is shellac vegan?

The Truth About Shellac

There’s a feeling of relief knowing you don’t have to worry about painting (then smudging) your nails when you have gel or shellac.

Once the product is cured you’re free to dig around for those keys or go to the bathroom without ruining your newly adorned phalanges.

Shellac continues to grow in popularity and it’s understandable why. Unlike gel, Shellac is half polish half gel, it’s apparently kinder to the natural nails, thinner and easier to remove than gel.

According to the CND website, a Shellac manicure is a patented “formulation of solvents, monomers, and polymers” that are “hypo-allergenic…containing no formaldehyde, toluene, or DBP.” There’s no drying time and you can expect a “14 Day Wear Mirror Finish”.

I wanted to do some further research and saw lots of questions asking if Shellac was vegan so delved into it further.

What is Shellac?

shellac (n.) [1]

also shell lac, 1713, from shell (n.) + lac. Translates French laque en écailles “lac in thin plates.” Commercially, lac was considered as stick lac (still on the twigs, insects and all), seed-lac (resin without the twigs and insects, partly processed), and fully processed plates of shell lac.

In eastern regions of India where forests are plentiful, a variety of lac can be made depending on the host trees. The female lac bugs, Laccifer lacca, grow to accommodate her eggs, making secretions along the new growth of the host tree.[2]

As she grows the amount of resin and wax increases. Larva emerge and settle on the new growth of the host tree. Once fixed into position they secrete products that make up lac resin. This becomes the protective cocoon-type hard casing for the larva to mature – looks wise, they’re very similar to crystallised sugar sticks used for hot drinks.

After 14 weeks the larva hatch and begin a new life cycle of around 6 months, repeating the process before it dies.

The branches are scraped to remove the resin cases. This is called stick lac, it contains the dead insects and debris from the trees. Once cleaned it becomes the now named seed lac.

Shellac can be made from the seed lac both by hand and machine.

When mixed with water and crushed with the feet, this breaks open the pods releasing the red dye, this is then used in textiles, printing and the food industry.

Alternatively the seed lac can be opened via a mechanical drum and then left to dry.

The process of creating shellac hasn’t changed much since the 1930’s. The seed lac is put into a cloth and twisted over heat. This melts the seed lac which is forced out through the bag, this is then scraped and left to cool on a tin plate.

Once cooled these resin discs now form shellac which is used for a number of projects to create a high shine finish.

In the food industry, shellac can be used in chocolate to create a glaze over fruits and nuts.

This insect is in the same superfamily as the insect from which cochineal is obtained. [3]

Cochineal bugs are dried and crushed for their red colouring, to be used in cosmetics and food, although a lot of food companies now use beetroot juice to substitue the red colour.

So the important question is: does CND Shellac contain this Laccifer lacca bug resin?

The answer appears to be no.

The word “shellac” is now used to describe any hard shiny surface, like on a wood flooring or cabinet. It’s very similar to when we say we’re getting the “Hoover” out, or “hoovering” for any kind of vacuum cleaner, Hoover brand or not.

Thankfully it appears CND have simply adopted the term Shellac to describe the high-shine and durability of their products, similar to when you want to shellac a wooden table. It creates a long-lasting shine and protection which is what they feel their nail products embody.

Despite using the term they don’t actually use the original shellac in their products, so they don’t contain the beetles or secretions of actual Shellac.

So just to reiterate: Shellac and CND Shellac aren’t the same thing

Phew, wipes brow.

However it does appear that original shellac (from bug secretions and resin) is still used in the food industry – particular confectionary so read your labels.




[1] Origins of words Online Etymology Dictionary

[2] “Shellac Origins and Manufacture”

[3] Wikipedia – the term Shellac 

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