Nail Lacquer vs Nail Polish: What’s The Difference?

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You’ve probably seen nail products in department stores and wondered how nail lacquer vs nail polish differ. Or, perhaps you think that nail lacquer and nail polish are the same thing, right? Wrong!

You might have heard nail polish (or nail varnish) and nail lacquer used interchangeably, but there is actually a difference. Before heading to the nail salon, it’s important to know the difference between the two.


Nail polish vs nail lacquers: what's the difference?


Shortly put, nail lacquer is a liquid that gives your nails an intense color with multiple coats. Nail polish (not to be confused with nail tints) is a more traditional manicure option and comes in many different colors. Below, we’ll discuss what makes these two products so different from each other in more detail!


What Traditional Nail Polish Is


Nail polish originated in China and has dated back as early as 3000 BCE. During the Ming Dynasty, nail polish was made from a mixture of beeswax, egg whites, vegetable dyes, and gelatin.

Nail polish consists of a film-forming polymer that has been dissolved in organic solvent such as a solution of nitrocellulose in butyl acetate or ethyl acetate.

There are different types of nail polish that serve their own purpose: a base coat is a clear or a milky-colored nail product that is applied as a base on the surface of the nail before applying colored nail polish. Its benefits include restoring moisture to the nail beds and to make the nail polish stick. 

A top coat, on the other hand, is another clear-colored formula that is specifically used after applying colored nail polish. It serves as a “barrier” for the colored polish, preventing it from chipping and peeling. It can also make the colored polish look shinier with a glossy finish.

Gel polish is another type of nail polish that is thick in consistency but does not dry. Therefore, it need to be cured under a UV lamp so that the polish locks in, making it hard and chip-resistant. With the proper care, gel nail polish can last anywhere from 2 weeks up to a month, sometimes even more.

It also needs to be soaked in pure acetone (nail polish remover) for fifteen minutes to remove.


What Nail Lacquer Is


Nail lacquers, also known as nail varnish, have a thicker consistency compared to nail polish, which allows them to be more chip-resistant, durable and long-wearing.

They contain solvents like ethyl acetate that provide a liquid base with varnish, as well as thickeners and resins to make sure that color particles are distributed evenly and that the lacquer will really stick to the nails.

It’s a fast-drying nail varnish that doesn’t need to be cured under UV or LED light, which makes it quicker to apply than regular nail polish. Nail lacquer is also known as “2-in-1 nail color” because it has both nail color and topcoat in one bottle. 


Is Gel Polish The Same As Nail Lacquer?


Although both have thick consistencies, the biggest difference between the two is that gel manicure needs a UV lamp or UV light to be able to dry, while nail lacquer does not.

The dry time for nail lacquers can be as quick as 7-10 minutes, while the drying process for gel nails can be 2 minutes or less, thanks to UV lamps, which makes them chip resistant. 


Notable Nail Lacquer & Nail Polish Brands

1. OPI


OPI nail lacquer in bubble bath

Get this on Ulta


If you’re looking for the best nail lacquer on the market, check out OPI. The OPI Nail Lacquer is a fast-drying formula that provides up to 7 days of wear and has a whopping (!!!) 200+ unique shades to choose from. Such a wide range of colors!

Although you don’t necessarily need a top and base coat to use a nail lacquer, OPI still recommends using them to make your manicure last longer. 




ORLY breathable nail polish treatment

Get this on Target (with different colors too!)


ORLY boasts a range of cruelty-free and vegan nail colors. They’re also known for their “breathable technology” nail polishes, which allow moisture and oxygen to reach the natural nail.

This is technology is to keep up with Muslim cleansing practices, where water must reach the natural nails. Therefore, their breathable nail polishes are halal.


3. Sally Hansen


Sally Hansen good kind pure nail polish

Get this on Target | Ulta(with different colors too!)


Sally Hansen is a cult favorite among women and nail techs. The brand’s Good. Kind. Pure. plant-based and vegan nail polish collection has over 30 shades inspired by nature, and has become a favorite among cruelty-free consumers,

The nail color also comes with 100% natural, plant-based brush bristles for better application. Probably the best thing about this collection is that their nail polish was formulated without harmful ingredients like formaldehyde, formaldehyde resin, xylene, acetone, phthalates, camphor, paraben, sulfate, as well as animal-derived ingredients.




Although there is a difference between nail polish vs nail lacquer, it’s not so huge that it would dramatically change your life, or your manicure routine for that matter. The main difference is in how long each of the nail products last n your nails.

Nail lacquers are great if you’re into long-wearing nail color, as they’re durable and chip-resistant up to 7 days, and much cheaper than getting gel nails done at the salon. However, if you like to switch up your nail game once a week or once every few days, it’s best to stick with regular nail polish or your regular manicure, as traditional nail polish typically lasts only 2-3 days.

There are various brands to choose from, all of them have their own unique formulas and shades worth trying out! If you’d like to get to know more, try asking your favorite nail technician: they’ll be happy to explain the wonders of different nail polish. 

We hope your found this guide on nail lacquer vs nail polish helpful! If you’re looking for nail designs and nail inspiration, check the posts down below.


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