As a person who recently chipped away at a gel manicure and now has a bunch of lines and ridges on their nail beds, trust me: There’s a better way.
What’s the easiest way to remove gel nail polish at home?
The simplest and fastest way to take off gel polish at home is to put acetone-soaked cotton balls on your nails, wrap them in tin foil, wait for 10 minutes or so, wipe off whatever polish you can, and then scrape off what’s left with a nail file or buffer, Molly Romah, lead nail artist at Chillhouse spa in NYC, tells SELF. (See step-by-step instructions below.)
But if you’re in a pinch and don’t have all of those supplies on hand, you can also file down the top layers of polish and then soak your fingers in a bowl of pure acetone to get the rest off, she adds. Just keep in mind that some brands of gel polish take longer to remove than others, according to Romah. In other words, don’t start this process if you’re in a rush.
How to soak off gel nails
Step 1: Protect your cuticles.
Acetone—which you’ll need to remove your gels in most cases—can seriously dry out the nails and skin around them, according to Dr. King, which is why you should try to shield your poor cuticles. “Before you soak, protect the surrounding areas with a cuticle oil,” celebrity manicurist Patricia Yankee, tells SELF. There’s no need to get a fancy specialty cuticle oil unless you want to, though. A tried-and-true alternative is Vaseline ($3, Amazon). The petroleum jelly (technically petrolatum) will create a barrier to minimize the acetone’s damage. Aquaphor ($10, Amazon) works, too.
Step 2: Loosen up the top layer with a coarse nail file.
The gel topcoat is a tough, nearly impermeable layer that seals the color in place—that’s why gel manis are able to last for weeks instead of days. Scratching the surface with a coarse nail file, like the Gelish 180/180 Grit File ($8, Amazon) will help the acetone to penetrate and do its thing. “When filing, apply a light and parallel pressure,” Yankee suggests, which will help you avoid scratching the delicate nail plate underneath.
Step 3: Soak your nails in acetone using cotton balls and aluminum foil.
Acetone ($5, Ulta) is stronger and more effective than non-acetone nail polish remover, making it exactly what you need to remove your gel polish. Drench some cotton balls (or cotton pads) with the stuff, then hold them in place on your nails by wrapping each finger with aluminum foil. (You don’t have to buy any special tin foil—Romah recommends cutting cooking foil in small squares to wrap around each fingertip). According to Yankee, this traps in heat to help the gel break down faster.