BY AMBER KATZ AND MACAELA MACKENZIE
Need to get your gel nail polish off and don’t have the time or patience to head to the salon? We’ve been there. The temptation to pick/rip/bite off the polish is strong (and weirdly satisfying), but resist it. “When you peel off your polish, you also take off layers of your nail bed with it, which leaves them susceptible to peeling and breaking,” Jackie Saulsbery, New York City-based manicurist, tells us.
The good news is, you can remove a gel manicure at home without going to the salon — and without damaging your nails. “The best way to safely remove your gel polish does take a bit of time and patience, but it will help to keep your nails in good shape,” Saulsbery says. Here, we talked to the nail experts about how to remove your gel nail polish at home without totally wrecking your nails.
Find a Well-Ventilated Space
Give yourself plenty of time for the removal process and most importantly, do it in a well-ventilated area so you’re not breathing in all that acetone, says nail expert Jenna Hipp. The process can’t really be done in a rush — you’ll need about 30 minutes. Consider this a good time to catch up on your Netflix queue.
Break Out the Nail File
Before you break out the nail polish remover, grab a coarse nail file (Saulsbery likes the Hand and Nail Harmony 180/180 File $6) and gently and slowly sand down the top layer of gel polish.
The point here is not to sand all the polish off — you’re really just roughing up the top coat — so take it slow. “Avoid filing too far into the color. Basically, you just want to remove the shine,” says Hipp.
Protect Your Skin
Next, coat the skin surrounding your nails and fingertips with a cuticle oil or a thick cream. “This will provide protection from the acetone, which is very drying to your skin,” says celebrity manicurist Tracylee. We like CND Solar Oil Nail & Cuticle Conditioner (and, bonus, this formula smells like an almond cookie).
Soak Some Cotton Balls
The key to removing gel nail polish is to soak your finger tips in acetone. You can do this in a small bowl filled with acetone and a drop or two of cuticle oil, Saulsbery says, or you can use a soaked cotton ball to sit on each talon.
Tracylee prefers cotton balls to pads because they’re closer to your nails’ size and shape. Plus, cotton balls are able to hold on to the acetone better as your nails soak. “Cotton pads can absorb the acetone and dry out too quickly,” she explains.
To start, saturate the cotton balls with acetone — more than you think you need. For the best results, Tracylee recommends steering clear of formulas with moisturizing ingredients (even though they’re tempting) since they tend to slow down the soaking process, leaving you with acetone fingers for longer.
Wrap Your Fingertips with Aluminum Foil
Grab some Reynolds Wrap and tear the foil into little squares (about three inches by three inches). Then, start wrapping your fingertips in the squares. “Place an acetone-soaked cotton ball on your pinkie and use the foil to secure the cotton ball in place,” says Tracylee. Start with your non-dominant hand — it makes things easier.”
Repeat this wrapping on all 10 nails. (Warning: It will get a little tricky by the end of the process when most of your tips are covered in tin foil.) Then, after 10 or 15 minutes, check your progress.
“The gel polish should look as if it is falling off the nail and lifted,” Saulsbery says. “The remaining polish should be able to be removed with little to no pressure — if not, go back to soaking for another five minutes and try again.”
Apply a Little Elbow Grease
Once all the gel nail polish has loosened, pull the foil off of each finger and apply slight pressure to the nail with the cotton ball. For any remaining spots, gently use a nail stick, “working under the gel to lift it off the nail plate,” explains Hipp.
Pro tip: “Wooden tools can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so dispose of them after each use and don’t share with friends,” Hipp says. If the polish still isn’t lifting easily as you press the stick into it, you need more soaking, so wrap the nail back up with a new cotton ball and try again in five minutes.
Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
After a long acetone adventure, your nails will likely be a bit dry. If you’re going to let your nails breathe a bit, “soak your nails in coconut oil for five to seven minutes, then apply a cuticle oil on your nail beds to rejuvenate and rehydrate them,” says celebrity manicurist Jin Soon Choi. If you’re polishing again, skip this.
It might seem like a lot of moisture-sucking acetone, but if you’re a fan of gel manis, it’s much better than picking or peeling your polish, Saulsbury says. “Acetone removes oils from the nail, but it doesn’t actually damage the nail bed,” she explains. “That happens when the nail bed endures trauma from peeling and pushing the polish off,” which can leave you with brittle, broken nails.