How To Remove Gel Nail Polish At Home Without Destroying Them

by Stephanie Montes
Originally Published: 
A woman posing and showing her gel nail polish purple and blue nails

Why is it that gel manicures look perfect for weeks on end but the second they hit their expiration date, they look horrendous? You want the polish gone but you’d rather not make the trek down to the salon — and you know that peeling it off will be the death of your nails. The good news is you can remove gel nail polish at home without ruining them.

While you're preparing for removal, it's important to keep in mind proper steps should be followed to prevent any harm to your nails. "There are several things that can happen when gel polish is not removed properly, but the most significant is damage to the nail plate," Tracylee Percival, a celebrity manicurist who works with Yara Shahidi and Cate Blanchett, tells TZR. "It's something that needs patience and care to protect the integrity of the nails." The manicurist adds that if the gels are removed by filling off, pushing, peeling, or lifting, then layers of the nail plate will be also taken off, making them thinner and weaker. We definitely don't want that.

To ensure the safest removal process, TZR asked the pros their secrets to save you a salon visit.

At-Home Gel Polish Removal: Don't Expect It To Be As Quick As The Salon

This isn't a task you should rush, so make sure you dedicate enough time to do it. "Be patient and gentle removing your gel polish so that the nails afterwards are healthy and free of damage, Rita Remark, editorial manicurist and Essie's global lead educator, tells TZR. "Don't expect it to be as quick as your when your manicurist does it. We're the pros! We're supposed to make it look easy." Kill time during the process by watching a new episode of your favorite show on Hulu, or listen to a podcast on Spotify.

At-Home Gel Polish Removal: Start With A Nail File And Buffer

"Use a nail file and buffer to remove the shiny top layer of gel. This ensures that the acetone will penetrate the polish," Lisa Logan, consulting manicurist for Nails.INC, tells TZR. "Make sure to get as close to your nail bed and free edges as possible."

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At-Home Gel Polish Removal: Soak Nails In Acetone

For the next step, you'll need 100% acetone. "Take a small cotton ball, saturate it, and lay it on a small square of tinfoil," Logan explains. "Fold the foil around your finger tightly; ensure that it is gripping the cotton ball to your nail." But if you don't have 100% acetone on hand, there's a backup option. "If you only have a diluted form of acetone — like a remover with acetone and added scent, glycerin or oils for hydration — soak the gels for twice as long," Remark explains. However, she adds that non-acetone removers won't remove gel, regardless of how long you soak them.

And consider setting a timer for 10 to 15 minutes, or keep a close eye on the clock so you don't soak your nails too long. "Acetone is extremely dehydrating. When the skin isn’t protected, or when soaking too long, this can cause the skin to become dry and nails too brittle," Percival adds.

At-Home Gel Polish Removal: Aftercare

"Once all of the gel has been removed, shape and buff your nails and apply a reparative oil (like Superfood Repair Oil) to hydrate and replenish nails, as acetone can have drying effects," Logan suggests. And don't forget to protect your skin, too.

"Use an emollient hand creme or cuticle oil and coat the skin around your nails completely, avoiding the nail plate," Percival recommends. "This will provide protection to your skin from the acetone." The celeb manicurist's go-to is Eucerin's Eczema Relief Cream. "It's super emollient, sticks, and protects the skin perfectly."

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