The Differences Between Nail Lacquer And Regular Nail Polish




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Nail boffins know that there are tons of different nail products to choose from. Whether you want a long-lasting manicure solution or a two-day look. A common question is: what is the difference between nail polish and nail lacquer?

Both are used to protect the nails with the difference being that nail lacquer is typically thicker and more durable than regular nail polish. So if you’re looking for something to last longer or extend your manicure’s lifespan, then nail lacquer is the way to go. 

In this article, I will discuss why nail polish is a fashion trend today. I will then discuss the similarities and differences between nail lacquer and regular nail polish, how long lacquer nail polish lasts, how to apply it like a pro, and how to choose between nail lacquer or acrylic nails.

Why Wear Nail Lacquer or Polish?

You may be wondering why nail lacquer or polish is such a popular trend today? There are millions of different nail lacquer brands on the market with hundreds of hues to choose from. So why wear nail lacquer?

The History of Nail Polish

Nail polish is known to date back to 3000 BC. Both historians and archeologists agree that nail polish was created in China where it was used by the ruling class to distinguish themselves from the general population. Generally, these were made from ingredients like beeswax, gelatin, egg whites, and vegetable dyes to achieve the color.

Egyptians also started using nail lacquers to distinguish the upper class from the lower class. In these cultures, middle and lower-class people were not allowed to paint their nails. It was a trend reserved for the wealthy.

It seems that nail lacquer has been a sign of individuals who are well-groomed. When international trading and industrialization became more prominent, nail polish became easier to manufacture and distribute worldwide. Hence its popularity today.

Nail Lacquer: A Fashion Statement

Today, nail polish still signifies a well-groomed appearance. It is also a symbol of fashion. Nail lacquers are used around the world in various colors to match fashion trends. These also tend to line up with the current season.

During the spring and summer months, one might find an array of brightly colored nail lacquers on the shelves at local beauty stores. This may include neons. Autumn is likely to bring a splash of nudes and beige colors. 

Winter trends tend to favor black, metallics, and darker hues with red shades being fashionable throughout the year.

A Layer of Protection

Not only is nail polish a fashion accessory but, when used the right way, it can protect your nails too. Here are ways that nail lacquer can add an extra layer of protection. With that being said, nail lacquer is usually a little thicker than regular nail polish.

A Base Coat

Nail polish contains hues that create vibrant color. This color has the potential to stain your natural nails. If you want to protect your nails from this, apply a lacquer base coat before applying the nail polish of your choice.

This base coat is usually transparent. You can even buy ones with nail repair properties, strengthening properties, or even ones infused with natural 

OPI Nail Polish Base Coat, Natural Nail Polish Base Coat, 0.5 Fl Oz

A Top Coat

Topcoats are used to protect the painted nail from environmental insults. Nail lacquers can be used and are usually transparent. They help to keep the nail polish color vibrant and adds gloss to the overall look.

Additionally, topcoats can be enriched with nutrients and help to boost nail strength.

OPI Nail Polish Fast Drying Top Coat, Nail Lacquer RapiDry, 0.5 Fl Oz

Nail Lacquer Vs Nail Polish

Now for the big question: is there a difference between nail lacquer and nail polish? I’ve already established that nail lacquer tends to be thicker and more durable than regular nail polish, but let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of each.

Types of Nail Polish

Nail polish or lacquer is not limited to one kind. There are many different types of nail polishes. I will discuss some of these here.

Gel Nail Lacquer

Gel is a type of nail product that hardens under UV light. It usually lasts around two weeks. This is usually a lacquer that is painted on the nail and then exposed to UV light using a UV lamp. This is an example of how nail lacquer can be thicker and more durable compared to regular nail polish.

Regular Nail Polish

Regular nail polish is what is considered standard. This is the nail polish you have been using for years. The modern world now sees a variety of finishes when it comes to regular nail polish. These usually last for a few days before it needs to be reapplied. I’ll discuss the different finishes here.


Nail polish with a matte finish is for those who don’t want a glossy finish. It offers an anti-shine finish that still looks glamorous. This is a trend that goes with all seasons. It is usually a paint-on nail polish like most regular nail polishes.

Ownest 6 Colors Matte Nail Polish Set, Mist Effect Matte Velvet Nail Polish,Long Lasting Velvet Nail Polish Nail Art-#E


There are so many different types of glitter finishes. Most of these nail polishes tend to lean towards metallics, like golds and silvers. These also include chrome finishes which are designed to make a statement. They can range from gunmetal greys to light pinks.

GAOY Reflective Glitter Gel Nail Polish Set of 6 Colors Including Red Brown Blue Holographic Glitter Gel Polish Kit UV LED Soak Off Sparkly Shellac Home DIY Manicure Nail Salon Shiny Varnish


This is an exciting trend, it’s no wonder nail polish finishes have been expanded to include neons. These are typically bright colors that pop. These can come with a glossy or matte finish, depending on the brand of the nail polish.



Creme nail polish is also known as the standard nail polish. These colors are basic, such as nudes or pastels. This is a classic finish and also stays fashionable all year round. These are usually somewhere between the matte and gloss spectrum.

Whats Up Nails - Joshua Tree Nail Polish Nude Light Brown Creme Lacquer Varnish Made in USA 12 Free Cruelty Free Vegan Clean


This finish is less prominent than your metallic or chrome finishes. It is designed for a subtle look, usually ranging in the lighter color spectrum. It is perfect if you’re looking for something a little more than a plain manicure.



This is similar to glitter finishes except it is designed to create a three-dimensional finish. The glitter tends to catch multiple angles of light to create a dramatic look. These come in different kinds and are usually in the form of nail polish that you can paint on your nails at home.

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How Long Does Lacquer Nail Polish Last?

There are a few factors to consider when it comes to making that lacquer manicure last. In general, a well-looked after mani can last anywhere between 7 to 10 days. The lifespan of your lacquer nail polish also depends on a few factors, which I’ll discuss here. I’ll also talk about ways you can ensure it lasts.

Factors That Affect How Long Lacquer Nail Polish Lasts

Even though a lacquer manicure can last a week or more, it also highly depends on how one takes care of their nails. Here are some factors that have an impact on the duration of your lacquer mani.

Exposure to Harsh Chemicals

This can mean anything. From cleaning the house without gloves to working with alcohol-based substances that break down the strength of the nail lacquer polish. Exposing your manicure to chemicals is definitely going to affect how long it lasts.

Tip: If you want to protect your nails from exposure to chemicals, make sure to wear cleaning gloves during household chores and be mindful when you expose your nails to alcohol-based solutions, like strong hand sanitizers. 

Having Dry Nails or Cuticles

Manicures do not last as long as they should when the nails are dry or stripped of their moisture. This can happen from frequently washing your hands without applying moisturizer. It is important to ensure that cuticles are moisturized too.

Tip: Rub natural oils, like olive oil, on a daily basis. Alternatively, make sure to apply hand cream each time you wash your hands. Focus on your cuticles too.

Using Your Nails for Strenuous Tasks

If your line of work involves using your hands a lot then your manicure is likely to last less. These could be jobs that involve constant typing or even engineering. The more you use your hands, the more maintenance care you need to give to your nails.

Tip: Reapplying a topcoat every few days can help to extend your manicure’s timeline. Try to wear protective gear where possible if you work with your hands.

How to Make Your Lacquer Manicure Last

Now we know some of the things that can cause your nail polish to wear before its time. I will give you some tips on how you can maintain that mani to extend its lifespan.

Apply Thin Coats

Since nail lacquer is thicker than regular nail polish, applying thick coats too frequently can lead to clumpiness. It may also prevent your manicure from drying properly. Lacquer tends to take longer to dry compared to regular polish because of its thickness.

To solve this issue, apply thin coats and allow them to fully dry before applying the next coat.

Use the UV Light for the Right Amount of Time

Some nail lacquers need to be cured with a UV lamp. This is especially true for gel lacquers. Shellac nails also require time under UV light to set. This is because these formulas are designed for durability where the UV light leads to hardening. These manicures are perfect if you want your nail color to last. Too little or too much exposure to UV light can affect how long the nail lacquer will last.

Use a Good Brand

The brand you choose ultimately affects how long your nail lacquer manicure will last. The more you pay, the longer it is likely to last compared to cheaper brands. Many people find a particular brand they like, that works for them, and stick to it. So, if your mani isn’t lasting, changing your brand could be an option.

Watch Your Nail Length

Long nails are great but when it comes to nail lacquer, shorter, well-maintained nails lead to a longer-lasting manicure. It is important to avoid over filing, however, you should only file when it is necessary. Over filing can lead to nail damage which is not good for maintaining a manicure.

Check Your Application Technique

The way you apply your lacquer can affect how long it lasts. The key is to apply it from the outer rims of the nails first and work your way to the middle. This ensures a seal is established and that leads to a longer lifespan.

Use a Topcoat

Topcoats are designed to strengthen nails and manicures. Nail lacquer is quite thick and glossy as it is, so you’ll want to ensure the layers are dry before adding a topcoat. Applying a top coat every few days can also help make your manicure last longer.


This is a key step to making your manicure last longer. Keeping your nails and cuticles moisturized around the clock with help keep your nails strong and healthy. You can use oils or creams to achieve this. You can also buy special nail products to lock in that moisture.

Cuccio Naturale Milk and Honey Cuticle Revitalizing Oil - Moisturizes and Strengthens Nails and Cuticles - Soothing and Nourishing - Paraben and Cruelty Free with Natural Ingredients - 2.5 oz

Does Nail Lacquer Need a Topcoat?

I have discussed the benefits of using a topcoat a few times in this article. You may be wondering, if nail lacquer is thicker than regular nail polish, does it need a topcoat? 

The answer is it is better to add a top coat irrespective of whether you use a thicker nail lacquer or regular nail polish. Here are some reasons why it is advantageous to apply a topcoat.

Topcoats Act as a Sealer

Not only do topcoats protect the nail lacquer but they also act as a sealant. This means that it helps improve the binding of the product to the nails, helping to extend its lifespan. These can help ensure a seal when it comes to nail polish lacquer.

Topcoats Prevent Chipping

By creating a sealant, topcoats help to prevent chipping and peeling prematurely. With nail lacquer being thicker than regular nail polish, adding a topcoat can really boost its strength and durability.

Topcoats Add Shine

Topcoats can create a glossy finish that adds shine to your nail lacquer. There are different topcoat finishes to match your preferences. They are also available in matte finishes if you were to use a matte nail lacquer.

How to Apply Lacquer Nail Polish Like a Pro

When it comes to applying your lacquer nail polish, here are the steps you can take to do it like a professional.

File Your Nails

Filing your nails helps to create a rough surface. This increases the binding properties of the nail lacquer. You can also buff them after doing this. Simply take a nail file and very lightly file the whole nail. Be careful not to overdo this as it could lead to nail damage.

A pro tip is not to saw the file back and forth across your nails; it can splinter and damage your tips.

Use a Basecoat and Topcoat

Apply a basecoat after filing your nail and before applying the nail lacquer. Ensure the basecoat dries well before doing so. You can buy a basecoat to match your needs. 

This helps to increase the binding properties of the nail lacquer and protects your natural nails at the same time. Topcoats also help create a salon finish.

Apply It Carefully 

You don’t just want to slap that nail lacquer on. Painting your nails is an art and should be done carefully and with thoughtfulness. Make sure to remove excess polish from the brush by using the outer neck of the bottle.

Apply the nail polish by working from the cuticle to the tip and start with the outer rims of the nails and work your way into the middle.

Work With Your Non-Dominant Hand

It’s easy to apply nail lacquer well when we are using our dominant hand. When it comes to the non-dominant hand, especially for those who are not ambidextrous, applying nail lacquer can be slightly tricky. 

The best way to do this is to put the dominant hand on a flat surface and rotate it to work with your non-dominant hand.

Nail Lacquer Vs Acrylic Nails

Choosing between nail lacquer or regular nail polish and acrylic nails can be tricky. There are some differences that may determine which one is suitable for you. I will outline them here.

Acrylic nails are made from mixing a powder product with a liquid that forms a strong bond on the natural nail. Gel is a lacquer product that is applied to the nail. Both require a UV lamp to cure the product.

Acrylic nails last longer, up to a month whereas gel nails last about two weeks. Gel is a lot easier to remove compared to acrylic. Both require acetone techniques to remove the product. Acrylic takes longer though. 

If you’re going for a natural look, you’ll want gel lacquer. If you want something dazzling then go for acrylic. Finally, gel nails are less likely to damage your nails.

The Bottom Line

There are few differences between nail lacquer and regular nail polish. When it comes to achieving the perfect manicure, it’s all about preference. Both lacquer and regular polish offer a variety of finishes to suit your needs.


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