How to Remove Gel Nail Polish: Tips From J. Law’s Manicurist

Want to know how to remove gel nail polish at home? Look no further. Casey Herman, the manicurist behind Jennifer Lawrence’s nails, gave The Knot step-by-step instructions on how to remove your gel manicure at home.
by Rose Walano
Gel nail polish manicure
photo by Shutterstock

If you’re looking for flawless fingertips on your wedding day, look no further than gel nail polish. Once it’s cured 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!

“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. “It even helps when someone is trying to grow their nails longer by giving them a little more protection than just polish.”

If all this sounds perfect, trust us—it is! But before you run to the salon, be sure to read Herman’s advice about gel manicures, along with the nail wizard’s step-by-step guide on how to remove gel nail polish at home. (Spoiler alert: You will need acetone, but she’ll tell you how to protect your skin.)


In this Article:

Do’s and Don’ts of Removing Gel Nail Polish

When it comes to wedding day manicures, gel nail polish seems like a foolproof choice. No one wants a chipped nail in their wedding portrait! Still, there are some general guidelines to follow before and after you get lacquered. Here are Herman’s dos and don’ts on how to remove gel nail polish:

  • DO know what products are being used on you. If you’re getting a gel manicure, see what products the salon uses—preferably CND Shellac, Gelish or Biosculpture. You want a salon that uses high-quality, reputable brands.
  • DON’T get tricked into thinking that gel powder is the same as a gel manicure—it’s not. If the salon doesn’t use a light to cure the product, it’s not a gel manicure, and that makes all the difference.
  • DO look for a salon that uses LED lights to dry gel polish. This will cut down your exposure to harmful UV rays. (It should take 20 to 45 seconds to cure each layer of gel polish with an LED light.)
  • DON’T soak your fingers in a bowl of acetone, whether in a salon or at home. Doing so exposes your skin to chemicals that can cause skin sensitivities over time.
  • DO remember that you get what you pay for. A quality gel manicure may cost a bit more than your standard mani, but it will last longer and require less maintenance.
  • DO use cuticle oil every day post-manicure. It’ll help keep both your cuticles and nails hydrated.


Do You Have to Take Breaks Between Gel Manicures?

Got a bunch of big events leading up to your wedding? Rest assured that you won’t destroy your nails with repeated gel manicures, provided you stick to a reputable salon. “If you go to a salon that uses good quality products and knows how to properly apply and remove gel, you don’t necessarily have to take a break,” Herman says. “However, if you feel like you want to take a break, keep using that cuticle oil every day, especially if you decide to rock bare nails. It will keep them hydrated and supple.”

How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home

Okay, it’s been two weeks, and while your gel polish is still pretty perfect, it’s time for it to go. If you’re wondering how to remove gel nail polish at home, you’re certainly not alone. That said, Herman believes in relying on a pro. He or she will use tools you probably don’t have at home, such as electronic files and warming mitts. But Herman also acknowledges that a trip to the salon can be pricey, and “sometimes, you just don’t have the time!” So for you on-the-go gals, here’s Herman’s step-by-step guide for how to remove gel nail polish safely from home:

  1. Take a 180-grit file and gently buff down the topcoat and color gel polish until you start seeing your natural nail. Make sure to also run the file over the tip of your nail so the gel lifts up at the edge.
  2. Take half of a small cotton ball and soak it in an acetone-based remover.
  3. Apply a few drops of cuticle oil to your cuticles. This helps to prevent the acetone from drying out your skin.
  4. Take the acetone-soaked cotton ball and apply it to the surface of the nail. Try your best to keep the cotton ball on your nail and off your skin.
  5. Take a small square of tin foil and wrap it around your fingertip to keep the cotton ball in place.
  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. Do not forcefully scrape the gel off or you could harm the nail. 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.


If You Were Wondering How to Remove Gel Nail Polish Without Acetone

Acetone is the most effective way to remove gel nail polish. “Gel needs to be removed with acetone or an acetone-based remover,” Herman says. “Generally, the higher acetone content of the remover, the quicker it will remove the gel.” As noted above, just make sure to keep the acetone-soaked cotton balls off your skin as much as possible, and condition with cuticle or coconut oil as soon as you’re finished.

If you absolutely can’t use acetone to remove gel nail polish, you can soak your hands in warm water and dish soap for about 20 minutes. This should soften the polish enough that you can gently file it off. But you must stop filing as soon as you see your natural nail, otherwise you can cause damage. And again, remember to condition once you’re done.

And If You Have Acrylic Nails?

If you have acrylic nails, which also restrict you from using acetone, you should hand them to a pro. 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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