Q&A: Can Shellac damage your nails?

Q: Can Shellac (and other soak-off hybrid gels) damage your nails?

A: Yes. Hybrid soak-off gels (e.g. Shellac, Gelish, Axxium) are less damaging than the old style long-lasting treatments which needed to be filed off for removal (often taking a chunk of your natural nail with it), but a recent study found that they still caused significant weakness, thinning and brittleness. In one measurement, the nail was measured to be about 50% thinner!

Whether it’s the chemicals in the polish, or the application/removal process that damages the nail is unknown. This is something to be aware of, since gel polishes are often seen as good for nails. Thin-nailed girls – be careful! One option that seems to be getting good reviews though, is Bio Sculpture gel.

A F Chen, S M Chimento, S Hu, M Sanchez, M Zaiac and A Tosti. Nail damage from gel polish manicure. J Cosmet Dermatol 2012, 11, 27.


    • Anonymous says

      Hi there :)

      Yes I’m afraid that shellac does unfortunately damage your nails. I wore it continuously for over 2 years getting it done every 2-3weeks in the same salon. For 2 years I had no problems but after that I notices that my shellac polish was chipping after only a few days (as my nails were peeling at the tips) and also the were just breaking & were extremely thin (they had not been this way in the past b4 shellac) The nail technician said that it was best that I take a break from shellac and use a product called Nail Tek for two months which I have been using for only 5 days so no major difference to be seen at tfe moment. But I just wanted to let ppl know that long term use of shellac does damage your nails. The salon I go to is now recommending to it’s clients that after every 3 times you use shellac you should take a break & then go back. Hope this helps people :)

    • Anonymous says

      I have used Shaellac for about 12 weeks and was really pleased with the results but then my nails started to bend at top and the polish crack within a couple of days of application. I have always had good nails pre shellac. I have had shellac removed now for about 2 weeks but nails still thin and keep splitting. I am applying nail strenthening laquer -any additonal advice as to how to improve their strength?

    • says

      Will check out loodie’s blog for strengthening tips. I’ve had weak thin nails all my life and they’re now peeling again. I’d hoped Shellac might be the answer, but apparently not. I hadn’t tried it yet.

    • says

      I totally agree! There are a few where you can paint on top (usually using special polishes) and remove with a non-acetone remover without damaging the colour underneath, but I think I’ll still save gel for holidays away :)

  1. says

    I tried Bio Sculpture gel years ago (nearly 10) before my wedding. I’ve never had any another other salon nail treatment but I chose Bio Sculpture because I thought it would coat my nails and give them a chance to grow a bit before the wedding.
    I went with a natural french look so I was able to paint over them as often as I liked with my regular polish.
    Unfortunately I hadn’t counted on the nail tech filing the hell out of the top surface of my nails first. It took months for my nails to recover/grow out after the gel was removed. I’m pretty sure that level of filing is not standard Bio Sculpture procedure but I’ll never try it again.

    • says

      Oh dear, how scary :( I’ve heard from other people who’ve tried Bio Sculpture that their nails grew back harder and longer under the gel, so it must vary according to the nail tech.

      The one time I’ve been to a salon I was shocked at how rough they were with my nails and cuticles… another reason I prefer to DIY!

    • Anonymous says

      The nail tech that did your bio sculpture was in the wrong. She should NEVER file your natural nail surface in that manner. When you take the course, they tell you to buff as minimal as possible and not at all if you can help it,so you don’t thin/damage the natural nail. They apply vitamin dose and lavender base to boost the health of your nail before and after application.

  2. Orchidstar says

    I have just had my 3rd Shellac treatment (in 3 months) and each time i have soaked the coating off with an acetone product. They remove very quickly and leave my nails in perfect condition each time so i am puzzled by this news?

  3. says

    I use gel all the time. Frequently I use just a base and thin top coat and polish over it. Any polish I found works great and removal has been no big deal. I could take it off and my nails are good as new. The reason I keep it on is that they are brittle and break in half without the added protection and I like them long. But that has been the story my whole life long before gels were even created. You can also use regular nail polish with a gel top coat to seal in the color but I prefer not to because with a little non acetone remover, you can keep the clear base and repaint your nails every day of the week. I guess it depends on the quality of ones nails. The worst thing someone can do is peel them off. Now that ruins your nails and makes them much thinner.

    • says

      I suspect that a lot of the problem is the bit where they peel off the remaining gel with a orange stick. Completely unsubstantiated, just a hunch :P Glad to hear that it works for you!

  4. says

    Thanks for sharing! I got into nail polish after I removed my acrylic nails and saw the horrible aftermath of aggressive drilling and filing. So many people suggested Shellac or gel as something to help me get through the recovery period and I’m so glad I didn’t take their advice! I’m sure each individual has a different experience, but I didn’t have a whole lot of nail left to weaken and I’m glad I didn’t press my luck.

    • says

      There’s definitely a lot of variation in people’s gel experiences :) I’ve heard a lot of acrylic horror stories, but I guess it had a silver lining since it got you into nail polish!

  5. Samantha Jaye says

    I’d had Biosculpture gel on for about 5 years, but suddenly in the last 6 months it was lifting within a week (when I used to get a good 4 weeks wear). I finally gave up on them about 9 months ago and when I removed them I did find that my nails were very weak. My nails had never been super strong to start with – but it was a bit shocking. I don’t know why – after 5 years of having them done at the same place – they wouldn’t wear very well anymore, but I just hunk my own nails had gone so soft underneath that they would peel away from the gel? Anyways, a bit of love, Herome and DIY manis have got them back to full health (and I know have a lacquer stash :) )

  6. Anonymous says

    I had acrylic for years but changed to shellac thinking it was kinder to my nails. They did not do bad at first but now are chipping after a couple of days. I am having it taken off for good this week which is a shame but there weare

  7. Anonymous says

    I had gel nails for a while this summer. They say it lasts for two to three weeks but it really doesn’t because unless you get a neutral color, you can still see the new nail growth. I also noticed that my nails were much thinner and weaker with the gel nails. I think it stems from the filing that they do to apply it and from the acetone that they soak your nails in to remove it. Every time I decided to change colors, I had to go through this process. The filing is supposed to be “light” but if you are doing that over and over again, over time it will make your nails thinner. I think it is better to just buy a good quality nail polish. In the long run, it is still cheaper than the gel polish and it is better for the health of your nails.

  8. Anonymous says

    shellac is a fantastic product it does not damage nails, inproper following of aftercare damages nails, not using solar oil, picking at the product, removing the product at home, follow the nail technicians advice you wont have any problems, anybody wishing to have further information may wish to google doug schoon the scientist behind the product

    • says

      I won’t discuss Doug Schoon’s conflict of interest here, but he also says that the nail technician can weaken the nail during Shellac application/removal if they’re not careful – it may not technically be a problem with the product itself (as far as I know, neither CND nor anyone else has published data on that).

  9. Anonymous says

    unfortunately there are imitations of shellac which could be a reason for a compromise in wearability and possible damage to nails, always look for the CND logo on products being used including the lamp, happy shellacing!

  10. Anonymous says

    When I 1st started using normal nail polish I was always told never to cover the nail completely as it would make it weak. With these gel applications there is never a space for your nail ti “breathe”

  11. Anonymous says

    I had shellac done on my nails about 5 months ago. The result looked great but has greatly weakened my nails. I did not have the shellac removed, I let it grow out.

  12. Anonymous says

    I tried Shellac last year after being talked into it. At first I was thrilled the shellac performed as I was promised. But then when it was removed the solution burnt my fingers and was told ‘next time’ she would just wrap the nail. Shellac was applied again and I was pleased, but then to my horror, 4 of my nails lifted and have not reattached. The salon lady then confessed to me she wouldn’t do it again either, because the same thing happened to her. So now what can I do? Sylvia

  13. Anonymous says

    I just had shellac done for the first time last wednesday. In less then a week, my polish started peeling from the cutical. When I peeld it off all the way, my nail was dry, damaged, brittle; when I had strong nails to begin with. Now they are bad, much like if I had artificial nails on. I am not pleaded and will neber do this again.

    • Anonymous says

      IF it has peeled from the cuticle it was never put on right in the first place…were you given a after care sheet,cuticle oil should be applied daily and you should never,never peel, pull the gel’s off this will damage the nail….dont go to a cheap nail salon using cheap products who havent been been taught to use the product…gel and shellac should only be wrapped to remove never soaked in acetone.

  14. says

    Bio Sculpture is no better for your nails then any other gel. It is actually closer to acrylic in chemical make up….any soak off gel is. Take a look at the ingredients in Bio gel compared to acrylic….same stuff. It is the nail tech, or improper removal that ruins your nails.

    • says

      I don’t think it’s entirely an ingredients game – from my understanding, gels are more flexible than acrylics, which may have some implications in terms of nail growth/shock absorption. But yes, I definitely think improper removal is one of the main reasons people think acrylics are more damaging than soak-off systems, and soak-off systems are inherently less affected by human error.

  15. Anonymous says

    I have had about 4 shellac applications since summer. I thought I had found the perfect product. Now my nails feel weaker than before. They bend at tips and peel off. They did this before but seem more flimsy then ever. I am taking a brake and just using for special occasions. I am very hard on nails. Polish comes off on certain fingers within days and thought I had finally found the best product. So bummed. my sister also tried it a few times and her nails split on side. She will no longer use.

  16. says

    I cannot believe what people talking about Shellac. I have been doing Shellac for a year now and I do it for myself too. I have never had any problems with my own nails but had problems with my clients nails. They remove their Shellac at home god knows how but sometimes I realized that they damage their nails with removing Shellac with NO PROFESSIONAL WAY AT ALL. If Shellac done by a professional step by step and the client doesnt have damaged nails it must stay on the nail plate. Shellac is NOT FOR EVERYBODY !!!! Your nails must be healthy otherwise you wont have the perfect result and its not the therapist fault.

  17. Anonymous says

    I have strong nails that grow fast. I have gotten the shellac nails every two weeks for two months. I am going to have it taken off and go back to the regular polish. Will I have damage to my nials now?

  18. Anonymous says

    I found out. Never again. My nails ere in perfect shape when I statred the shellac nails two months ago. NOt now. Two are rally bad. It will take months to get them back whre they were. Big mistake. I shuld have left well enough alone.

  19. Anonymous says

    Me and one of my friends both have our own shellac systems and use them alot. we then tried having acrylics on but found that within a day or 2 they simply pinged off. unlike acrylics that usually last weeks. the nails were not damaged underneath. i wonder if shellac changes the nail bed?

    • Anonymous says

      I had shellac for 2 months. Loved them. They used a little grinder. Well the last time two of fingers hurt when they did it. I had mine taken off and what used to be thick long perfect natural nails is damaged. ridges, thin and shaped different. I am going to hope I get the ones back I had and never again.

  20. says

    Shellac does not cause the nail to become brittle or thin. There is no buffing to the natural nail before application or after removal. The only thing that may interfere with the nail is the acetone that is used for removal. To avoid this from effecting the nail and dehydrating it is to use CND Solar Oil.

    • Anonymous says

      The Shellac nails will do damage to nails. I hear it every day and I found out. Never again. It will take me months to get my nice clear , strong , nails back. They do file, buff , and grind. The damage is when it is taken off.

  21. Anonymous says

    All the filing, grinding to take off the old shellac will ruin nails that have been strong and healthy. I have seen this happen to most. Even after only 6 times of it.

  22. Kristin says

    As a licensed cosmetologist, it is NOT the shellac that is doing damage to your nails. It is how it is being taken off and what you are doing to your nails. Also, weak nails also happen when your diet is poor, so you should also try taking a look at that ladies!

    Regular nail polish can harm your nails when you take it off just like gel can! I change my polish usually twice a week and I mostly use straight up acetone. Acetone is what kills the nails, my nails are always broken and peeling, but that is the price you will pay when you use that product. You should be moisturizing your nails a few times daily if you use acetone, buying vitamin E capsules, breaking them open, and rubbing them on your nails and cuticles is a very good and cheap way to put that moisture back into your nails.

    People need to stop saying that shellac itself is damaging, it’s not. It’s the acetone.

    A gel mani should never require someone to file your nail bed down and if they insist you should stop the service. Anything more than a light buffing with something like a 4 sided buffer is a no no. If people have issues with peeling, they either has moisture on their nails(they need to be DRY, not just washed and wiped off with a towel, DRY) and the coats of polish need to be THIN. If you have thick coats, it will peel. If your nails have moisture, they will peel off.

  23. Anonymous says

    I use only the Shellac top coat on my nails and I apply it myself.
    I use a regular base cost, regular nail polish color and a shellac topcoat. I wear UV blocking gloves prior to using the UV lamp and I use cuticle oil nightly.
    When I remove the nail polish, I allow the natural nail time off (one to two days) before adding new polish to my nails.
    It’s a personal choice, and I feel this is, for me, the safest route to ensure healthy nails.
    I feel because the UV-activated polishes require pure acetone to remove, it’s essential to replenish your nails with moisture as the acetone robs your nail of moisture, you must give it back, routinely. I hope this helps.

  24. says

    Great thinking ! .A good spot to get Shellac kit is Runway Professional and the nail polishes free from harmful chemicals , i strongly recommend to visit that site , you can save big amount by doing it yourself at home.

    - Jane

  25. says

    Thank you for posting this article. I would like to point out that if your gel is being removed by filing then your nail technician is either removing it incorrectly or it’s not shellac!

  26. says

    Thank you for posting this article. I would like to point out that if your gel is being removed by filing then your nail technician is either removing it incorrectly or it’s not shellac!

  27. Anonymous says

    I only used shellac once a few months ago. I peeled it off after a couple of weeks and ever since my nails have been splitting and chipping, its awful! I did love the shellac, but my.poor nails……

  28. says

    ALL Gel or Gel-Hybrid products will ruin natural nails period! It doesn’t matter what brand. I have been a nail Technician for 23 years and follow the CND instructions exactly.

    Only one product, LCN has told the truth about gels damaging nails, and recommends not doing any type of gels more than a few times a year –and only for a special occasion -like a vacation – for example where you need extended wear.

    Every client has damaged nails from every gel-type product I have seen and used.

    It’s obvious that this article is an advertisement for Bio Sculpture. Do not believe that gel-type products will not ruin nails.

    After nail damage, it will take 6 mos for nails to grow out.

  29. Elaine says

    I think it is the removal process alone. Since I have been using at-home gel polish (Red Carpet and Sally Hansen brands) my nails are longer and the nail is attached closer to the tip of my finger. I think that the weakness of my own nails was helping to pull the nail away (mild oncholysis) from the skin near the tips before they were strengthened by the gels. I was wearing clear the first few weeks, then switched to an opaque once my nails were long enough. Boy was I surprised at how nice my nails looked after I removed the opaque layer a couple of weeks later! I had always been jealous of women with nice magazine nails that only separate near the fingertip. Now I have those nice nails myself (too bad about the scarred, wrinkly, veined old hands they are attached to).

    I suppose the improvement in oncholysis could be entirely incidental but my nails have stayed nice since and I will keep wearing the gels regardless. However, definitely I have noticed that if I am impatient removing the gel I can peel away some of the top layer of my nail by accident. That would thin the nails pretty quickly since I think that it would only take a couple of times in the same spot to reduce the thickness by half. If I am patient and wait for the gel polish to fall off into the acetone by itself there is no problem. I now wear a clear gel base and just use regular nail polish on top for colour. Nail polish for artificial nails removes the regular polish and leaves the gel behind so I can change colours as often as I want.

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