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Nail Polish Vs. Nail Lacquer

by Gabbi

Keeping your nails shiny and chip-free is an important part of any manicure, whether it is done at home or in the salon. Part of keeping your nails glossy and free of flakes is choosing the right products you use to color your nails.

While it may seem like nail polish, gel polish, or acrylics are the only options, there are variations within each category that can provide you with the specific manicure results you are looking for.

Within the nail polish category, you can often find products labeled as polish or lacquer. Although there are many similarities between the two, slight formula variations can offer you different results. Nail polish is the most common nail color to use and is often the go-to choice for many at-home manicures.

So, nail polish vs. nail lacquer – what’s the difference? While often used to refer to the same product, there are a few slight differences between nail polishes and nail lacquers. With a thicker consistency and a longer lasting wear, nail lacquers are going to be the more durable option, with nail polish having a wider variety of colors to choose from.

Below, we’ll discuss the differences between nail polish and nail lacquer, the benefits of each formula, and how to choose which option is the best one for your nails.

Is There A Difference Between Nail Lacquer And Nail Polish?

Although they are similar, there is a difference between nail lacquer and nail polish. Both formulas coat the nails evenly to add color and are offered in a variety of shades and finishes.

There is a slight difference in the formula, attributing to how they each perform on the nails. Neither requires a UV light to cure the product, and they can both be applied directly to the natural nail.

While all nail color is a form of lacquer, actual nail lacquers are typically more durable than regular polish. They have a thicker consistency and are more resistant to chipping and peeling.

Nail Polish Benefits

Nail polish is the most commonly used nail product and is essentially a varnish to add color to the nails while also adding shine.

It is available in a wide array of colors and finishes, to suit whatever style, trend, or look you are going for. Nail polish adds a high shine to the nails to keep them looking healthy.

Nail polish will also offer some protection to the natural nails by coating the nail bed in a layer of product.

It does not require any extra lamps or special process to dry the product once it has been applied. Nail polish is often a thin formula, so you can add multiple layers to reach the desired color and opacity you are looking for.

The process for removing nail polish is easy and mess-free, only requiring an acetone remover to rid the nails of the color. It dries quickly and can last for several days before it begins to chip or flake.

Nail Lacquer Benefits

As opposed to the thin consistency of nail polish, nail lacquer will have a thicker consistency. The texture will be able to offer more protection to the natural nail to keep the nails feeling strong. The thicker consistency also means the color is more durable and less likely to chip or flake during its wear time.

Nail lacquer is longer lasting than typical nail polish as well. It is also meant to provide a high shine to the nails and is available in a wide variety of colors and finishes. Similar to nail polish, it dries without needing any additional lamps or products for a smooth finish.

The removal process for nail lacquer is also easy and mess-free. It can be thoroughly removed by an acetone remover. The formula for nail lacquer is also solvent-based, and it contains many thickeners and resins to make the product distribute evenly and with the same consistency across the nail bed.

It can often be considered as a 2-in-1 product, as the high shine and durability of the product offers similar protection and wear to that of a topcoat, without needing the extra step.

Differences Between Nail Polish and Nail Lacquer

While thy have many similarities, there are a few difference between nail polish and nail lacquer that can determine which type of product works best for you and your nails. Often, a nail color will include both “polish” and “lacquer” in their name, and at times also include “varnish.”

Nail polish is thinner, so it is more likely to chip easily. Nail lacquer, on the other hand, is thicker which means the product can last for a longer period of wear time without chipping.  Along with being thicker, though, it can mean that a nail lacquer takes longer to completely dry than a thinner nail polish.

Both are offered in a variety of shades, but nail polish may have a larger selection as it is the more common nail color choice. It can also include different bold and trendy shades, not available with a lacquer.

With nail lacquer being a 2-in-1 for a topcoat, you do not always need to do all the additional steps to protect the nail and the color wear time, unlike with a thin nail polish.

Best Application Techniques For Nail Polish or Lacquer

For the best application method, to create salon-worthy results at home, ensure the nail beds are free of any extra color or debris. Start by applying a base coat to the nail as the first layer of product.

The base coat is going to smooth out the nail beds and prep them for the polish to be applied on top. It will also help the polish stick to your nails, while also preventing the color from staining your natural nail bed.

After the base coat is applied, you can paint on the first layer of nail color. With nail polishes, the thinner consistency can require several coats to appear opaque and even, especially with lighter shades.

At least two layers are recommended to provide a streak-free and solid finish. With the thicker consistency of the nail lacquer, you may find one coat of color is enough, especially with darker colors.

Once you have reached the desired opacity and color of your nail treatment, finish it off by applying a topcoat. This is going to steal in the color and provide additional shine to the nail.

A topcoat works to protect the nail color and helps to prevent against chipping. It also works to extend the wear time of the nail color and to keep the nails looking glossy until the polish is removed.

When applying the various steps of your manicure, it helps to let the coats dry in between layers to avoid the polish becoming clumpy.

To further achieve a salon-worthy application, apply the color with a strip of polish going down the middle of the nail first, starting at the base of the nail and working upwards in a single stroke. Then apply a stripe of color on each side, starting from the base and working up.

It is important to wait until the nail color is completely dry before resuming your regular activities, to avoid chips, smudges, and streaks from appearing in the polish.

Here’s a great tutorial from O.P.I themselves on YouTube!

Which One Is Best For You?

Nail polish and nail lacquer are both similar and are often used interchangeably. What you are looking for and how you want your nails to look will determine which color is the best option for your nails. If your nails a prone to chipping, a lacquer may be a better option.

Also, if you find your nail beds are on the thinner side or are sensitive from frequent gel or acrylic manicures, a nail lacquer will offer added protection to your delicate nails. 

If you like to switch your nail color often, a nail polish will have more variety in colors and an easy removal process to frequently switch out the colors or design.

A nail polish also has a thinner consistency, if you find that adding color to your nails can often look heavy. If you want to use as minimal steps as possible when painting your nails, a nail lacquer instead may be the best option.


Even though both products seem similar, the few changes between the formulas are significant enough to provide different results with your manicures. Nail lacquers offer a thicker, more opaque color payoff that has a durable quality to it which can protect sensitive nails.

While nail polish also offers some protection, the thinner formula often requires multiple coats for the desired color to be achieved. Within each of these categories, there is a wide variety of color and finishes to choose from to achieve your desired nail color.

Being the most popular type of nail color, nail polish often has more options and is easier to find. However, both products provide an easy, at home option for protected and colorful nails.

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