Why I Won’t Try Shellac (And Neither Should You)

by Gio
is shellac bad for nails

I hate doing my nails. I can’t keep my hands still for the 5 minutes or so it takes nail polish to dry and it inevitably gets chipped.

If, for some kind of miracle, my manicure survives the first 10 minutes, it still chips like crazy after a couple of days. I’m that hard on my nails…

Oh, why can’t someone come up with a nail polish that’s both chip-free, last for weeks, and has zero dry time?

What, it exists you say? Oh, you’re talking about Shellac. I know about it. I can’t walk past a nail salon that doesn’t advertise the treatment on its windows here in London. But I can’t – no I won’t – use it. I love my nails more than I love a perfect manicure.

Shellac may sounds like the miracle answer to every nail polish fanatic’s troubles. But it’s an angel in disguise. Truth is, it causes more problems than it solves. Here’s why:

What’s Shellac?

I used to believe Shellac was a cutting-edge technology made in a lab by some nail fanatic, but nope. It’s derived from the waterproof resin the lac scale insect produces for protection.

It’s not just used in nail polish, either. You can find it in furniture finish and pharmaceuticals, and is even used in the food industry! So, even if you’ve never tried a Shellac manicure, chances are you’ve used shellac at some point in your life. Probably still are.

How Does Shellac Work?

Shellac nail polish, branded and made famous by CND, requires a particular application process. The first step is a base coat cured under a UV lamp for about 10 seconds. Then, the first layer of nail polish is applied, and cured under the lamp for 2 more minutes.

Same for the second layer. It’s followed by a top coat that, again, must be cured under the lamp for a couple of minutes to seal the polish. To complete the manicure, you spray isopropyl alcohol on each nail. This removes the film on their surface, leaving your nails extra smooth and super shiny.

Why Is This Bad For Nails?

If you’re a regular reader here, you’ve already figured out what’s wrong with the application process. Yep, the UV ray lamp.

It’s true that using this lamp causes a lot less damage than driving in the sun without gloves does (and who wears gloves to drive?), but that’s not a good excuse to expose your nails to even more UV rays.

UV damage is cumulative. You want to do everything in your power to reduce it to the absolute minimum without compromising the quality of your life (who wants to stay trapped at home on a sunny day?).

Some of you may argue that, for you, the convenience of Shellac is worth the little extra damage UV rays cause. Fair enough. But there’s another way in which Shellac harms nails. I’m talking about the removal process.

How Do You Remove Shellac?

Like all nail polishes, you remove Shellac with acetone. But the process is a bit different. CND created a removal wrap. You saturate it in pure acetone, wrap it around each nail, and wait 10 long minutes before taking it off. This gives the acetone enough time to get through each layer of the Shellac manicure and remove them all.

What’s Wrong With The Shellac Removal Process?

If you’ve ever used nail polish, you know how bad acetone is for your nails. It weakens nails, making them become dry and brittle. It can also irritate and dry out skin. In the worst cases, it causes cracks and bleeding.

In small amounts, acetone is not that harmful. It may dry your hands and nails a bit but, if you take proper care of them, its side effects aren’t that bad.

But soaking your nails in acetone for 10 minutes? That’s asking for trouble. A 2012 study has found that gel manicures like Shellac cause significant brittleness, weakness, and thinning. After the manicure, the nails of one of the subjects were 50% thinner!

The study didn’t clarify if this was due to acetone alone, to some chemical in the nail polish, or both, but why take the risk? Whatever the cause, Shellac manicure does cause damage to your natural nails. That’s enough for me to stick to regular nail polishes.

The Bottom Line

Shellac manicures are so convenient! They’re chip-free, have zero dry time, and last up to three weeks. But both the application and removal process cause damage to your natural nails. If you ask me, the tradeoff simply isn’t worth it.

Are you a fan of Shellac manicures, or do you prefer to avoid them too? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



MonicaP October 26, 2015 - 4:48 pm

We call it gel in the US and while it seems great .. long wearing nail polish (who doesn’t want that), I just can’t imagine the damage upon removal. You basically have to chip off the gel coating .. no thanks.


Gio October 26, 2015 - 7:27 pm

Monica, exactly. The removal process is the worst. So damaging!

Marina (Makeup4all) October 26, 2015 - 7:15 pm

Well, I don’t know, I have been wearing gel manicure non-stop for months now and it works perfectly for me. My nails are stronger than they have ever been, and I love it. Some of my girlfriends have been wearing “Shellac” mostly since it came out, and they have no problems with their nails, too.
But, obviously, if you are concerned and don’t feel like having this kind of mani – I totally understand.

Gio October 26, 2015 - 7:31 pm

Marina, thank you for sharing your experience. I’m glad to know you and your friends aren’t having any problems with this kind of manicure. But I’ve heard lots of horror stories too, so I don’t really feel like recommending them. But I suppose it depends on the person and who’s applying them. Some professionals know how to reduce the damage.

Marina (Makeup4all) October 26, 2015 - 9:12 pm

I trust my manicurist, as she wears gels, too. And both her parents are doctors, too. But I don’t think I’d ever get acrylics, although I know some girls who couldn’t live without those…

Gio October 26, 2015 - 9:20 pm

I don’t like those either. They aren’t that good for nails at all.

Ana October 26, 2015 - 7:35 pm

Nope, nope, nope.
No gel polish or anything of that kind for me.
As has been said: a. damaging. For me, it’s also b. boring. I want ALL THE COLOURS, ALL THE TIME.

Gio October 26, 2015 - 7:54 pm

Ana, lol. I agree, wearing the same shade all the time is boring. It’s great to have the freedom to change it whenever you feel like it.

Angie O October 26, 2015 - 10:52 pm

I have a gel kit (with UV light) that I use at home. Peels off when I need it to. No damage that I can tell. I’m hooked.

Gio October 26, 2015 - 11:00 pm

Angie, I’m not a fan of that kind of thing, but I’m glad it’s working well for you. 🙂

Angie O October 26, 2015 - 11:07 pm

Yeah, it helps me achieve a professional look without a lot of maintenance. And for the record, I just do a sheer pink on my fingers. I used to have it done at a salon but was spending a lot, so the home kit is ideal. My toes are where I change it up color wise – there I use regular polish.

Gio October 26, 2015 - 11:27 pm

Yes, I can see why you love it. It’s definitely very convenient, and much cheaper too, which is always a plus. 🙂

Laurie October 26, 2015 - 11:30 pm

While I love how long a gel manicure lasts, I’m afraid it’s not worth it for me — the few times I’ve done it, the damage has been terrible and the last time, it took me months to grow it all out.

Gio October 27, 2015 - 6:56 am

Laurie, oh no, how awful! Sorry they ruined your nails so badly. They can be so damaging indeed.

Janessa October 27, 2015 - 10:50 pm

This method is so popular and I’ve complimented people’s nails and they told me they used this. I personally have never even gotten my nails done at a salon so… nope I’ve never tried this. Now reading this, more reason to steer clear!


Gio October 28, 2015 - 11:42 am

Janessa, shellac looks amazing doesn’t it? But yeah, it can be pretty hard on the nails. Better steer clear!

Linda December 7, 2015 - 4:48 am

I have had the shellac polish done twice and removed three times now – and never again. I went in with strong healthy nails – and after the first lot of shellac, that seemed to still the case. It is not the case anymore. The second time I had the shellac removed I thought I could feel the removal of the shellac a bit more, but thought it was my imagination. Two weeks after the second application my nails started bending and breaking down right to the pink part of the nail. The final removal of the shellac, though not painful was felt, so I decided to not get them done again.

My nails now seem very thin, are breaking and splitting and had scrape type marks on them for about a week after the shellac was removed. The nails are not as smooth as they previously were, and I think they won’t be till it has grown out. The annoying thing is that I got the shellac on them to make them a bit more impervious to day to wear.

Probably a bit more damage done to the nails than when I occasionally got the gel nails put on. My nails have never been in such a bad condition before. My advice, Shellac is good for a once off – don’t get them done continuously.

Gio December 7, 2015 - 6:51 am

Linda, thank you for sharing your experience with us. I’m sorry it was so bad. You’re right, you have to be so careful with Shellac. Once in a while may be harmless, but regularly can really ruin your nails. Hope they’ll get back to health soon.

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