Shellac Vs. Regular Nail Polish: A Complete Comparison




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When it first appeared on the market, the Shellac infused a big confusion about whether it is a gel or regular nail polish. The truth is that Shellac is a hybrid – a perfect combination of features of both of them.

Because it only comprises the best of both techniques, there might be some similarities between the Shellac and the regular nail polish. Still, on the other hand, there are significantly more differences.

The Shellac is more durable than the regular nail polish, and it requires the use of a UV or LED lamp to set on the nails. It can offer more protection, and it can last longer compared to regular nail polish. Both of them cannot cause any damage if they are properly applied and removed.

To fully understand the difference between the regular nail polish and the Shellac, stick with me until the end of this article, where I will explain everything in detail.

What Are Shellac and Regular Nail Polish Key Differences?

Don’t let the looks trick you! Although the Shellac and regular nail polish may seem to be identical when you look at them from the outside, the formula itself is very different. The Shellac is a unique product made by a company called CND – Creative Nail Design. It is the first product that combines features from regular nail polish and gel.

CND Vinylux Weekly Polish Negligee 0.5 Fluid Ounce

Because in the very base the Shellac is a gel, there are many differences between the Shellac and the regular nail polish, starting from the application to the removal.

Method of Drying

As many of us are used to, regular nail polish needs some time to “breathe” and dry. Because it is air-dried, regular nail polish may require a lot of time to set on the nails, depending on the quality of the polish you are using.

Because this is one of the reasons women don’t prefer the regular nail polish, to solve this issue, some manufacturers have produced nail polishes that are fast-drying, meaning they will need around one minute to dry. 

Another solution to this problem is a top coat that is supposed to dry the regular nail polish super fast (under one minute). And there are some other tricks women have perfected during the years, like putting your nails under running water or just blowing at them to help them dry faster. 

Sally Hansen Insta-Dri Anti-Chip Top Coat 45117 Clear, 0.45 Fl Ounce (Pack of 1)

The issue with this type of drying is that while you wait for the nail polish to set, you may damage it and smudge it, and believe me, I know how frustrating that can be. 

To fix any smudges, you will have to remove all layers of nail polish from the affected nail and reapply them. Because many women don’t have patience for this, they prefer some other types of manicures.

The Shellac is supposed to fix this problem because it needs a lamp to be cured, so it can properly set on the nails. Even base coat and top coat require a UV or LED lamp, and that is why the Shellac is often confused with the gel itself. 

If you leave the Shellac to air dry, it will never set properly on the nails, and the manicure would not be usable. Because it is gel-based, the Shellac needs a lamp to cure.

UV LED Nail Lamp Easkep - 120W Gel Nail Polish UV Light for Nail Dryer Curing Lamp Faster 4 Timer Setting Professional Portable Handle for Fingernail and Toenail Auto Sensor Nail Machine (120W)


The process of application of regular nail polish and the Shellac is very different. Regular nail polish can be just painted in one layer and you are good to go. The Shellac requires a few more extra steps. 

To prolong the regular nail polish duration, many women try to use a base and a top coat. And in between, they usually apply one or two layers of nail polish and leave it to air dry.

OPI Nail Polish Top Coat, Protective High-Gloss Shine, 0.5 Fl Oz, OPI Nail Polish Base Coat, Natural Nail Polish Base Coat, 0.5 Fl Oz

The Shellac requires preparation before you start the application. In order to properly prepare the nails, you must clean and wipe all the excess oils and dirt from your hands, push the cuticles to their base, and file and shape the nails in the form you want.

If you don’t do the shaping in this phase, later on, you will not be able to fix this. The Shellac may have some properties of the gel, but it is not able to reshape and change the length of your nails.

Many women are not aware of this, but just as how you cannot change the shape and length when you use regular nail polish, you also cannot do that with the Shellac.

After you finish forming the shape, proceed to the application of a base coat. The base coat will act as a glue between the Shellac and your natural nails. If you want the Shellac to set properly on the nails, the base coat should not be avoided.

The base coat needs to be cured under a UV or LED lamp and only after that, you can proceed with painting the nails with the Shellac. Apply the Shellac in one or two layers, if you consider that one layer is not enough.

Just make sure to cure each layer long enough, before you proceed to apply a new layer. If the existing layer is not cured enough, adding another one on top may ruin the manicure.

To finish, apply a top coat and cure it under a lamp. The top coat will provide that extra protection and durability. A top coat will also prolong the life of regular nail polish since it will act as an extra layer of protection.

CND Shellac Gel Nail Polish ORIGINAL Top Coat, Ultra Shine Scratch Resistant Final Step Protective Longwear with No Nail Damage, 0.50 fl oz

Shine Duration

Both regular nail polish and the Shellac will provide the shiny nails every woman is striving for. And they will provide the same shine during the first day – you will not even notice the difference between these two techniques. 

But just after two days, the regular nail polish will already start to fade and by the fourth day, it would usually be completely faded. The Shellac will provide the same shiny nails on the tenth day as it provided on the first.

Also, because of the formula itself, the Shellac will provide a slightly shinier manicure than the regular nail polish. But, only professionals would be able to notice this difference.


To remove the regular nail polish, all you need is a cotton pad and acetone. Simply wipe the pad over the nail, and the acetone will remove most of it. Repeat, and the nails are clean and ready for a new look.

On the other hand, removing the Shellac may be a little bit more complicated. The Shellac is formulated in a way that it creates microscopic tunnels while it is applied. Later on, when you need to remove it, the acetone reaches the tunnels easily and breaks the hardened nail polish into pieces.

You will need to prepare a bowl with acetone and dip the nails inside. Because of the specific formula, the acetone should work really quick and the polish should start coming off. Never rip the Shellac from your fingers! Not only will you not remove it all, but you will also damage your natural nails.

Pronto 100% Pure Acetone - Quick, Professional Nail Polish Remover - For Natural, Gel, Acrylic, Sculptured Nails (8 FL. OZ.)

It may be considered that dipping the fingers in acetone is already very damaging, but because the formula starts to work quickly, the lost hydration can be easily restored with the use of a moisturizer after the acetone bath.

If after the first round the Shellac is not coming off completely, give it a second round and just wait for the acetone to do the work. Forcing the Shellac off the nails is a big no-no.


Regular nail polish will provide a nice-looking manicure, but it will provide little or no protection at all. This is because regular nail polish was not made for this purpose. There are no ingredients that will make the regular nail polish more durable on the nails.

If your nails are strong and healthy, the Shellac will provide some basic protection from breakage or damage. This is only if the natural nails are in good condition. Otherwise, the Shellac could not act as a barrier to external factors.

Because the Shellac is cured under a lamp, many women fall into believing that it has the same properties as the gel in terms of strength and durability. When you compare these two, the Shellac can endure much less than the gel (but more than regular nail polish).


There is one thing you can do with the Shellac but you cannot do with the regular nail polish – combine it with other techniques. 

Because the Shellac has a very impressive range of colors in its offer, it is commonly used in combination with gel or acrylics for purely aesthetic reasons. In this combination, Shellac’s role would just be to be nice. It cannot offer any reinforcement to the nails.

The reason for this is because gel and acrylics would already play their part, and since they are much stronger than the Shellac, it cannot be beneficial in that field.

Regular nail polish could never be used as a part of gel or acrylic manicure simply because the formula itself is very different, and there is no point in mixing these techniques. 

OPI Nail Lacquer, Bubble Bath, Nude Nail Polish, 0.5 fl oz

Does Shellac Last Longer than Regular Nail Polish?

The biggest difference between the regular nail polish and the Shellac is the duration. One of the reasons why women don’t prefer regular nail polish is that it requires it to be repainted every few days.

Because regular nail polish is not durable, it can start to chip and fall off very quickly, especially if your hands are underwater for a long time. This is why women started looking for alternative types of manicures in the first place.

Although some women can manage their regular nail polish to last up to seven days, this is only the case if you are extremely careful with your nails and you take care not to damage the nail polish. Bear in mind that the average duration of regular nail polish is two to three days.

The Shellac on the other hand, if it is properly applied, can last for 10 to 14 days. Again, this is only the case if the Shellac was applied correctly, and the nails were prepared as they should have been before the base coat was applied.

Of course, the Shellac may last longer or shorter than this average time, depending on your activities and habits. If your nails are a lot under the water, or you are working with some abrasive substances, the manicure may damage, break and start to chip off.

To prolong the duration of your manicure, both regular nail polish and the Shellac, make sure you are precise when you apply it. Always start from the base of the nail and gently move the brush towards the end of the nail.

To make sure that the nail polish is locked in place, paint the polish over the tip of your nails. This simple, yet very effective tip, will significantly prolong the life of your manicure. 

Here you can learn how often you should get shellac.

Why Does Shellac Need a Specific Lamp?

It is known that any gel needs a UV or LED lamp to harden. The Shellac also requires a lamp because it is half gel. It is made from substances that are photoreactive, and when they are exposed to a UV or LED lamp, they create a chemical reaction that makes the Shellac hard.

But the thing is that Shellac requires a specific UV or LED lamp made by the same company that invented it – the CND.

CND LED Nail Lamp, UV Light Technology for Manicure & Pedicure, Designed for Proper Adhesion and Longwear, Easy to Use (Pack of 1)

Because Shellac is a new product on the market, there was a risk that regular UV or LED lamps won’t be effective on this new formula. That’s why CND created specific lamps only for the Shellac.

You can try using regular lamps, but there are some risks. The Shellac may not harden enough or it may not cure at all, or it may fall off the nails after a few days only. To be sure this will not happen to you, try to invest in the CND lamp.

Most nail salons that offer the Shellac have CND UV or LED lamps, to ensure their customers are getting a full experience. The Shellac will take slightly less time to cure under a LED lamp, but a UV lamp can be effective as well.

If you want to know more about CND lamps you can read about it here.

Is Regular Nail Polish Healthier for My Nails?

Many women are convinced that regular nail polish is not damaging to the nails. This is partially true because regular nail polish is the least damaging technique, but it can also create a big problem.

If the nail polish was not made from quality ingredients, it could cause discoloration of your nails. I have experienced this, and the only cure is to wait until the nails grow to cut the colored part off. 

This happens because the nail polish can embed the natural nail and leave the color there permanently. No acetone can help you with this issue; it is just a matter of time until the nails outgrow this problem.

After this, the nails may be weaker and prone to damage, but the part of the nail that continues to grow, grows healthy, so you don’t have to worry about that. 

On the other hand, the Shellac cannot cause discoloration, but during the removal process, you can significantly damage the natural nails if you force the Shellac off them.

If you rip the Shellac off your nails, they will become weaker and more prone to damage and layering. To avoid this, just follow the removal procedure correctly.

Another thing that can happen is that both regular nail polish and the Shellac can cause irritations to your nails if you are allergic or hypersensitive to any of the substances they are made of. Before trying a new brand or product, just make sure you have checked the ingredients.

If any irritation occurs during or after application to either of both techniques, make sure you remove it as soon as possible to prevent any further issues.

There is no nail product on the market that can guarantee you that your nails would stay in perfect condition after use. But what you can do is to investigate and choose the right product for your nails. 


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