How to remove gel nail polish at home

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Gel manicures have their perks: They last longer than regular manis and don’t chip as easily. But the downside? It takes a lot more than a few swipes of nail polish remover to remove gel nails.

Typically, this is a beauty job many leave to professionals. But with the closure of salons amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s time to take matters into your own hands — literally! If you visit a salon where they charge you for polish removal, you’ll also be saving yourself $5-10 in the future.

First things first, you’ll need a strategy: If you start picking and pulling at your nails (it’s tempting!) you risk doing some serious damage to your nail bed. With the right tools, and some patience, you can safely remove your gel nails at home. Here’s everything you’ll need and instructions on how to do a DIY gel nail polish removal.

1. Protect The Skin On Your Fingers

Since you’ll be soaking your nails in acetone, it’s important to protect your cuticles and skin with a softening oil. This cuticle cream will add a protective layer to your cuticles and fingertips.

2. Buff Polish With Buffing Sanding Block

Next, you’ll buff down the top layer of polish. This will help the acetone better penetrate the gel polish. Go slowly; you’ll know you’re done once you notice the shiny layer of polish has been buffed away.

3. Gather Cliganic Organic Super Jumbo Cotton Balls

Gather up your cotton balls. You’ll be soaking them in acetone and then placing one on each finger. These jumbo cotton balls will cover your entire fingernails.

Tip: Now is a good time to start also cutting up your tin foil if you have it on hand. Cut 10 squares from the aluminum foil making sure they’re each big enough to cover the cotton ball and your finger. Four inches by four inches should do the trick. Otherwise, you can purchase aluminum foil pouches that are designed with removing gel and acrylic nails. (More on this when you get to step No. 5.)

4. Soak Cotton Balls in Nail Polish Remover

The regular nail polish remover you have at home probably won’t don’t do the trick because while it contains acetone, it’s diluted. To break down the gel polish, and do so quickly, you’ll want a pure acetone.  Soak each cotton ball in the acetone.

5. Secure Cotton Balls on Fingers With Aluminum Foil

One by one, secure the saturated cotton balls on your fingernails and wrap each finger in foil. It makes things easier to start with your non-dominant hand. You’ll let your fingernails soak for about 10 minutes. (You can also use aluminum foil that you have on hand to make your own removal pouches.)

6. Remove Polish With Orangewood Sticks

After the acetone-soaked cotton balls have been applied to your fingernails for 10 minutes, take a look to see if the corners or the remaining polish is lifting. If not, let them soak for a few minutes. But if they are, start using the orangewood sticks to gently lift up the polish from your nailbed. Be patient as you work the polish up; you don’t want to be too rough and pull your nail off with the polish. But the pure acetone should have softened enough to easily peel away with the help of the orangewood sticks.

7. Moisturize Your Hands

Now that your nail polish has been removed, your hands need some TLC. The acetone is rough on your hands, so give them a moisture boost with Burt’s Bees Ultimate Care Hand Cream. The baobab oil infused in the lotion is gentle on the skin and is a natural moisturizer.

7. Consider A Polish Removal Kit

You can also buy a kit that supplies all the tools you’ll need to remove your gel polish (minus the polish remover).

Want more at-home DIY beauty tricks? Check out how to do your own beauty touch-ups at home.

About the Author

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Brittany Anas

Hi, I'm Brittany Anas (pronounced like the spice, anise ... see, that wasn't too embarrassing to say, now was it?) My professional writing career started when I was in elementary school and my grandma paid me $1 for each story I wrote for her. I'm a former newspaper reporter, with more than a decade of experience Hula-hooping at planning meetings and covering just about every beat from higher-education to crime to science for the Boulder Daily Camera and The Denver Post. Now, I'm a freelance writer, specializing in travel, health, food and adventure. I've contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more. Learn More.