How to do a Shellac manicure

Updated April 13, 2018

Shellac is nail colour that applies like a polish but is as shiny, long-lasting and non-chipping as a gel. Unlike gels, there's no damage to nails, and Shellac is also much easier and quicker to remove, leaving nails looking healthy and natural. Removing all old polish in preparation is important as the top nail layer isn't roughened in a Shellac manicure. Shellac nail colour dries quickly and lasts for 2 weeks. It's produced by CND.


Remove existing nail polish using nail polish remover and cotton pads. File nails to desired length and shape with a nail file. For a smooth finish and to help prevent splitting, file nails in one direction only.

Soak hands in a bowl of warm water for 5 minutes to soften cuticles. Dry hands thoroughly, then gently push back cuticles with a cuticle stick. Remove any remaining traces of oil from nail beds with an application of nail polish remover.

Apply Shellac base coat to nails on one hand thinly. Dry nails in a UV light nail dryer for 10 seconds, then apply base coat to the other hand and dry nails.

Apply a Shellac colour coat, thin enough for the colour to be semi-transparent if using an opaque colour. Dry nails for 2 minutes under the UV light dryer, then apply a second coat and dry nails for 2 minutes again. The colour should now be opaque.

Apply Shellac top coat in a thin layer and dry nails for 2 minutes in a UV light nail dryer. Using isopropyl alcohol and a cotton pad, clean any sticky residue from the top layer.

To care for your Shellac nails, use nail and cuticle oil regularly and protect your hands with rubber gloves when performing household tasks. Avoid using your nails to open cans or jars.


For even coverage, apply Shellac in smooth strokes from cuticle to tip. Condition your nails by using cuticle and nail oil for several days before your manicure. This helps keep your nails flexible.


Avoid cutting or damaging your cuticles as this can cause infection. UV light causes aging and skin cancer. To protect your skin, apply a high-factor, water-resistant sunscreen before treatment.

Things You'll Need

  • Nail polish remover
  • Cotton pads
  • Nail file
  • Cuticle stick
  • Shellac base coat
  • UV light nail dryer
  • Shellac colour coat
  • Shellac top coat
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Nail and cuticle oil
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About the Author

A graduate of Leeds University, Jenny Green completed Master of Arts in English literature in 1998 and has been writing about travel, gardening, science and pets since 2007. Green's work appears in Diva, Whole Life Times, Listverse, Earthtimes, Lamplight, Stupefying Stories and other websites and magazines.