Shellac Nails 101

Everything you need to know about shellac nails

shellac manicure under ultraviolet lamp
Wladimir Bulgar/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

Shellac manicures are one of the fastest growing beauty trends, but if you've never gotten a Shellac manicure, you probably have a few questions. You might have questions even if you've already had a Shellac manicure! Nail artist Hillary Fry offers answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, including its benefits and risks.

What is Shellac?

Creative Nail Design's Shellac nail care line is a fully-patented line of nail products.

The Shellac products are hybrids, meaning they are half nail polish, half gel. "Shellac" refers specifically to Creative Nail Design's patented line of products. "Gel" refers to everything else that's on the market.

The product's consistency is thin enough to be applied similarly to nail polish, but the Shellac product is cured using UV light that gives it great flexibility and durability. It also has an incredible shine that is only associated with gel nails. Buy Creative Nail Design's Shellac Nail Care line on Amazon.com.

Who is Shellac best suited for?

A Shellac manicure is perfect for anyone who likes to have manicured nails, but doesn't want the hassle of booking (or paying for) weekly manicure appointments. It's more expensive than a traditional salon manicure, but it lasts up to two weeks.

Its durability makes it able to withstand dishwashing, gardening and anything else that requires the use of your hands.

Unlike regular nail polish, Shellac manicures don't chip. The formulation is so long-lasting that nails look as good on day 1 as they do on day 14.

Who is Shellac least suited for?

Don't get a Shellac manicure if you have cracking, weak or peeling nails, or extremely damaged nail beds. If your nail is peeling off, it will probably take the Shellac with it.

It's best to improve the health of your nails before thinking about Shellac.

How is Shellac different from a traditional polish manicure?

Typical nail polish dries by evaporation, which means your manicure is not cured until 2-3 hours after your service. Think about it: most of your manicure time is spent waiting for polish to dry.

Shellac is cured within minutes by UV light. Your nails are completely dry by the time your manicure is over and strong enough to withstand accidental knocks. It acts like a plasticized coating and is very suitable as a long-lasting polish.

How is Shellac different from other nail enhancements, like fake nails?

If applied properly Shellac is more gentle on nails than the techniques used to apply fake nails. It doesn't require a drill, and removal doesn't leave nails weak, dry or torn.

Can you apply Shellac at home?

Shellac and gel manicures have become so popular that many companies offer kits so you can do it yourself. Sally Hansen has a great Salon Pro Gel Starter Kit for at-home manicures. Buy on Amazon.com.

You could also purchase your own gel polish and use a gel light nail dryer, like the Shany UV Gel Light Nail Dryer. Buy on Amazon.com.

Unless you really have a knack for doing your own nails, it's best to have a Shellac manicure applied by a licensed, trained manicurist who knows how to use the proper tools and techniques.

Are the UV rays from the lamp dangerous?

We all know exposure to UV rays is dangerous, but just how dangerous is it? Peer-reviewed medical journal "JAMA Dermatology" reported in a 2009 study that two women got skin cancer on the backs of their hands. They both used UV nail lights, but there was no evidence that the lamps were responsible for the skin cancer.

In 2014 the same publication conducted an investigation of the amount of UV light nail dryers actually emit. The level of UV light emitted varied from one machine to another, but the overall amount of UV light was very low. A skin cancer risk, even from frequent visits to the nail salon, remains low, but it isn't the only risk. 

UV exposure causes photoaging, which essentially ages your hands. Protect your hands by applying sunscreen before the UV drying process or wear photoprotective gloves and cut off the fingertips.

UV exposure is also a primary cause of cataracts, which can lead to macular degeneration and blindness, so it's a smart idea to wear sunglasses.

Can you take Shellac off at home?

You can. It requires the use of 100% acetone and takes 10-15 minutes to remove. Do not pick or peel off your Shellac manicure. It can be very damaging to your nails, and peeling off Shellac often takes your real nail with it.

You can also have the Shellac removed at the salon, which very minimally increases the time and is less of an inconvenience.

Wait, what's wrong with artificial nails?

On the whole, nothing. But as a manicurist and proponent of all things natural and organic, nothing is more exciting for me than seeing natural nails on a client.

While I love the creativity made possible through gel nails or liquid and powder, I think artificial nails are often used to mask a nail problem, i.e. peeling, splitting and inflexibility, when a nail care regimen can improve the condition.

As a former skincare formulator, the most rewarding part of my job is identifying clients’ trouble spots and working out a program to bring the hands, feet and nails to the point of perfection. Knowing that Shellac can withstand even the rigors of salon life, the focus for the everyday woman can be more on care and maintenance of the skin and nails, leaving perfect polish in the hands of Shellac.

Hillary Fry is a Wisconsin-based beauty writer, blogger and site designer with a marketing background. She is also a licensed, award-winning manicurist, having been named International Nail Technician of the Year in 2014. Drop her a line at www.solessence.com.