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How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home

A celebrity manicurist tells us how it's done.
rose walano the knot wedding trends expert
by Rose Walano
rose walano the knot wedding trends expert
Rose Walano
Wedding Trends Expert
  • Rose Walano is a Freelance Digital Editor for CBS Interactive’s The Rachael Ray Show.
  • Rose is an entertainment, fashion, and lifestyle writer.
  • Rose was a Contributing SEO Editor for The Knot and The Bump.
Updated Apr 24, 2020

If you're looking for flawless fingertips on your wedding day, you needn't look any further than gel nail polish. "Gel manicures are great for anyone who doesn't want to worry about polish chipping and going to the salon every week," says Casey Herman, celebrity nail artist to Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams. Once your gel manicure is secured with a UV light, the chip-free formula can last up to two weeks, giving you perfectly painted tips from the rehearsal dinner all the way through your honeymoon. (read the pros and cons of every type of manicure here so you can decide for yourself).

Once all the festivities are over, however, you might be wondering how to remove gel nail polish. Gel polish is a great choice for brides and bridesmaids who want worry-free nails, but all that great holding power that makes gel nails stick also makes it difficult to remove. So, how to remove gel polish? It isn't as simple as grabbing a low-cost bottle of nail polish remover from your local retailer. When it comes to how to take off gel nail polish, you'll need a little patience and a supply of acetone.

How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home Step by Step

Okay, it's been two weeks, and while your gel polish is still pretty perfect, it's time for it to go. If you have the funds, Herman recommends heading to the salon, where they can offer professional gel removal with the help of special tools, like electronic files and warming mitts.
However, if you are looking to save money, or you have a DIY spirit, you may wonder how to take off gel nail polish at home. It can be done in one of two ways.

1. How to Remove Gel Polish – The Aluminum Foil Way

Before you try this method to take off your gel nails, make sure you have:

Acetone

A nail file

Aluminum foil

Cotton balls

Orange wood stick

  1. Gently buff down the topcoat or the shiny layer of the gel polish with a 180-grit file
  2. Run the file over the tip of your nail so the gel lifts up at the edge.
  3. Dip half a small cotton ball in an acetone-based remover and apply it to the surface of your nail.
  4. Take a small square of tin foil and wrap it around your fingertip to keep the cotton ball in place.
  5. Repeat on all ten nails. This process can be unwieldy. You may want to call a friend for help.
  6. Wait about 7 to 10 minutes and then peek to see if the gel has lifted off the nail. (It should come off in flakes.)
  7. With an orange wood stick—a long, narrow stick that manicurists often use to push back cuticles—gently push the gel flakes off the nail.
  8. If the gel isn't coming off easily, replace the cotton ball with a new, acetone-soaked ball, re-wrap with foil and wait a few more minutes.
  9. Add a few drops of cuticle oil on your cuticles to prevent your skin from drying out.


2. How to Take Off Gel Nail Polish – The Double Boil Way

Are you familiar with a double boiler? If you love home-made candy, then the answer is probably yes. A double boiler uses two pots, a large one and a small one. Water goes into the large pots, and it gently heats the contents in the second pot.
You can use the double boiler concept to remove your gel nail polish.
Here's what you need:

Two bowls – large bowl and a smaller bowl that fits inside the large bowl

Acetone nail polish remover

Nail file

Orange wood stick 

  1. Use the file to gently buff off the top coat (shiny part) of your gel nails.
  2. Heat up water and pour it into the larger bowl
  3. Add acetone remover to the small bowl, enough so you can dunk all your nails at the same time. 
  4. Soak your fingers in the acetone for around 10 minutes. The acetone should loosen the polish.
  5. Using the orange stick, gently push off the loose polish. Try not to scrape your nails too hard.
  6. Wash and the moisturize your hands


3. How to Remove Gel Nails Without Acetone

Acetone is the most effective way to remove gel nail polish. "Generally, the higher acetone content of the remover, the quicker it will remove the gel," Herman explains. However, if you absolutely can't get your hands on acetone and you need to de-gel your nails, here's a method you can use. Here us what you'll need:

A bowl

Dish soap

Nail file

  1. Fill a bowl with warm water
  2. Add a few drops of dish soap and mix it into the water
  3. Soak your hands in the solution for at least 20 minutes. This should soften the gel.
  4. Using the file, gently buff off the polish. Stop buffing as soon as you see your natural nail.
  5. If the gel doesn't come off, repeat steps.


4. How to Get Gel Nail Polish Off if You Have Acrylic Nails

Acrylic nails will restrict you from using acetone, which makes it much more difficult to remove your gel nail polish. Additionally, you don't want to try filing the gel polish off your acrylics, or you might risk losing them.

As much as we love at-home solutions, the best option for removing gel polish from your acrylics is to head on over to your salon. A professional manicurist can use an electronic file to remove gel nail polish without disturbing your acrylics before adding a fresh coat of polish

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