Is Shellac Vegan? (The Truth About Shellac)




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Becoming a vegan means realizing that many beauty products out there are not animal friendly. A lot of these contain animal by-products that individuals may not know of; from make-up to nail polish. The big question is: is shellac vegan?

Shellac is made from the resin formed by the excretion of the female lac bug, therefore shellac is not vegan. For something to be vegan, it must be completely free from animal by-products. The lac bug is a living creature and therefore using it for shellac goes against the grain of veganism.

In this article, I’ll start by explaining the essence of veganism, what shellac is and what it is used for. I will then discuss how shellac is made from bugs, why many nail polishes contain bugs, and why vegans should avoid these products. I’ll end off by discussing nail products that are safe for vegans to use.

What Is Veganism?

It is important to define veganism here. It helps individuals to have a better understanding of why certain products should be avoided. This is especially true for products that seem vegan-friendly at first glance. 

What Products Do Vegans Avoid?

Vegans have a firm stance on rejecting the use of certain products. I will discuss the big no-nos here. It is important to note that the term animals is used to define any living thing.

Products That Promote Animal Testing 

Veganism opposes the use of products that have been tested on animals. These include cosmetics, medical and food testing, and more. 

According to PETA (People for The Ethical Treatment of Animals), each year, more than 100 million animals—including mice, rats, frogs, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, monkeys, fish, and birds—are killed in the U.S laboratories for testing. 

Veganism is a virtue that exempts any product that has caused harm to animals. Therefore, vegans strictly use products that are free from animal testing. 

Products That Cause Physical Harm to Animals

This is what most people attribute to veganism – the avoidance of consuming any product that causes physical harm to animals. In obvious cases, this means meat products where animals are slaughtered. 

If a product is made by harming or killing an animal, vegans will reject it. Whether the product is food-based, cosmetics, clothing – any product really.

Products That Affect Animals’ Psychological State

Vegans are seriously opposed to factory farming. One might wonder why vegans won’t eat eggs when the hens are not killed for them. The fact of the matter is the conditions these animals are kept in. This is the idea that vegans reject.

Products Containing Animal by-Product

Animal by-products are parts of the animal used indirectly. Many products on the market contain animal by-products that we may have never suspected. 

Common things that contain these are leather and other textiles, pet food, animal feed, soap, personal care products, industrial lubricants, bio diesel fuel, and medicines. There are many more, however, which is why vegans conduct tons of research on the products they consume.

What Is Shellac?

Shellac is a resin-like substance that comes from the excretion of the female Laccifer lacca bug, also known as the lac bug. The lac bug excretes this substance on the trees in India and Indonesia. 

The lac bug spends its days sucking sap from these trees. In return, glands in the lac bug’s abdomen use this to secret lac – the resin substance used for shellac. This substance makes a coating around the insect and the twig on which it is residing.

It goes without saying that these bugs are used for their lac in various industries and in many instances are harmed in the process.

Gellen Gel Nail Polish Kit- Nude Grays 6 Colors, Popular Nail Art Design Classic Pastels Natural Shades Gel Polish Home Gel Manicure Set

How Is Shellac Made?

I have discussed how the lac insect produces the resin that is used to make shellac. It is also worth noting that these resin-like substances vary in color depending on the type of tree the bugs reside on. 

I am going to discuss the steps used to make shellac from the lac secreted by these bugs in detail.

The Harvesting Phase

It is not explicitly stated by many, but these lac bugs are often harmed in the harvesting phase of producing shellac. This is because, as I explained earlier, these insects live inside this sort of resin cocoon that they create to protect themselves.

This lac is harvested by either chopping down the branches of trees infested with lac insects or scraping the resin off of the branches. Both methods do not involve safely removing the bugs.

These branches are then taken to a factory where the substance is scraped off of them. This substance is referred to as sticklac and grainlac. Next, the sticklac and grainlac are ground with rotating millstones. The resulting ground material is quite impure, containing resin, insect remains, twigs, leaves, etc. 

This ground material is forced through a sifting mechanism to remove the largest impurities from the substance. The next step involves crushing the resin with extreme force to loosen the insect remains and encourage the development of the dye.

The substance is then rinsed to purify it further. It is then spread out to dry which now makes it a raw material, called seedlac. It is then sent through the production phase.

The Production Phase

The first phase involves the heating process where the seedlac is melted onto hot grids. The melted seedlac is then forced through a sieve or grid made of fine cloth using high pressure. This refined seedlac is taken to steam-heated kettles which liquefies the substance.

This liquid substance is squeezed through large rollers to flatten the seedlac, creating thin sheets. This process has led to the making of shellac. These sheets of shellac are broken to create shellac flakes.

The next step involves further purification where these shellac flakes are combined with a solvent, like an ethyl alcohol, in a tank. The substance then goes through a process to evaporate the alcohol. 

The liquid that is left is sent through large rollers again to create sheets. Again, when the sheets are dry, they are broken down into flakes. 

The Manufacturing Phase

The final product is then shipped to manufacturers where they proceed to add denatured ethyl alcohol. Further steps can take place depending on what the manufacturer wants to produce with the shellac. 

Is There a Plant-Based Alternative?

There is an alternative and it is called Zein. It is a corn-derived substance that is cruelty-free, vegan-friendly, glucose, lactose, GMO (Genetically modified organism), and sugar-free. With the recent movement demanding vegan-friendly products, including cosmetics, companies have started using Zein. 

This is the ingredient used in vegan-friendly shellac. It is also used in the food industry and is better than using traditional shellac.

What Is Shellac Used For?

Shellac is used in various industries. The possibility of an individual having consumed this substance is high because of its applicability to so many products. 

Which Common Products Contain Shellac?

Here, I will discuss some of the common products that use shellac for their resin-like finish including cosmetics, food, and hardware.


Let’s start with cosmetics. Shellac is considered perfect for make-up products due to its ability to hold together the ingredients of a compressed cake or tablet. This is desired in the make-up industry. 

Products such as mascaras, eyeliners, nail polish and nail-related products, fragrances, lipstick and lipliners, body lotions, and hair products. So just about any product may contain shellac.

Maybelline Color Sensational Lipstick, Lip Makeup, Cream Finish, Hydrating Lipstick, Nude, Pink, Red, Plum Lip Color, Warm Me Up, 0.15 oz; (Packaging May Vary)


Another industry where it is widely used is in food. If you ever wondered why candy is so shiny, this is why. It is often glazed in shellac. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approves its use. 

If you want to know if shellac has been used in certain food then look for “confectioners glaze” which is listed on the ingredients label. Fruits like apples and oranges are also glazed with shellac by some to create a glossy look.


Shellac is popularly used in products that are used to polish or varnish food. It is described as being a versatile, non-toxic wood finish that enhances the natural grain while adding smoothness without the plastic-like qualities of polyurethane or lacquer.

Usually, shellac with a darker hue is used for hardware varnishes like these.

Is Nail Shellac Made From Bugs?

Since nail shellac is made from traditional shellac, it is not considered vegan-friendly. Sure, as I explained earlier, the shellac goes through a detailed process to remove the bugs’ remains. However, it does not technically mean that shellac is lac bug-free.

What Are Shellac Nails?

Shellac nails refer to nails that are manicured either by using gel shellac products or shellac nail polish. The shellac is what makes the manicure so shiny because of its resin-like properties.

Why Is Shellac Used In Nail Products?

CND Shellac Gel Nail Polish, Long-lasting NailPaint Color with Curve-hugging Brush, Red/Burgundy Polish, 0.25 fl oz

Apart from being shiny, shellac is a hardy substance. Shellac nails are popular because of their hard, shiny appearance after they are cured. The properties of shellac allow it to harden when it is exposed to the UV light used in nail salons.

Is Nail Polish Made From Bugs?

In many instances, it is made from or contains bugs. Two common products used that are insect-derived are shellac and carmine. I will discuss these in detail.


As I explained earlier, nail polish may contain shellac for its sought-after properties. It creates a hard, durable finish that is glossy. Shellac is popularly used in nail polish because it can hold together oil-based and water-based substances which usually don’t mix.


This is slightly more controversial than shellac in the sense that the cochineal bug is crushed for its bright, red hue. Not only is it used in nail polish, but it is also used in other cosmetics like lipstick. 

Additionally, carmine is used for food coloring and also has wide applications. Products containing carmine are not vegan-friendly.

Should Vegans Use Shellac?

The general consensus is that vegans should not use shellac because it is not vegan-friendly. I have discussed these reasons respectively in this article but will summarise them here. Shellac is not vegan-friendly because:

It Causes Harm to Animals

The lac insects are obviously harmed during the harvesting process. To obtain all the stick lack from the tree branches, the insects are included in the scrapings, ultimately killing them. 

Additionally, shellac products that contain carmine are the direct product of the crushed cochineal bug

It is Not Cruelty-Free

No method exists to safely remove the insects before removing their lac. One branch is usually covered in hundreds of these insects. Veganism considers any act of killing or harm to animals – including insects- as cruel. Therefore shellac is not cruelty-free.

What Are Some Vegan-Friendly Alternatives?

There are tons of products that are being made that are vegan-friendly. Meaning, they are not tested on animals, they do not harm animals to be made and they are not made of animals or their by-products.

I will discuss many alternatives that vegans can use to achieve the perfect, cruelty-free manicure.

Vegan Nail Polish

For a nail polish or product to be vegan it must not contain any animal products. Apart from shellac and carmine, many polishes also contain guanine, tallow, gelatin, milk, lanolin, honey, beeswax, and royal jelly. Vegan nail polish should not contain any of these.

Vegan nail polish and other vegan cosmetics are usually made up of plant-based substances such as plant extracts, oils, or highly processed substances obtained from raw plant materials.

One should be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that natural cosmetics are vegan. This is because these products are more focused on reducing chemicals but may be based heavily on animal by-products, like beeswax. 

Cruelty-free Nail Polish

Cruelty-free nail polish means that the vegan product was also not involved in animal testing. If a product is cruelty-free it is usually certified by the ‘Leaping Bunny’ logo. A great way to determine if a nail polish is both vegan and cruelty-free is to check for the following.

Firstly, the logo claiming the product is cruelty-free is recognized and their products are regulated. Then, analyze the ingredients list for any animal products or by-products. These can often be disguised with different names.

The PETA provides a list of all the ingredients to look out for when you are looking for a product that is vegan-friendly.

Crazy Rumors Leaping Bunny Lip Balm. 100% Natural, Vegan, Plant-Based, Made in USA.

Vegan Nail Polish Removers

If you want to go vegan on nail polish and manicure products, then you are likely to use vegan nail polish removers too. I will list some of the natural alternatives that you can use that are vegan-friendly.

What Makes a Nail Polish Remover Vegan?

If the acetone product that you are using was tested on animals then it is not considered to be vegan-friendly. Even though the alcohol itself isn’t derived from an animal, the testing process still caused harm to animals.

Vegan nail polish removers must be free from animal products and should not test these products on animals. Here are some natural, vegan-friendly alternatives that you can use.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is great for softening and removing nail polish. To use this method, you only need to slice a lemon. Start by soaking your fingers in warm soapy water for about 5 minutes.

Then, take a slice of lemon and rub it on the nail until the nail polish starts to lift. Once removed, wash hands and moisturize.

Chef'n (Lemon) FreshForce Citrus Juicer, 10.25 long


You can combine vinegar and lemon juice to create a natural nail polish remover. Just mix lemon juice and vinegar in a bowl. Soak cotton balls in the solution and rub it on the nail until the nail polish has been removed completely.


Pure alcohol is also a great option. Simply place some in a bowl, dip cotton balls into it and then rub these on your nails to remove the nail polish.


Shellac and many other cosmetics that we use daily are often not vegan. Either they contain animal by-products, harm animals in their making, or are tested on animals. However, vegan alternatives do exist and with many companies joining the movement,  it is possible to give your cosmetics a vegan makeover. 

Here you can read about what lamp to use when doing shellac.


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