Everything you need to know about Shellac nails

Sarah Pelham

No matter what the season, or what you’re wearing, a bold, shiny coat of nail polish is always the perfect accessory. And, when it lasts for weeks, strengthens your nails, comes in hundreds of colours and won’t chip or peel - there’s no wonder Shellac, or gel nail polish, is one of the most popular beauty services around.

Let’s take you through all you need to know about one of the greatest product developments of the new century (it’s right up there with Netflix and driverless cars 😏).

“I do my hair toss, check my nails. Baby how you feelin'? Feeling good as hell!”

What are Shellac nails?

Shellac is the brand name for a new, ultra-long lasting gel nail polish product launched by CND (Creative Nail Design) in 2010. Yep, the year that gave us “Whip My Hair” and Lady Gaga’s meat dress also did pretty well in the beauty stakes too.

Because Shellac was the pioneer, its brand name is often used as a generic term for gel nails (like Frisbee or Gladwrap.) Many nail salons will ask if you want “Shellac”, but they are in fact offering you gel polish from many different brands.

Before Shellac’s big launch, you mainly had two choices for your mani.

  • There were acrylics - artificial nails that don’t chip but are fairly time-consuming, high-maintenance and expensive.
  • Or you had your good old regular nail polish using your natural nails - either from the salon or DIY using polish from the pharmacy or supermarket. Regular nail polish is faster to apply and cheaper but has a much longer drying time. It also usually chips or peels within a week (or sooner if you crack open a can of Diet Coke three times a day 😬).

Then CND introduced Shellac, the ultimate hybrid polish. It became the bridge to close the gap - a long-lasting gel polish that instantly dried and didn’t require artificial nails.

Thanks to Shellac’s unique formulation of solvents, monomers and polymers, it forms ultra-strong chemical bonds to the natural nail. Once applied, it ‘cures’ under a UV or LED lamp and is completely set as soon as you walk out of the salon.

You can scramble around in your bag for your car keys and not worry about ever making a dent. We call that a win.

“Hybrid brush-on gel polishes are the trendiest innovation in the nail industry in recent memory.” - Nails Magazine, 2011 (1)

Thanks to Shellac’s unique formulation of solvents, monomers and polymers, it forms ultra-strong chemical bonds to the natural nail.

Not surprisingly, the concept took off and there are now many similar brands of gel nail polish available in salon, such as Gelish, OPI GelColor and Gellen.

You can also get Shellac on your toenails for a pedicure. The beauty of this is that there is no need to shuffle around in those disposable thongs afterwards, once you’re “cured” (some might say having your first Shellac is almost a religious experience) and set, your pointers are ready to twinkle out.

Shellac manicures ensure your nails are instantly dry, super shiny and feel harder and thicker.

How long do Shellac nails last?

Most Shellac or other gel manicures and pedicures will last for at least 2 weeks, or even longer. Sometimes they’ll even grow out - leaving a bare patch at the nail bed - before they chip off. It can also depend on whether you’re swimming a lot in chlorine or doing manual tasks like gardening or DIY work around the house. For maximum longevity, avoid using your nails as tools - best to live the life of a queen and not lift a finger, we say! 💅

Why are Shellac nails better than other treatments?

If you’ve ever ruined your mani before you’ve even stepped out of the salon, you’ll know how frustrating a gooey, slow-drying paint job can be. Shellac manicures ensure your nails are instantly dry, super shiny and feel harder and thicker.

Shellac and other brands of gel nail polish last much longer than standard nail polish without chipping - 2 weeks, compared to just a few days with regular polish. When it comes to Shellac versus other brands of gel nail polish, it comes down to the hue you’re in the mood for on the day - from classics like OPI’s I’m Not Really A Waitress to something brand new and bold that you just have to try.


Is Shellac good for my nails?

Shellac itself does not damage the nails. In fact it adds hardness and density to your nails that protects them from breaking. Sometimes the removal of Shellac can compromise your nails, although this can be avoided by going to a reputable professional salon. Never peel off your Shellac polish, as this weakens the nail surface.

Shellac Nails Comparisons

Shellac nails vs SNS nails

The difference between Shellac and SNS nails is more about method than it is about results. Shellac, or gel nail polish, is painted on. SNS, or powder dip nails, is not painted on. Rather, you dip your fingers one-by-one into a little container of fine, coloured powder that sticks to your nails. The end result in both cases? Hard-wearing, shiny, thick colourful nails that will last 2 to 3 weeks without chipping.

In our experience, SNS can last up to one week longer than Shellac nails without chipping, and SNS also creates a thicker-looking nail from all that powder getting added on. But we’ve found Shellac to be a little less damaging to our nails long-term than SNS nails.

Another difference is that Shellac needs to be cured, or dried, under a UV or LED lamp, whereas SNS is dry instantly. Both treatments take about the same amount of total time in-salon though.

Unlike Shellac, you can’t have SNS on your toes though - it’s too tricky to dip all those little piggies into the powder! 🐷 If you’re looking for a long-lasting pedicure, Shellac polish is the clear winner.

The other point to note is that, if you’re into nail art, SNS is more limited - you can only do ombre looks with powder dipping where one colour fades into another. With Shellac, the world’s your paintbox - anything is possible!

To summarise Shellac and SNS nails:


  • lasts 2 to 3 weeks without chipping
  • brand name for gel nail polish
  • dries under a lamp
  • pedicure-friendly - can be painted onto fingernails and toenails
  • creates a shiny, thick looking finished nail
  • nail-art friendly - any design is possible


  • lasts 2 to 3 weeks without chipping, but we generally find they last a little longer than Shellac on average
  • brand name for powder dip colour
  • dries instantly
  • creates a shiny, thick looking finished nail, slightly thicker than Shellac
  • not pedicure-friendly - toes cannot dip into the powder containers easily
  • not nail-art friendly - limited to ombre colour-fading effects

Shellac nails vs Gel nails

Shellac is simply the brand name for the first type of what’s commonly known as gel nail polish.

Shellac launched in 2010. As the first brand to gain major awareness, it’s name has become synonymous with “gel nail polish,” but there are many other brands of excellent gel nail polish now available. We’re fans of OPI GelColor and Gelish. Shellac is the original though, and its many fans will insist it’s still the best.

Technically, Shellac nail polish is soft gel polish that can be brushed on, rather than a hard gel coat, which is yet another type of nail service. When you see gel hard nails, gel extensions or gel hard coat on a nail salon’s service menu, it isn’t the same as Shellac or gel polish. A gel hard coat is an extension mould that can be applied to your natural nails, or acrylic nails even, to create a longer, thicker nail.


Shellac nails vs Acrylic nails

A Shellac manicure is just about the final colour you want, whereas acrylic nails are extensions on top of your natural nails. You can get regular nail polish, Shellac polish or SNS colour applied on top of your natural nails or acrylic nails.

Acrylic nails use an acrylic mixture (a powder and solvent blend) to extend and thicken your natural nails. They’re great for changing the shape or extending your nails - perfect if you crave dramatic long talons like Kylie Jenner.

Say, for example, you’ve got long natural nails, except one nail broke. You could ask for one acrylic nail to bring all of your nails to the same length.

Once your acrylic full set of fake nails, or just a fake nail or two, is sculpted into its final glory, you can choose whichever type of polish you want to complete the look - regular nail polish, SNS powder, Shellac or other gel polish.

What are the most popular Shellac nail colors?

In Australia, the most requested colours (in ascending order) are: Lobster Roll, Cream Puff, Bare Chemise, Nude Knickers, Tropix, Black Pool, Satin Pyjamas, Cake Pop, Wildfire and Field Fox.

Top shellac colour picks (2).png

All in all, a great mix of creamy nudes, bold brights and an edgy black.

How can I fix broken Shellac nails?

If just one or two of your Shellac nails are broken or chipped, most salons will charge per nail for a touch-up service, so you don’t have to get the entire set removed and redone. If you are using CND’s Shellac brand, you can usually buy the same colour in its long lasting Vinylux range, so you can even do a DIY touchup at home

How can I remove Shellac nails?

It’s best to go into a salon and let the experts handle it, because removing this gel polish by any means of scraping or over-filing can really damage your natural nail. Trust us on this one, you will end up spending a lot of time getting poor results at home - speaking from experience here!

Usually salons only charge about $5 for removal, so it’s a smart investment in keeping your nails in tip top condition.

However, if you’re stranded far from the salon and really need to take it off at home, here’s the lowdown. Settle in, put on a sheet mask and queue up a Kardashians marathon, cause you’re here for a while. You’ll need buffing files, cotton pads, nail polish remover with acetone and tin foil. Whew!

  • Very lightly file the surface of each nail. A soft rectangular 3D buffing file is ideal.
  • Cut cotton pads into squares a little larger than each nail and dip into remover. Place over each nail and secure with tinfoil (or you can buy special plastic clips). Leave the remover on for about 20 minutes.
  • Use a wooden stick to gently push the polish off. If it’s not easily slipping off, put the nail back for more time in its tinfoil cave!
  • Afterwards, wash your hands and apply cuticle oil to combat the dehydrating effects of the remover.


  1. https://www.nailsmag.com/387143/the-science-of-gels-how-gel-nail-products-work