Pros and cons of Shellac nail polish

A new manicure treatment promises smudge-proof nail color that lasts for weeks without chipping. Some call it a manicure miracle, but Shellac is not for everyone.

The slick new polish is the buzz of the manicure industry. Clients at Frenchy's Day Spa in Seattle can't get it on their fingers fast enough.

"The clients who see it, they want it. They come in and get it. They love it." said manager Diana Ahern.

The special formula, called Shellac, brushes on just like regular nail polish. Nails are prepped in the same manner as a basic manicure.

But the polish stays on, chip-free, for weeks. A spokesman for the manufacturer told the Problem Solvers you can leave it on for a month if you want. You only need to change polish when new new growth starts showing, and that's typically after about 14 days.

Shellac is the brain child of a California company called Creative Nail Design, more commonly known as CND. The company says it spent five years perfecting the product. Shellac is frequently described as a hybrid of the popular gel manicure.

With gels, a thick substance is applied to the nail to build up a new surface. The gel is hardened under UV light, then smoothed and sculpted with an electric file before adding polish. Until now, gels have been the "hot new thing" in nail care.

But gels get low marks from many consumers because of the potential nail damage that can result from soaking nails and fingers in strong acetone, and abrasive filing to remove the gel residue.

Shellac offers a more nail-friendly solution by taking gel to the next level -- no sculpting or filing, just thin coats of polish on your natural nail, with a brief time for curing under a UV lamp between every coat. Ahern says the UV is used for 10 seconds after the base coat, and two minutes each between the two coats of color and the top coat.

When the top coat is done, you get a quick shine with a soft cloth and alcohol and you're ready to go.

"Quick, easy, out the door, no one's having to fish for your keys," Ahern said.

But Shellac is not for everyone. Your natural nails and nail beds must be healthy. If they're splitting, peeling or damaged from using acrylic or gel enhancements, experts say you should wait and talk to a licensed, trained nail care professional.

And using Shellac is out altogether if you want to do your nails yourself. The manufacture only sells to licensed professionals.

"The interesting thing about it is it that people cannot do it at home, so we see more clients more often because they come back to have it removed," said Ahern.

A spokeswoman for CND says any Shellac product you see advertised online is being sold illegally, including the special UV lamps. You can't just buy a bottle and take it home. Without the lamp, polish will not properly set.

CND is very specific about removal. The process requires a special wrapping process at the salon using strong acetone. The wrapping isolates the chemical to the nail color and creates body head to help the polish come off easily.

Some consumers report having acetone-soaked cotton placed on their nails with their fingers wrapped in aluminum foil. Ahern says this is not a process that's approved or recommended by CND, and is likely done by someone who is unlicensed, untrained and taking shortcuts. Improper removal can damage your nails and skin.

As for price? Plan on spending as much as twice the price of a basic manicure.

"It ranges in the industry from $30 to $40," said Ahern.

That's $30 to $40 every two weeks. If you just want the polish removed with no reapplication, the removal costs about $5.

CND says any problems with chipping, peeling, or nail damage are typically caused by someone who is not licensed, not properly trained or not following the manufacturer's specific instructions for application and removal. You may also encounter people who claim they're providing a Shellac manicure, but are using a different, "similar" product.

CND's public relation's company acknowledges that it's competitors are already responding with their own versions of long-lasting, chip free polish.

"CND's competitors have already released 'me-too' products, but no one will be able to duplicate Shellac's patent-pending UV3 technology or guarantee the same flawless wear and gentle removal. CND spent 5 years in their state-of-the-art lab perfecting the product for a reason!" said Rachel Cooper of

As for concerns about UV exposure, the company insists its UV lamps are low- watt UV bulbs that filter out most of the damaging rays, and have been scientifically tested to be safer than the exposure your hands get from driving in the sun without gloves.

Ahern says when she signed up Frenchy's to get trained to do Shellac manicures in March, there were only four salons or spas in Seattle on the list. As of the first of June, the list is expansive, and growing weekly.
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