The Rx: The Truth About Shellac Manicures

October 04, 2012

Shellac Manicure

Your polish dries in minutes, resists chipping and lasts for two weeks. Can something this good be good for you?

A shellac manicure—billed as one that’s good for your nails—looks just like a regular polish manicure but is formed from a photo cured polymer similar to the material used for dental bonding and gel nails. The process takes place in a nail salon and includes several steps: application of the gel in a semi liquid form, then minutes spent under a UV light after each coat. The film physically thickens into a perfectly smooth and shiny surface that strengthens the nail and can hide underlying nail deformities. No additional drying is needed and the surface doesn’t pit or dent.

However, there are several dermatologic considerations:

    • Care should be taken to shield the eyes from exposure to the UV light used to “cure” (harden) the nails.  The wavelength used is damaging to the lutein pigment in the back of the eye and can lead to macular degeneration.  This is mostly an issue for the nail technicians who may be repeatedly exposed.

    • Although the UV lamp exposure is short, there are concerns about UV light leading to skin cancer and so I recommend applying a sunscreen to the back of the hands and fingers prior to exposure or using a fingerless glove to protect the backs of the hands.

    • Contact dermatitis is a possibility in people who are allergic to the polymer.

    • Removal of the product requires soaking the covered nail with harsh solvents, such as acetone, which can dehydrate the nail plate.

  • Gel enhancement products can shrink up to 20%, producing a torque on the nail bed that results in a lifted and cracked nail plate.

People I’ve spoken to mention that their nails can feel tight after the manicure. This is because the polymer can shrink. Others complain that the shellac can be difficult to remove after their second manicure, requiring extended soaking. This occurs because nails get increasingly drier and rougher with exposure to acetone, so the shellac gets into the grooves in the nail and adheres more efficiently, making it harder to remove.

My suggestion is to reserve shellac for special occasions or for vacations when you will not be able to get a manicure and don't want to have chipped nails, instead of making it a bi-weekly occurrence.

According to cosmetics industry experts, research is under way to develop a product that doesn't require the 10- minute acetone soak for removal. They are also looking into the use of LED lamps to cure the polish, which will not have the same health concerns as UV rays.


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