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Nail Polish vs Nail Lacquer [What Is The Difference?]

Has your nail technician ever asked you if you prefer nail lacquer to nail varnish? Have you ever said “yes” to either or when, let’s be honest, you were not really sure of the difference? Because, hey, they both look great, right? Right! But today, we are going to set the record straight. Here is all you need to know.

So, what is the difference between nail polish and nail lacquer? Nail polish is a thin varnish that is brushed onto the nails to apply color, make them glossy or both. Nail Lacquer, on the other hand, is much thicker and more resistant than nail varnish and tends to last much longer. However, it is similarly used to apply color and shine.

No matter which one you choose, you will always end up with a pop of color and a high-gloss finish.

But they are not the same, even if we often use the terms nail polish and nail lacquer interchangeably. 

The truth is, every self-proclaimed nail pro should still know the differences between these two crucial nail products, even if they are, at times, subtle. 

So keep reading as we reveal the difference between nail polish and nail lacquer.

What is Nail Polish?

Nail polish is a thin varnish that is brushed onto the fingernails or toenails to apply color, make them glossy or both. 

Nail polish is often used for adding color and decorating the nails. 

Nail polish is also on the thinner side, though not runny by any means. Though nail polish is a thinner consistency, it can be applied in layers to achieve a thick coating on the nails. 

Due to its thin consistency, nail polish will begin to form microscopic cracks within a few days of application to the nails. 

These cracks can be reinforced using an extra layer of topcoat, which is another type of nail polish. 

Topcoat is a clear formula that is applied after colored nail polish.

It acts as a final protective barrier to the colored nail polish underneath. 

Similarly, a base coat is another clear nail polish formula that is applied to bare nails before the colored nail polish. 

Basecoat helps protect the natural nail, often helping nail polish stick better.

What Is Nail Lacquer?

Nail lacquer is a thick varnish that is brushed onto the fingernails or toenails to apply color, make them glossy or both. 

Nail lacquer, while it is available in many colors, is favored for its longer-lasting formulation. 

Its thickness also adds a layer of protection, literally and figuratively! 

Lacquers also tend to dry quickly after application to the nails, leaving a glossy finish. 

Nail lacquer is also more resistant to chips and cracks because of its thickness. 

This extra bit of thickness can also help strengthen nails, as it gives them a protective coating to rest under. 

Nail lacquer contains solvents like ethyl acetate, a liquid that helps nail products adhere to the surface of the nails, and thickeners that make extra sure that pigment particles are mixed evenly. 

These ingredients work hard to ensure that nail lacquer really sticks to your nails and has a vibrant, long-lasting color. 

While nail lacquer is thicker, it does not need to be cured under U.V. light. 

Nail lacquer is formulated to air dry within a few minutes and often does double duty as a “2-in-1” nail product with special formulations that include topcoat, for example.

How Are Nail Polish and Nail Lacquer Similar?

Nail polish and nail lacquer are both nail products that are applied to bare nails in thin layers to achieve shine and a pop of color. 

They Have An Almost Identical Ingredient List

Nail polish and nail lacquer are very similar in how they are formulated.

They both contain solvents, resins, and alcohols that aid in drying and boost durability.

The Colors, Shades, and Finishes are Endless

Do you love shimmery nail polish? Micro-glitter? A mix between micro-glitter and iridescent nail polish?

How about that trendy holographic finish?

Nail polish and nail lacquer both come in a wide variety of colors and finishes and can be combined with top coats, base coats, matte coats, and nail art.

Both nail polish and nail lacquer can be applied in multiple coats, mixing and matching as needed.

Both types of nail varnish also have brand-specific base coats and top coats that are compatible with their respective formulations. 

Both Resistant To Many Day-to-Day Situations

Nail polish and nail lacquer are resistant to everyday wear and tear, including water, soap, and most cleaning products.

Most nail polishes and nail lacquers will not love coming into contact with some of the more abrasive or intense cleaning products.

The chemicals in these products can react with already dry nail polish and nail lacquer, causing it to dissolve and peel.

Added Benefits Beyond Making Your Nails Look Glamorous

Many nail polishes and nail lacquers are enriched with ingredients that strengthen the nails and protect them from anything they may come into contact with. 

Both Best Removed Using Nail Polish Remover or Acetone

Pouring a few drops of nail polish remover or acetone onto a cotton ball and gently wiping it along the nail will dissolve both nail polish and nail lacquer quite easily.

Using acetone, you can remove nail polish and nail lacquer from your fingernails and toenails within a few short minutes.

What Are The Differences Between Nail Polish and Nail Lacquer?

While the differences between nail polish and nail lacquer are mostly quite subtle, the biggest difference between nail polish and nail lacquer is that nail polish is favored for its wide range of colors, and nail lacquer is favored for its thickness and protective qualities. 

Nail Lacquer Is Said To Be More Durable

Nail lacquer is generally more durable than traditional nail polish, as it is slightly thicker.

Nail lacquers contain a higher quantity of resins and other thickening ingredients that give them that thick, honey-like consistency.

This added thickness makes nail lacquer more resistant to cracks and chips than traditional nail polish. 

Nail Lacquer Takes Longer To Dry

Thicker nail varnish also means that nail lacquer will take slightly longer to dry than traditional nail polish.

Nail lacquer also contains more thickening agents, such as resin, that help give it a gel-like appearance when dry.

Nail Polish Comes In A Wider Variety of Colors

Traditional nail polish has been around for thousands of years.

Researchers have even proven that the earliest examples of nail polish were mixtures of natural ingredients such as pigment, vegetable dye, beeswax, and egg whites.

Needless to say, a lot of time has gone into refining its formula so that it lasts longer, smells better, and is as versatile as possible.

With the advantage of time comes a whole lot of experimentation with color, where brands have always released new shades according to the seasons or even to align with the latest trends in fashion.

Some would argue that there is no difference between nail polish and nail lacquer. 

Some nail brands use the terms nail lacquer and nail polish interchangeably, as modern formulas are all improving in quality and can provide a long-wearing, chip-resistant finish.

For example, popular brands such as O.P.I. label all of their nail polishes as nail lacquers.

The real difference can be seen when you swap out your nail polish (also known as nail enamel and nail varnish) for a gel overlay.

Now that’s what we call thickness and shine!

When To Use Nail Polish And When To Use Nail Lacquer

You would typically use nail polish to decorate your nails with a wide variety of colors and nail lacquers to protect your nails over a slightly longer period of time. 

While nail lacquers now come in a variety of colors, their thickness makes them the best choice for times when you need your manicure or pedicure to last just a little bit longer than usual. 

When You’re Painting Your Latest Nail Masterpiece

Nail art is popular with every type of nail treatment.

From traditional nail polish to acrylic nail extensions, getting creative with your nails is a concept as old as nail polish itself.

Traditional nail polish is often a favorite for creating more intricate nail designs, as it is thinner in consistency than other nail painting products and can be easily manipulated using a variety of nail tools. 

When Your Nails Need A Little Bit Of T.L.C

Since nail lacquers are helpful in strengthening nails, you might choose a nail lacquer when your nails need a bit of a boost.

Thin or brittle nails benefit from some time to regenerate when you apply a nail lacquer. 

You MAy Not Need To Choose After All

Most popular brands of nail products offer both nail polishes and nail lacquers in a wide array of shades and colors.

Those who consider nail polish and nail lacquer to be essentially the same product might even suggest that there is no need to choose between the two, as modern nail polish brands are always trying to improve their formulas to be thicker, longer-lasting, and more vibrant.