Nail Lacquer and Nail Polish: Is there a Difference?

by Shopify on May 23, 2016

Women all around the world have been using color on their nails to make their hands look prettier. It makes them feel confident, poised and looks more put together. For others, they like to paint with different nail colors just for fun. Wearing nail polish also conveys a message that you are a fun, classy, or vampy person.

Most people refer to this product as nail lacquer or nail polish but are they really the same? In this blog post, we will see if there is a difference between the two.

What is nail polish?

The history of nail polish dates back to 3000 BC in China. It was made by mixing beeswax, vegetable dyes, egg whites, gum arabic and gelatin. It is used to paint and decorate fingernails and toenails. The product comes in different colors that give a protective, shiny, and fashionable cover to the nails.

What is nail lacquer?

Nail lacquer comes from the French word "lacre" meaning a kind of sealing wax. It is a type of nail polish or varnish that quickly dries off when applied to the nails. This nail product also provides a trendy and shiny look to the finger and toenails.

In this case, there is no difference between the two products. They are only differentiated by the terms used by several companies or manufacturers on marketing a nail brand. Nail lacquer or polish are both made of nitrocellulose that is dissolved in a solvent called ethyl acetate. This substance acts like a thin film on the nails that creates a cover and protective layer when it dries off.

Nail polish, nail varnish, nail lacquer, or nail enamel are different terms for the same product. There is a misconception that nail lacquers are thicker based on their consistency, more durable, and chip-resistant than nail polish. The truth is, they both possess the same strengthening quality and protective ability that leaves a shiny and glossy finish on the nails. Both products can also be applied as a single color or mixed with varying styles and designs.


Aside from the common differences in every brand, nail lacquer/polish can be classified into distinct categories. Below are some of the classifications:


Nail Polish Coats

Base Coat

A perfect manicure starts with a base coat, it helps the polish stick to your nails easily. It also serves as a barrier that helps protect your nails from the damaging effects of the polish. A nail base coat prevents your nails from peeling or staining and provides a more even texture.

Top Coat

The last layer applied in the manicure process is called a top coat. It acts as a sealer to your colored nail polish. When this product is applied, the nail polish does not chip as often and it creates a shiny, glossy finish.


A matte top coat does the opposite of the glossy top coat. It gives your nails a complete lack-of-shine finish. The application is also a bit different than the regular coat, and it takes a long time to dry.

The difference between nail polish and nail lacquer as stated above has no clear cut distinction. Although some people believe that the latter has a darker and thicker consistency, manufacturers do not acknowledge this. Both terms are synonymous and considered as equivalent.

Types of Nail Polish Finish

Choosing your nail polish

There are many things to consider when getting a nail polish or lacquer. The color will be one of the first things, but there is so much more to it. Today you can select between quick-dry, chip-free, cruelty-free, strong, long-lasting, and more!

Choosing the best nail polish also solves your manicure problems as it makes your mani last longer. Another important thing to consider is the proper application, but choosing the best quality product will help the longevity and overall look of your mani.


  • Choose a brand of nail polish and base coat with good nail strengthening qualities. This is perfect for dry and brittle nails.
  • Always remember to use a base coat and top coat when getting your mani. Base coat prevents your nails from peeling and staining while top coat seals and prevent chips on your nails.
  • Avoid products that are all-in-one base coat and top coat as they can never compete using the three different products.
  • Try the different classifications of nail polish finish and see which type of finish you like the best.

Picking a nail color that suits you

Choosing a nail polish color can be fun and exciting, but with so many colors and styles to choose from, it can be very overwhelming. Whether you choose a dark, bright, or nude, your skin always determines the shade that looks perfect on your hands (or feet).

Pale or Light Skin Tone:

Colors for Light Skin Tone

A light complexion needs a color that enriches the skin more. It is also considered as a cool skin tone and the best colors to choose would be pink or blue pastels. Try to avoid shades that are dark as it creates an unwanted contrast.

Fair Skin Tone:

Nail Colors For Fair Skin Tone

There is a large variety of color options for the fair skinned since their complexion can apply many shades. However, try to avoid bright red or yellow-based and orange-red shades as these overpower your complexion.

Tanned Skin Tone:

Nail Colors For Tanned Skin Tone

For this type of skin tone, the best color to apply is a bright color as vibrant color enhances your complexion. Try bright shades of purple and blue but avoid dark purple shades and red.

Medium or Olive Skin Tone:

Nail Colors For Olive Skin Tone

Gold and peach is a great match for this skin type. It also goes well with a warm and yellow undertone and looks good with metallic shades of blue and silver. However, try to avoid navy blue and darker purple shade.

Dark Skin Tone:

Nail Colors For Dark Skin Tone

If you have a dark complexion, you might want to go for deep shades like maroons, mocha, or dark red. A lighter shade of chocolate brown looks best too but avoid brighter shades like white, orange and anything too pinkish.

The nail colors you wear that looks good in you have a lot to do with your skin tone. Therefore, it is important to know whether you belong to cool, warm, or neutral undertones. This is very helpful in finding the right and most flattering colors.