A good gel polish has a glossy and chip-resistant finish. But its durability through pretty much anything life throws your way means that removing a gel mani can prove to be a huge challenge. While you can go to a salon to have it removed, oftentimes that comes at a price—and even if it's complimentary, it can be inconvenient. Here’s how to remove a gel manicure at home—without damaging your nails in the process.
Resist the Urge to Peel or Pick
While picking off stubborn gel polish may seem like a valid place to start, this can actually create big problems for your overall nail health. That’s because when you do this, you’re also removing the top layer of your nails, making them very brittle and weak, says manicurist Skyy Hadley, owner of As U Wish Nail Salon in Hoboken, New Jersey. “This can result in white patches and textural irregularities throughout the nails,” she says.
Break the Seal
Use a buffer, like Sephora Collection Nail Buffer Block ($6, sephora.com), to successfully remove any protective topcoat lingering on your nails. Once you’re left with a powdery finish, you should be good to go, says Hadley. “Just be careful not to buff too much in the process [because] you don’t want to hit your natural nail,” she says.
Wrap up Your Nails
To start dissolving the gel, use a 100 percent acetone polish remover, like Ulta Maximum Strength 100% Pure Acetone Nail Polish Remover ($4, ulta.com). You’ll want to soak cotton balls in the remover, place them on your nails, and then wrap pieces of aluminum foil over the cotton balls and your nails. That way you can let every nail soak for a good 15 minutes to soften the polish, says Hadley.
If you’re on the hunt for a faster and more convenient soak alternative, Jamberry recently launched its own Gel Remover Pockets (available in September 1 at jamberry.com), which contain both acetone and a protein-rich conditioner; they work in 10 minutes to help soften gel, says Jamberry product developer Megan Greenhalgh.
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Gently Scrape off the Remaining Color
After unwrapping your nails, use a wooden cuticle stick to get rid of any remaining bits of polish, says Hadley. “If you have trouble [doing this], soak your nails with a cotton ball for five more minutes, and try again,” she says.
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
Your nails and cuticles will likely be dry post-removal, so after you’re done taking your polish off, wash your hands and apply a hydrating cuticle oil to both the nail and cuticle, says Hadley. “This will rehydrate your nails after using acetone on them to keep them strong and healthy between polishes,” she says. Jamberry Cuticle Oil ($10, jamberry.com) is a good option. It has safflower oil and vitamin E help keep nails hydrated, says Greenhalgh.
The bottom line: Removing a gel manicure may be hard on your nails, but if you go about taking off your polish the right way, your nails will be healthy enough to apply your next manicure right away, says Greenhalgh.
Courtney Leiva is a beauty journalist based in the tri-state area. Her work has been seen on sites like Bustle, StyleBistro, and Byrdie.