How to Remove a Gel Manicure at Home

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Words by Katie Intner

Stop peeling and picking and try these expert tips instead.

Your mani may not be the most pressing thing on your mind these days. But if you haven’t been to a nail salon in a few weeks (or months), you will likely come to a point where your gel nails require maintenance that only a professional can offer. Aside from visible regrowth not looking quite as fresh as you’d like, letting gel polish grow too far can strain the health of your nails, leaving them frail and damaged (due to weight imbalance and lifted, jagged edges).

Your best bet? Take it all off. We asked nail experts for their pro-tips on how to remove gel polish safely from the comfort of home. With a couple key tools (you might need to do some online shopping for this) and a little patience you’ll have healthy, naked nails in no time.

The Benefits of a Gel Manicure

While regular manicure generally don’t make it past a week without a few chips, gel manicures are built to last, as they’re cured and hardened under an LED light to avoid chipping. And since these manicures are long-lasting, you can cut down on the number of visits you make to your local nail salon.

Does Gel Polish Ruin Your Nails?

When applied too frequently, gel nail polish has the potential to weaken your nails overtime. To prevent damage, we recommend taking a breather between gel applications and using essentials like nail strengthener and cuticle oil to help your natural nails maintain their firmness.

How Salons Take Off Gel Polish

In addition to applying acetone-soaked cotton balls directly to the nail and wrapping them in aluminum foil for upwards of 10 minutes, your local nail salon may also opt to use professional tools, like a nail drill, to remove residual gel polish.


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A post shared by Julie K 🎀 Nails (@julieknailsnyc)

How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home

We know too well the temptation that comes with wanting to pick and peel off your gel polish. That moment of satisfaction will be fleeting, but the damage you inflict on your nails could take weeks to repair.


Don’t overthink it: removing gel nails at home is the same exact process as the salon. First, you’re going to want to grab a fresh nail file (we love ones from Tweezerman at any drugstore). Sarah Gibson Tuttle, CEO and founder of the celeb-favorite nail salon Olive & June, says if one nail breaks or chips, file it down to a shape that you want and to leave it alone after if you can. If you want to take the entire manicure off completely, start by carefully filing away just the top coat seal. “I recommend using a medium 180 grit file to gently remove as much of the top coat as you can,” New York-based celebrity nail artist Julie Kandalec says. You know you’ve removed enough of the topcoat when the color fades and finish becomes dull, Kandalec adds. Be careful not to file off the entire polish as that can cause damage.


Now for the step that will test your patience. Place a cotton ball or pad (the latter holds liquid better, according to celebrity nail artist Elle) in acetone on each of your nails, then wrap the tip of your finger in foil to hold the ball in place. “Acetone evaporates quickly,” Kandalec says. “The biggest mistake that leads to gel not coming off completely is not soaking the cotton enough.”

According to the American Academy of of Dermatology Association, using plastic wrap is another great option for removal, as it creates a tighter seal than foil, so the acetone is less likely to drip. Repeat on all 10 nails. Then, let your nails soak for for about 10 to 15 minutes, letting them go longer if the polish doesn’t easily slide off. You’ll know the acetone has fully removed the gel when the polish looks lifted from the nail. Tuttle says if you want to expedite the process (and make the experience more spa-like), wrap your hands in a warm towel or a heating pad to loosen the gel. “Acetone needs heat to work properly,” Elle says.

If you don’t have acetone, don’t fret. Repeat the same filing step, but instead of soaking your nails in acetone-doused cotton, place your hands in bowl of warm water, dish soap, and a teaspoon of salt for 20 to 30 minutes. This should soften the gel enough so you can easily remove the polish from the nail bed, says Tuttle. Pro tip: Add cuticle oil into the soapy solution for extra hydration.


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A post shared by Elle Gerstein (@enamelle)


If the polish isn’t easily sliding off, grab a fresh acetone-soaked cotton ball and place it on the nail for a few more minutes. Working on one nail at a time, use a careful twisting-and-squeezing motion to pull off the foil. You can also use the remainder of acetone from each cotton ball to wipe you nails totally clean.


For leftover polish that needs a little more elbow grease to remove, grab an orange stick (never a metal tool, which can damage the nail) and softly scrape away the gel towards the top of your finger—never back and against the grain of the nail, Kandalec adds.


Get rid of polish and file residue by heading to the sink after removing an old manicure. Plus, hand washing makes it easier to see if there’s any lingering polish while prepping your nails for the final step.


While acetone works wonders in removing gel, it can make your nail sensitive and dry. Once all the polish is off, add moisture back to your nail beds with a nourishing oil like Olive & June’s cuticle serum or CND’s Solar Oil. As an extra hydration boost, complete your routine with a rich hand cream.




Tweezerman Neon Hot Nail Filemates





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