin with, you might want to take some steps to improve your nail health before trying shellac (or any gel manicure), as getting a shellac can cause further damage if the manicure is applied to already damaged nails. Apply cuticle oil twice a day and use a good hand moisturizer regularly. These keep your skin and nails from getting dehydrated, especially around the time of your salon visit when they'll be exposed to some chemicals. It's also important to ensure you go to a professional for removal, as the wrong technique can hurt your nails in the process.

The Final Takeaway

"For best results when getting a shellac manicure, clients need to ensure their nail pro is trained and certified by CND, as they will truly understand the proper protocol to apply, and most importantly, remove shellac to preserve the integrity of the nail underneath," Arnold says, adding, "…the product was designed as part of a system—all the layers work together to deliver that 14-day flawless wear and preservation of nail health."

Find your nearest CND Shellac nail pro and go get yourself a next-level manicure.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association. Gel manicures: tips for healthy nails.

  2. Rieder EA, Tosti A. Cosmetically induced disorders of the nail with update on contemporary nail manicuresJ Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2016;9(4):39-44.

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