Pros and Cons of Shellac and UV Gel Manicures



Pros and Cons of Shellac (TONS of comments on this post - good and bad!)
When I first heard about Shellac, UV and LED gel manicures, I was over the moon excited. I could finally have polish on my nails sans chipping and polish peeling for more than 3 days and all without having to apply fake nails. In August, while at Cosmoprof, I received an awesome manicure from CND in Hot Pop Pink (pictured below.) The manicure took just as long as having acrylic nails or wraps put on (an hour) and the result looked just as amazing. I remarked to the manicurist just how gorgeous her own nails looked, as they were long and it didn’t even appear to be naturally her own. She told me they were and that wearing the Shellac helped her achieve the length. I believed her, until my own experience has led me to believe otherwise.


My CND Shellac lasted me 3 weeks. I was ecstatic. I applied CND’s SolarOil to my cuticles and under the tips of my nails on a daily basis as instructed by the manicurist. My nails had grown a bit during this time and I was excited to go for round two of another CND Shellac at my local salon. This time I went for a French manicure CND Shellac. My nails were finally long enough to adorn some white tips and I was stoked. I went about applying the SolarOil again daily, but this time it only took 3 days for one of my nails to peel and the Shellac to come off. Day 4, one of my nails broke and it became clear how brittle my nails were becoming. By day 5, all of my nails were either peeling (the nail itself, not the polish) or breaking.

Looking at my very soft, peeling nails, I decided to not apply any polish at all for 2 weeks, but continued to put the SolarOil on them. But sadly, they didn’t seem to recover. In the meantime, I had been sent the complete Red Carpet Manicure LED Starter Kit and as I was about to have my first television appearance, I knew my nails had to look amazing. So I used the kit, which comes complete with a portable LED light and is a DIY home LED manicure kit. Colors were gorgeous, time was still about 1 hour to complete the manicure and I used their Revitalize cuticle oil daily. But by day 3, my nails were peeling and even more brittle. I now had stubs for nails (even shorter than pictured above.) Finally I asked fellow friends in the salon business and fellow bloggers if they experienced the same of gel manicures, and it was a resounding yes.

Pros:

Manicure can potentially last up to 3 weeks
No chipping
Manicure is instantly dry upon last UV go round
Mirror finish (nails look wet, but aren’t)
Can DIY and look just as amazing as at the salon
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous

Cons:

Very drying to your nails
Repeated application (without a breather) will result in brittle and peeling nails
Wear time gets less and less with each application
If you don’t apply the cuticle oil daily, your nails will dry out a lot quicker
Costs add up, especially if the manicure doesn’t last 2-3 weeks
CND Shellac requires it’s own Remover Wraps
According to some doctors, the UV lamps can cause skin cancer (but the jury is still out on this)

So it appears that, at least for me, a CND Shellac or UV gel manicure will only happen for special events (like holidays, TV appearances, events) and cannot be worn all of the time. Unless I want to continue having man hands with my stubby nails.

In the meantime, I will be in nail re-cooperation with Qtica’s Cuticle Repair Balm and Qtica Nail Growth Stimulator to regain my length.  I’d love to hear from you: what has your experience been with UV gel manicures?

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Posted on by Shannon Smyth in beauty, Nail Polish 62 Comments

About the author

Shannon Smyth

Shannon began A Girl's Gotta Spa! beauty blog in 2005 to morph her love of beauty and in educating women on what truly works and what does not. She has been featured in Glamour, VOGUE Australia, Woman's World, Nail Pro, SHAPE and on WBRE's PA Live. She is a go-to source for social media consulting when it comes to beauty brands.

62 Responses to Pros and Cons of Shellac and UV Gel Manicures

  1. Ellie G

    I bought the CND Shellac system for myself as I am a chronic nail bitter. While I love the look of newly polished, shiny (unbitten) nails, I didn’t appreciate the faux finish that resulted post acrylics. With all of that in mind, I relentlessly shelled out the cash to purchase the system. I’ve had it for 3 months thus far and have honestly loved every minute of it! My nails, which I have avoided biting, look fabulous! My manicure lasts about 2 weeks, partly because I get bored with one color quickly and partly due to wear and tear. The best part about the system is the ease of removal. Ten quick minutes in a soak or acetone wraps and the gel practically falls off the nail. I’ve been very happy with my purchase but have honestly not had the gel off of nails long enough to inspect them sans Shellac.

  2. Shannon Nelson

    Hi Ellie, how long have you been using the Shellac?

  3. pinsanneedles

    I had a similar experience to you, great the first time, with diminishing returns after that. By the time my affair with Shellac ended, the manis were only lasting a couple days. I had the manicurist remove it and go back to regular polish, but they never got all the Shallac off, so am still trying to sand it all of myself. Ugh.

  4. Shannon Nelson

    Ooh don’t try to buff it off. I hate saying this, but go buy acetone nail polish remover and soak your nails. It’s the acetone that removes the Shellac.

  5. Barb.

    I have not heard anything good about Shellac and my current manicurist has the machine, but does not even offer it due to the complaints she got when she used it upon receiving it. I love trying new things that are out there, but Shellac never tempted me and I’m glad. Thanks, Shannon, for a great review.

  6. Shannon Nelson

    Shellac only tempted me because I’ll never wear acrylic nails again after almost losing my pinky nail in a kickball incident. LOL. My whole nail came off, but I was lucky the nail bed remained intact. I had hoped I would achieve that same look again with Shellac and not one manicurist or brand warned me about the “side effects.”

  7. The Vibrant Vixen

    Love Shellac … I have them professionally done once per two to three weeks and they stay perfect. I haven’t broken a nail in the four months I’ve been using Shellac and don’t apply anything other than my usual handcream. My manicurist has told me however, that different people have varied experiences. I’ve always had very strong long nails and love not having to have them done weekly. I so wish this was a tried and true method for everyone.

  8. Reena

    I’ve wanted to try shellac but I’m scared that my nails would get brittle and damaged… :(

  9. Ali Rose

    Do not get shellac done ever! I had it done a month ago and removed to weeks and my nails are still damaged look bad from it! Don’t do it!

  10. Shannon Nelson

    I honestly think it’s OK for special events, but make sure you are diligent about applying the SolarOil if not once per day, at least twice. Also make sure your hands are hydrated with an oil-free lotion as well.

  11. Lisa Kennally

    Shannon, why oil free lotion? If the oil is supposed to hydrate the nails and surrounding area wouldn’t an oil based lotion be better? I am a big proponent of the oil cleansing method and “oil likes oil” philosophy. Thanks.

  12. Shannon Nelson

    Sorry, meant “sunscreen-free” lotion. Was typing too fast. The manicurist at CND told me that sunscreen cannot get on the nails at all or they would be ruined. I asked her why and she said, “I don’t know, it just does.” So much for anti-aging your hands!

  13. Lisa Kennally

    Ohhh ok..I type too fast too (my texting is horrible)! Thanks.

  14. Sande

    I loved. enjoyed and adored my Shellac polished nails for 6 months. That last manicure stated cracking, polish and nails, after a few days and I took the polish off. My once strong healthy nails are like tissue paper, my hands have never looked so bad.

  15. Shannon Nelson

    Mine are still like tissue paper Sande. I’ve even been trying to use a nail growth polish and it doesn’t seem to be working. :(

  16. Melanie

    My nails don’t break at all when wearing the polish but once the polish is off my nails are weaker. However I love the fact that for seven days my nails are perfect. Can’t quite give it up. When polish is off I just keep my nails short.

  17. SuzyQ

    Same thing happened to me as did Shannon. Had the shellac done once before Christmas parties, etc. and loved it. I was so happy my nails were beautiful and I received lots of compliments. I had another one the beginning of January and then the heartbreak began. One by one, my nails were breaking and when I removed the shellac my nails looked like they belonged to someone else. My nails have never looked so bad! They are thin and brittle and continued to break so I trimmed all of them very short so that hopefully new strong ones will grow back. I am so dissapointed and hope to find a new manicure that will last this long without the damage. :(

  18. Shannon Nelson

    Suzy, I found that putting cuticle oil on my nails and not polishing them as often right now is helping. A company contacted me that said they had something that would help my nails remain strong, grow and be able to be worn under shellac…so once I get it and review it, hopefully it lives up to it’s claims and it’s something that those of us “post-shellac heartbreak” can start using.

  19. Hillary/solessence

    Hi Shannon, how the removal was done? Are they using the entire CND product system for the service? I find this is often where the damage is done. It should be a quick 10 minute wrap concentrated on the nail. The Shellac will appear gelatinous and curl up/lift right off. This is the quickest removal in the industry and only requires flaking off of any product left.

    Of course,*pH and original condition* of the nails are different for everyone and you may need some type of adjustment during winter months. In my experience CND’s Shellac has become such a phenomenon because it is so long lasting with such gentle wear. I have clients that have been getting Shellac every 2-3 weeks since April 2010 and it is clear upon removal that their nails are in great condition. I’m sorry that you aren’t experiencing that!

  20. Shannon Nelson

    Maybe that’s what the problem was because she did use their removal wraps, but the shellac was not lifting and coming off after 10 minutes. I’m pretty sure it was left on for 30 minutes. But my nails did become brittle prior to this and began breaking. It was just amplified once I had it done the 2nd time.

  21. NancySyd

    I think that the big culprit in causing damage is the removal. I find that improper removal really is what does the damage. Improper removal can mean a few things. The most common is soaking off in a bowl of acetone. When you soak instead of using wraps, the acetone soaks into the nails from both sides and acetone is a powerful defatter and dries nail out.

    The second is scraping, that is, using too much force to scrape the gel off the nails. Scraping caused tiny gouges in the nails that weaken the nails. Shellac should not be scraped, just pushed off. If it needs scraping, re-soak the wrap and rewrap. If that’s not working for you, try using a regular basecoat like CND Stickey or Orly bonder under your Shellac. It makes removal easier without affecting durability.

    And of course, using solar oil is a major issue in alleviating dry, brittle nails.

  22. revel nails

    It depend on the manicurist does your nails and how she prepare the nails…I went through allot of product on my own nails to find the one that work for my client…you cannot take fake nails off and apply shellac on and expect it to fix the damage from the artificial nails have left your nails with!. ..you have to grow them out under the fake nails. Once you grow your own healthy nails out, she have to treat it like apply polish and not over puff them…find the right nail tech. N you will love the product.good luck :-)

  23. Shannon Nelson

    I agree it depends on the manicurist (although I’d hope they would all be trained the same with shellac), but I didn’t have artificial nails on at the time. Actually the last time I had artificial nails was 16 years ago once I saw what they were doing (damaging) to my nails.

  24. Amanda

    I had the same problem with shellac. I loved the fact that I could leave the salon with dry nails and not have to worry about them chipping as fast as regular polish. I started having breakage a lot and switched manicurist. The new tech told me the other one was buffing too much, although I’ve read you don’t even have to buff. I would love to use shellac since I messed up my manicure yesterday after 10 minutes of leaving. I just dont want to damage my real nails:(

  25. Shannon Nelson

    Amanda, another brand is supposed to be sending me this nail polish that is supposed to be like shellac…but without needing the UV light etc. Not sure how it will be in terms of my actual nails though. Stay tuned!

  26. Amber C

    I am a nurse and unfortunately the only option for us IS shellac/gel. I have had shellac done at LEAST once every 2 or so months for the last year and I haven’t had any issues (i.e. peeling/breakage, etc.). The techs around here BARELY, if at all, buff my nails down and they still last at least 2-3 weeks. Acrylics are much more damaging. However, for those of you that swear by shellac (like me) make sure you put a high SPF sunscreen on your your hands prior to going to the salon. Even though your hands are only in there for a few minutes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. I can just see all of us running around with skin cancer on the hands, 10 years from now, bc of the UV exposure from our manicures. lol

  27. Shannon Nelson

    Hi Amber, I worried about the same thing (skin cancer on my hands) and mentioned sunscreen. The CND manicurist told me that sunscreen will ruin your shellac and advised me against it. Have you noticed that to be true for yourself?

  28. Sam

    There are a lot of factors that can contribute to the above mentioned problems. I am a licensed manicurist and have hit several bumps in the road with the product in the beginning but I sought out the proper training and I am no longer having any problems… A few suggestions: Don’t “soak your nails in acetone” the proper wraps are important because they focus on the polish its self instead of penetrating the whole nail, 2nd I had several clients curious about the uv exposure so i did some research and the company insists that the CND UV lamps are very low voltage and supply less exposure then driving your car without gloves on. I also had peeling nails starting to occur so we called the commpany and they said to ABSOLUTELY not buff the nails, each time you buff you remove a layer of the nail and so as it grows out and you get more and more applications you are removing a layer everytime so once your nails grow out there ends up being nothing left. Hope these tips help.

  29. Audra

    Hi Shannon – I had my first shellac manicure for my wedding back in October of last year and on our honeymoon I found out the unfortunate way that sunscreen does ruin the shellac manicure. Oh, it was awful! The polish turned tacky/sticky and dull. It was a mess!

  30. Shannon Nelson

    Audra, I was afraid to even attempt it! But they say that your neck and hands show the first signs of aging so it felt weird to not put on sunscreen like normal.

  31. Lauren

    Will it be ok to have a hot bath that evening of having a shellac manicure. Also whenever I have used nail varnish on my nails it always peels off from the edges usually in one piece, or after showering, and whenever I have sunbathed on holiday it has melted or bubbled, should this happen with shellac. I Wanted to try it before my holiday next week but im spectacle about paying Incase these problems will happen.

  32. Shannon Nelson

    Hi Lauren, no, once the shellac is set it’s set. It won’t peel off, melt or bubble. That’s what makes it so attractive–it is the ultimate manicure (but your nails pay a price.)

  33. Anonymous

    My love affair with Shellac ended as well, after only 4 months. I had nice, long nails and did have acrylic for many years and then over 2 years ago, I dumped the acrylics and early this year started the Shellac. I loved it at first and my manicures worked best when I did them every 7 days since if I let them go to 10 days, I had breakage ( I wash my hands a lot since I am a caregiver.) I used wraps and was religious about the solar oil. Regardless, at first my nails started with a white spot here or there and then I finally had to stop the Shellac when my nails began to break underneath the shellac. When 60% of my nails were peeling, I knew the love affair was over. I hope they recover. I went back to using my Zoya polishes, non-acetone remover and Seche Vite for drying. I’ll never use the Shellac again. Quite frankly, I think it’s worse than acrylics ever were. I know that with the acrylics, my nails would be weak upon removal but overall, my nails looked fantastic. At this point, I think I’ll just do regular manis and leave all of the shellac and acrylics alone.

  34. heather

    Hi girls i have been reading your comments on shellac as i have had them done twice and i have been worried about the side affects. The girl took the polish off the first time. She soaked my fingers in acetone and my tips were white .I didnt like what it done to my fingers I had to soak for 15 minutes. Then she scrapped my nail and too much nail was coming off it was like she didnt care how much was coming off. I have taken this lot off myself with cotton wool and acetone cotton balls and alfoil.It came off very easy . have painted my nails with a product called Healthy Hoof Hoof Lacquer Ideal for nails. I dont think I will go back to the shellac after reading the comments. Thank you girls.

  35. Shevonne

    IMO, shellac is just more damaging to your nails due to how strong of a bond it forms and how long it stays , every bend it makes , your nail goes with it so there is a bit of added stress but nothing like how bad my nails were after having acrylics or gelnails on. I have been using “Gelish” uv polish for the last year , and I LOVE IT . I don’t know how anyone keeps their regular mani’s in shape for more than a day ?! I literally barely made it home before one nail was chipped or crack . I do have to say that , depending on how carefull I am about the removal process , sometimes my nails are pretty thin after I take the shellac off , however I do have to remember that I buffed away any “shine ” to my nails to help the shellac adhere prior to application sooo , its not like they are going to magically grow that back when the polish is soaked off with acetone . I am prone to cracking the sides of my pointer fingers due to a TON of typing for work , and I do not have that problem with the Shellac , but if they are going to bubble or chip towards the ends thats how it happened . I will say that sometimes it seems like the polish stays better than others , however , the lady at my salon told me that the nails need to be dry and free of lotions or tons of moisture and oil for the shellac , I did my current set RIGHT after doing a deep conditioning treatment on my hair and low and behold , one of my nails peeled off after my shower the next day like it had been dipped in acetone . . BUT I find that if I am good about buffing everything , and really make sure to get the ends and sides of my nails covered well ( that is the kicker ) , it lasts just as long , if not longer than when I have it done in the salon. I have not noticed that my nails have changed texture or anything , and am curious as to the folks that say that their natural nail is flaking , but not the shellac ? how does that happen ? anyhwho . I LOVE the shellac and think its worth a try , I have heard things about certain brands being better than others , but everyone’s body chemestry is different so I wouldn’t put any of them down too fast . .

  36. Suzanne

    I have gotten shellac manicures over the past year and a half with great success. However, I am now noticing that all of my nails itch terribly for days after I get my shellac manicures. What’s more, my skin under the nails seems to be tender. I’m pretty sure I’m having a reaction to the product, but no one else seems to be talking about itching as a side effect.

  37. Shannon Nelson

    Hi Suzanne, I never noticed itching with shellac, but you never know–maybe someone who stumbles upon this post will have the same thing happening to them. Thanks for leaving a comment!

  38. BJ

    Dr. Oz had a show on shellac nails and it was suggested to use sun screen or purchase gloves with just the finger tips exposed. The gloves cost about $10.

  39. Shannon Nelson

    Hi BJ, I didn’t watch that episode, but was it about protecting your hands from the UV rays? The manicurists who do shellac have specifically told me that sunscreen does something to the formulation of the shellac and that’s why they say not to get it near your nails.

  40. Sylvia Rodríguez de Colón

    I was In love with this product until I noticed the white spots under the nails. Soon after that the skin around the nails lost sensation, followed by blisters that the doctor said is Dermatitis. I wonder if anybody has experienced this.

  41. Helen Morgan

    I’ve been using shellac for almost a year. I have the lamps and polish and do them myself. After approximately 10 months, the flesh around my nails, and under my nail beds started to peel. Now my nails are lifting away from my fingers as the skin continues to dry and peel. It’s very painful and unattractive. I’ve stopped using the UV for the past 6 weeks now and am seeing an improvement, but the damage to the tips of my fingers is going to take a long time to repair

  42. Jessica

    I am not going to say much about the peeling and side effects of shellac because it reacts to everyone’s nails differently. If you do a lot of cleaning with heavy chemicals it will harm your nails more, not because of the shellac but just because you’re using heavy chemicals! Most problems with shellac occur because of how it is applied and removed. You are not supposed to just soak your nails in acetone. You are supposed to dampen a piece of cotton with acetone and secure it to your finger nail. You leave it on for 10 mins and then use the wrap to get the polish off. If it doesn’t all come off you then use some acetone soaked cotton to rub the rest of it off. How your nails look depend on how the nail technician removes it.
    The big reason I commented on this is because of the dr oz comments I was seeing. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    According to Dr. Robert M. Sayre, Ph.D., of Rapid Precision Testing Laboratories one of the creators of the SPF rating system: “UV Nail Lamps are safer than natural sunlight or sunlamps.” According to Dr. Sayre: “People who are indoors have little to no skin risk due to long-term exposure to fluorescent lighting. People who sunbathe or work outdoors have real risks of excessive UV exposure, the cause of sunburn and skin cancer.” Hands get more UV exposure holding the steering wheel of a car or talking on a cell phone outside than they do from the use of UV nail lamps.
    “One would need 250 years of weekly nail sessions to equal one treatment in a tanning bed.” Dr Markova & Dr Weinstock (I do not post this comment to bash tanning, merely to give a comparison that people can relate to.)

    This is from an article from a website that I linked to. From a REAL doctor who knows what he is talking about!!
    http://blogs.nailsmag.com/fingernailfixer/

  43. Lia

    I’ve been doing gel manicure for about nine months now and I do like it, but however, I had an episode in which my cuticles were becoming very sensitive. On my last visit, they removed the color by soaking the cotton balls in acetone and wrapping the nails in foil. Well, my skin around the cuticles became discolored (white in color). I truly believe it was the acetone. Though I love the way my nails looked, this was an eye opener for me. I’ll be doing regular manicures from now on.

  44. DivaShop

    Hmm, that’s good to know. I was considering getting a gel manicure, but I think I’ll just wait for a special event.

  45. Jane Reed

    I have been getting gel manicures for about nine months. I noticed about six months ago that my arthritis in my hands has gotten progressively worse. After having the manicure my hands hurt more afterwards.
    Does anyone know anything about the affect of LED light?

    Thank You,
    Jane 04.03.13

  46. Jacqueline

    Hi Shannon, About 11 months ago, in your post about shelkac nails you said this: “another brand is supposed to be sending me this nail polish that is supposed to be like shellac…but without needing the UV light etc. Not sure how it will be in terms of my actual nails though. Stay tuned!”

    Did you do a follow up on this new product and shellac or other nail finishes? Dying to know!!! Just found your blog!

    Thanks so much!!

  47. Shannon Nelson

    Hi Jacqueline, unfortunately the company who was going to send me the product flaked so I never got to try it out for a review. :/

  48. Sarah Gould

    Had Gellac polish and UV dryer today for the first time.
    I feel really strange. The tingling and itchiness in my hands hasn’t stopped yet and I keep having to stretch and bend back my fingers to help release the sensation – which doesn’t really work. When I do stretch out my fingers I feel the polish on my nails slide a bit (not sure if that’s the right word – but it does feel like that!). I am very worried now and would like to go back to the salon and get the polish removed asap. Should I see how things settle down? Does having the polish on longer affect this more? I’ve now read all comments and scoured the internet for more info – but there seem to be so many views. Any thoughts?

  49. Shannon Nelson

    Sounds like maybe you are having an allergic reaction? If it doesn’t get better and you can’t get into a salon to have them removed, use nail polish remover and remove them yourself.

  50. Maci Reveles

    I just got shellac done for the first time yesterday, and it came out real nice. But this morning my tips are all turning red.?? I don’t understand?? As I read your post my manicurist never told me anything about keeping up with then lotion or oils.

  51. Shannon Smyth

    Hi Marci, yes you need to apply a cuticle oil daily. Just a small drop and massage into your cuticle area. This is supposed to help prevent your nails from becoming brittle.

  52. Melissa

    I have been getting shellac for months now, no reaction, nothing, just nice nails! And I don’t use oil….maybe that’s what’s causing all the problems for you? My nails are not brittle…
    The French stains after a week usually for me,I figured it was from scratching my face, looks like my foundation. But not enough to notice! I <3 shellac! :)

  53. Shannon Smyth

    So happy it is working for you Melissa! I wish I could wear it because I love the look of it!

  54. Shipra

    I love to hear peoples’ opinions about Shellac! <3

  55. Allison @neversaydiebeauty

    Docs say that the radiation definitely builds up over time. To mitigate that fact, use sunscreen on your hands before curing, or wear fingerless gloves, or use an LED bulb to cure or just air dry. I stopped because it was ruining my nails and I have enough sun damage on my hands without getting more radiation.

  56. Shannon Smyth

    The hard part about the sunscreen is that I was told you can’t wear sunscreen on your hands because whatever ingredients are in it, affects the way the shellac cures. :/

  57. Sheri Brockington

    I forgot to mention I always wear rubber gloves when doing chores

  58. Gordana

    The polish I think you are refer in to Shannon is called CND Vinulyx. I am also an Esthetician and I myself didn’t love the shellac for the same reason that my nails became terribly weak
    After the treatment. I love the Vinulyx and it literally dries to a rock hard nail in 8 min. I timed it
    Lol
    It doesn’t last as long but a week is a good enough time for me. :)

  59. Shannon Smyth

    Hi Gordana, this post was written when it was the original CND shellac a few years ago. I’ve heard people mention Vinulyx and I’ve wondered about it, maybe I won’t have the same experience!

  60. Steph

    Sorry, as a nail tech, I’ve got to comment. First, Shellac will come off with plain acetone. You can soak in a little glass dish or make your own wraps with cotton and foil. If your nails are dry, do an oil treatment and buff it into the nail. your hands are not in a UV lamp long enough to cause any more exposure than the sun would. It’s only a 36 watt lamp, not a tanning bed. Also, most of us nail techs are moving to LED lamps to cure the nails anyway. If your nail tech is roughing up your nail instead of just removing the shine, you will have a thinning of the nail, and more dryness. It’s the fools not the tools folks.

  61. Steph

    Oh yes, and OPI Gelcolor is wayyyyyy better

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