Here's Everything You Need to Know About Shellac Ahead of Your Next Mani

All too often, in the world of beauty, words get thrown around carelessly. Words like retinol, acid, and peel, for instance, have come to mean a plethora of things in addition to their actual definitions. Retinol seems to have become a term used for any retinoid (factually, it's not that), acid appears to include any sort of exfoliant, from enzymatic to scrubs (not all exfoliants have to be in acid form), and as for peels? Well, a peel quite literally causes your skin to peel—it's not just a name for an aggressive exfoliating technique.

And while all of these terms losing their meanings very much irks me as a beauty editor, I find nothing more confusing than how the term Shellac has come to mean any and every gel manicure. Because the truth is, there are some key differences between a Shellac manicure, a gel manicure and a traditional polish manicure. Want to know which one might be best for you? Keep scrolling to discover exactly what Shellac nails are and how they differ from other manicures.

What Are Shellac Nails?

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(Image credit: @HEARTZEENA)

Put simply, Shellac is a brand name. Much like Hoover, Shellac has quickly become the go-to term for a gel manicure. Gel manicures are designed to last for over two weeks on the nail without chipping and must be cured under a UV lamp. Owned by the nail brand CND, Shellac is simply the given name for CND's gel service. With Shellac, typically a base coat will be applied before two coats of colour and finally a top coat. Each coat of polish should be cured under the lamp.

How Is Shellac Different To Other Gel Polishes?

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(Image credit: @BETINA_GOLDSTEIN)

This is where things get interesting. In truth, Shellac is very different to other gel manicures on the market. Manicurist Julia Diogo (@paintedbyjools) explains, "There are many different gel brands on the market. Shellac is actually a hybrid product which contains a mix of gel polish and regular polish. Other gel systems are 100% gel, meaning they are a lot longer lasting." 

And while it is true that Shellac will likely chip quicker than a 100% gel polish, it does have its perks. Firstly, it tends to me much quicker to apply than other gel brands and, most importantly, it's significantly easier to remove.

Can Everyone Get Shellac Nails?

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(Image credit: @FONGMINLIAO)

The answer to the above is a very simple yes. Everyone can get a Shellac or a gel manicure. Those with very short nails might find that their Shellac or gel manicure chips quicker than those with longer nails, and this is because the colour can be tricky to 'seal' when nails are shorter (and getting bitten frequently)!

"Shellac/gel manicures are for everyone—in order for your nails to remain in good health you need to have them done/removed by a professional only. Anyone suffering with something like onychauxis [a condition where nails thicken] should definitely avoid a Shellac or gel manicure," says Diogo.

Can I Do A Shellac Manicure At Home?

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(Image credit: @AYSHA.SOW)

You can do a Shellac manicure at home, although it's typically not advised. Shellac was created for professionals as an in-salon service, so you're going to get the best results possible if you book in for a Shellac mani at your local salon. 

Having said that, you can now buy Shellac gel polishes on the likes of Feelunique. Providing you have all the kit, then you can experiment with a Shellac manicure at home.

What Is Bio Sculpture and How is it Different to Shellac?

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(Image credit: @HARRIETWESTMORELAND)

There are a number of Shellac alternatives, but there's no doubt that Bio Sculpture is having a moment. Loved by the likes of Diogo and fellow celebrity manicurist Harriet Westmoreland, Bio Sculpture is known as a 'builder gel', meaning it actually reshapes the nail. 

"In my opinion Bio Sculpture as a whole trumps many brands I have previously used, including Shellac. It is a prescriptive nail treatment which means it isn’t a ‘one product fits all’ system—this means you can tailor your manicure service to suit your clients exact nail type. The product is also 100% gel which provides maximum durability," says Diogo.

The draw backs? Bio Sculpture manicures don't come cheap and they take a long time. On top of that, finding a manicurist that's trained in Bio Sculpture locally might prove tough.

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Freelance Beauty Editor

Shannon Lawlor is a renowned beauty journalist and has contributed to Who What Wear’s beauty content since 2020. As a leading beauty editor, expert and brand consultant, she has over eight years of experience working for some of the industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear (of course), Glamour UK, Stylist, Refinery29 and Fabulous.

Having also worked behind the scenes with some of the industry’s biggest brands and retailers, Shannon has a unique insight into what people really want from their beauty routines. Understanding that beauty lovers seek honest, open and responsible advice, she has it made her mission to demystify the intimidating world of beauty, taking a no-frills approach to the most relatable topics.

While Shannon is the first to admit she doesn’t hold the answer to every beauty question out there, she is dedicated to sharing her expert insights in a bid to help. As a self-proclaimed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for easy-to-use, foolproof beauty products and has made it her mission to scope out the best of the best.

When she’s not working, Shannon is likely soaking in the bath or giving no-holds-barred beauty reviews on Instagram from her bathroom floor.