It’s a typical Friday evening inside the sleek black-and-white space of buzzy Toronto nail salon Tips Nail Bar. Nail technicians are lined up as far as the eye can see, tending to the talons of the city’s influencers and beauty and fashion elite, including high-powered defense attorney Marie Henein and Toronto Fashion Incubator executive director Susan Langdon. Many of the women here are regulars, popping in for their standing bi-monthly long-wear polish update, a service that makes up roughly 80 per cent of Tips’ business. After they methodically choose polish colours—a painstaking process, since this manicure will last them for the next two weeks, at least—manicurists wrap the women’s nails with acetone-soaked cotton and foil to remove the remnants of their last application. The saying, “Once you Shellac, you never go back” comes to mind, and it’s pretty safe to say that these women are hooked. “Women want easy,” says Tips founder and pro nail artist, Leeanne Colley, explaining the popularity of long-wear polish, including gels and polish hybrids. “We want to have our manicure done, and always have it look shiny and glossy.”
Such is the appeal of CND’s Shellac, which has become something of a catch-all term for long-wear polish services. But Shellac isn’t a gel or a polish, says CND co-founder and style director Jan Arnold, but rather a “power polish,” because it combines properties of both a gel and a traditional nail polish. Since it first came on the scene in May of 2010, with its promise of 14-plus-day wear and no dry time, Shellac has single-handedly changed the way women do their nails.
For the uninitiated, Shellac is a polish system comprising a base coat, colour, and topcoat, which is cured to the nail with an LED lamp. The polish stays on, essentially unchipped until you remove it, which usually requires a return trip to the salon and the aforementioned five-minute acetone removal process. That the manicure keeps its colour and shine intact for a full two weeks is no small feat, and that speaks to the product’s intensive five-year development process and technology that has roots in aerospace polymer coatings. “We take nails seriously,” says Arnold, jokingly. “It’s not rocket science, but it’s close!”
As Arnold tells it, it took CND’s research and development team, headed by VP Dave Valia, a good three-and-a-half years to create a polish system that would provide mirror-like shine and long wear, and that wouldn’t damage the nail. The first iteration, however, required 30 minutes of removal time, which wouldn’t cut it for time-pressed manicure devotees, so the brand spent another two years perfecting the removal process. “[Shellac] is designed for a woman who probably gets regular manicures, and who doesn’t want to sit in the chair for more than 35 or 45 minutes,” says Arnold. The final product ultimately required 10 minutes to remove, courtesy of tiny tunnels in the coating created by solvents that allow acetone to penetrate to the base layer and release the polish. With the recent launch of an express topcoat, the brand has since cut removal time down to five minutes. As well, its newest LED lamps use targeted light systems that focus only on the nail and not on the hand, to allay consumer concern over exposure to UV rays (which pose only a moderate risk at best).
CND is continually evolving the technology—the 2013 launch of Vinylux, a seven-day-wear nail polish for more frequent colour changes, being a prime example—and Arnold’s hope is to make the salon application and removal process even more efficient in the future. “In this day and age, time is currency,” she says. And having one’s nails done is now as essential to women’s beauty regimens as wearing lipstick or styling one’s hair. “Women need to have their manicures,” says Tips’ Colley. “It’s almost like you’re not finished if you don’t have your manicure.”
Nail Polish: A History