Shellac is sold as a popular varnish for furniture and decks, it keeps the skins of citrus fruits and apples waterproof and shiny, it adds a glossy patina to candies, and it augments the drying properties of many types of nail polish, hair sprays, eyeliners, and mascaras. It appears on the ingredients lists of dentures and tooth fillings, and it is increasingly often used as a nontoxic preservative for cadavers.
Shellac is, quite literally, everywhere, from our hair and teeth to our fingernails and stomachs (even after death). Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all “in the groove,” moving to the rhythms of the lac bug’s life cycle.
In this excerpt from The Butterfly Effect: Insects and the Making of the Modern World, Edward D. Melillo unpacks the history associated with shellac.