Gel nail polish is known in the beauty world for being incredibly durable. Unlike your usual acrylic nail paints, gel nails last for weeks without chipping. But because of their longevity, they are notoriously difficult to remove once you want to get rid of them.
If you need to get your gel nail polish removed, you can try the DIY route. Disclaimer: DIY gel nail removal doesn’t mean ripping off the gel manicure. When you do this, everything may appear to be okay, but you are actually stripping the delicate layers of the nail plate this way. This may cause some permanent damage to your nails.
To avoid screwing up your nails, read on to make sure you can remove your gel nails at home safely.
Tools and Items Needed
Removing nail polish at home can be a lengthy process, but most people do it because it can be painful to have your nails scraped by a nail technician. Also, if you frequently have gel manicures, having it removed at the salon always can also be expensive. Here are a few supplies you just need to keep on hand for gel nail removal:
- Acetone nail polish remover – It is the solution needed for removing gel nail polish. While non-acetone removers can remove traditional nail polish, it’s not always effective on gel polish.
- Nail File – It is used to roughen up the smooth and hardened surface of gel polish, making it easier to remove.
- Cuticle stick or orange stick – This can help you gently scrape off gel nail polish residue without peeling it off.
- Nail buffer – It helps smoothen the surface of your nails after removing the gel polish.
- Cuticle oil or petroleum jelly – These can be used to protect the cuticles and the skin around the nails from damage that the nail polish remover can cause.
- Small bowl – You need this if you’re going to do the soaking method of removing gel nails.
- Cotton balls – You need this if you’re going to do the tinfoil method of removing gel nails.
- Tinfoil – It’s used to hold the acetone-soaked cotton balls against the fingernails, so the nail polish remover would soak into the polish without submerging the fingertips completely.
How to Prep Nails for DIY Gel Nail Removal
To make acetone more efficient and effective in removing gel nail polish, you have to prepare your nails. Prepping before the actual removal can also help ensure the health of your nails so that you won’t strip or scrape off the top layer of your actual nails.
Here’s what you need to do:
1. Find a well-ventilated space and make sure you have enough time.
First things first – make sure you won’t breathe in all that acetone. Find a well-ventilated area, preferably near a window that you can open.
Give yourself plenty of time to do this (at least 30 minutes) because this process can’t really be done in a rush. If you’re going to do the tinfoil method, you will need more time to do all that, covering the nails with cotton balls and tin foil wrap. Consider this a good time to catch up on your Netflix queue.
2. Loosen up the top layer with a nail file.
The gel topcoat is a smooth, tough, and nearly impermeable layer that seals in the nail color in place. That’s why gel manicures are able to last for weeks instead of days. Scratching the surface with a nail file will help the acetone penetrate. But remember, the nail file itself shouldn’t be used to file off the gel polish – the goal is to simply remove the shiny topcoat and rough it up a little. When filing, apply light and parallel pressure to avoid scratching the nail plate underneath.
3. Protect your cuticles and skin.
Next, coat the skin surrounding your nails and fingertips with cuticle oil. Acetone can wreak havoc on the skin around the nails, and these products can protect it. There’s no need for a fancy, specialty cuticle oil unless you want to. Petroleum jelly can work well to create a barrier to minimize damage caused by acetone.
But if you’re doing the soaking method, this step has to go after the nail polish removal is finished.
DIY Gel Nail Removal Methods
Here are the most popular methods for DIY gel polish removal:
This is the simplest and most effective way to remove gel polish at home. This method doesn’t need many tools, but soaking your fingers in acetone can be incredibly drying to the skin and nails, and this is why not all people use this method, even if it’s uncomplicated.
After prepping your nails, here are the next steps to do the soaking method:
1. Prepare the acetone.
Pour the acetone into a small bowl. Use just enough product so you can completely soak your fingernails – you don’t need to fill it to the brim.
2. Soak your fingernails.
Dip your fingertips to the nail polish remover and allow your nails to soak for about 10-15 minutes. Make sure all of your nails are completely covered with acetone. You might be tempted to check earlier to see if the polish is already peeling, but it will be much quicker if you just keep it soaking for the first 10 minutes without peeking.
3. Check your nails.
The nail polish must begin to lift away from the nail. Resist the temptation to peel them using your other hand – always use the appropriate tools.
4. Gently remove the gel.
Put your fingers back to the acetone, and while your nails are submerged, use the end of the orange stick to try to scrape the gel off gently. Start by the cuticles and work your way down to the free edge. If the gel sloughs off easily, you can continue doing this to each finger until all the gel polish is removed.
5. Soak again if needed.
If it’s not coming off easily or if you really have to work to get the gel off, you may need to let them soak for a few more minutes, then try the orange stick or cuticle stick again.
6. Buff and smooth the nails.
After all the gel polish has been removed, gently buff your nails to smooth out the surface.
7. Wash up and moisturize.
Wash your hands with soap and water to remove traces of acetone in your skin and nails. While your hands are still damp, slather in some oil and give your cuticles some love. Then, apply a moisturizing hand lotion. If you’re going to use petroleum jelly instead of cuticle oil, that would be enough.
While the tinfoil method uses the same logic as the soaking method, this technique allows you to soak only the fingernails – preventing the rest of your fingertips from coming into contact with the chemical. This method is more time-consuming and complicated if you’re doing it by yourself. By the time you’re on the last few fingers, it’s hard to apply the foil and cotton without help. If you don’t have anyone to help you, you may probably need to finish one hand first completely before moving on to the other hand, making the process more tedious. But on the bright side, it prevents dryness and too much exposure to acetone.
Here’s how to do the tinfoil method:
- Prepare your tinfoil squares.
Grab some aluminum foil and cut or tear it into squares about 3” by 3”. This size will be large enough to wrap entirely around a fingertip while holding a small cotton ball inside.
- Soak some cotton balls.
Prep your nails as instructed above, then soak some cotton balls in acetone. Cotton balls are more preferable to use than pads because they are closer to the shape and size of nails, plus they are able to hold on to the acetone better as the nails soak. Place each cotton ball on your fingernail, starting on your non-dominant hand. Make sure to saturate the cotton balls with acetone and make them wetter than you think you need.
- Wrap your fingertips with aluminum foil.
After an acetone-soaked cotton ball is placed on top of a fingernail, wrap your fingernail in a tinfoil square you prepared earlier. Start with the pinky nail on your non-dominant hand and repeat this process on all ten nails.
- Allow your nails to soak.
Let your gel nails soak for about 10-15 minutes.
- Check your nails.
See if your polish begins to lift away from your nails. To do that, pull the foil off each finger and apply slight pressure to the nail using the cotton ball. The majority of the nail polish should be peeling off with cotton. If it doesn’t, get a new cotton ball, soak it in acetone, and repeat for five more minutes.
- Gently use an orange stick to remove the remaining polish.
For the remaining spots not removed by the soaking, gently use a cuticle stick or an orange stick. Work under the gel and use the stick to lift it off the nail plate. If you’re using wooden tools, dispose of them after each use.
- Wash up and moisturize.
After a long acetone adventure, your nails will most likely be a bit dry, and your hands will smell like acetone as well. Wash up your hands – with more emphasis on the nails. And when your hands are still damp, soak your nails in coconut oil for five minutes, then apply some cuticle oil. To finish it off, you can use a hand lotion.