How to remove gel nail polish at home without ruining your nails

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  • A gel manicure is a popular, time-saving procedure that gives you long-lasting, freshly lacquered nails for about two weeks.
  • But removing gel polish is not as simple as removing regular polish.
  • It can be damaging to your nails if you don’t take it off properly.
  • Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to remove gel nail polish safely and the things you need to do it at home.

Many people love gel manicures. Gel polish’s glossy finish is practically indestructible and that just-left-the-salon look can last for two weeks or more. But eventually, you will notice a tiny chip, and then another and another until you’ve got to remove the polish.

As anyone who’s ever had a gel manicure can confirm, that’s easier said than done. Gel polish is not like regular nail polish. Its ingredients are stronger than your traditional lacquer, which is part of why it’s so resistant to the normal wear-and-tear that destroys your average manicure in a matter of days. Gel polish is also cured under a UV or LED lamp, whereas regular polish sets under less extreme conditions.

Another reality of the gel manicure is that it can weaken your nails. Removing gel polish is not like removing regular polish, either. It takes a few steps whether you choose to go back to the salon or do it at home, and the process can be especially damaging to your nail bed if you try to peel or pick it off yourself. With that in mind (and because we’re trying to save you a few bucks), we’re going to explain how to remove a gel manicure at home.

Here’s what you need to remove a gel manicure:

There are also removal kits available, like this Red Carpet Manicure version and these nail polish remover soak off foils, but these options can be pricier than having your gel polish removed at the salon.

Once you’ve gathered your ingredients, carve out about 30 minutes for the whole process, since you’ll need to soak and file your nails. Find a well-ventilated place, either near an open window or a fan so you don’t breath in too much acetone. Finally, settle in with your favorite podcast and get started.

How to remove gel nail polish at home

removing gel nail polish

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  1. File your nails: The point of this step is to gently penetrate the surface of the gel polish so the acetone can soak in more easily. You don’t need to do more than gently sand the surface to remove the shine. We recommend the ClassyLady Professional Glass Nail File.
  2. Protect your skin and cuticles: Acetone is extremely drying, so take the extra time to coat the area around your nails with a thick cream or oil to protect your skin. You don’t need to go overboard, just a drop will do. We like the Deborah Lippman Nail Cuticle Repair Cream.
  3. Soak the cotton balls: Fill a small bowl with OPI’s Nail Polish Remover and soak 10 cotton balls in it.
  4. Wrap your nails in aluminum foil: Tear 10 3-inch squares of aluminum foil, one for each finger. Then take a soaked cotton ball and wrap your fingertips. This can be tricky, so we suggest wrapping your non-dominant hand first to make it easier. Now, sit back and relax for about 15 minutes.
  5. Check your progress: Peek inside one of the foil wrappers. If the gel looks loosened and falling off the nail you’re ready to move on to the next step. If not, wrap the foil back up and wait another 5 to 10 minutes.
  6. Removal: Remove the foil and apply slight pressure to the nail. The gel should slide off easily with the cotton ball, and any residue can be removed with a wooden nail stick. We recommend Adecco’s Nail Art Orange Wood Sticks.
  7. Hydrate your nails: Don’t skip this important step! Your nails will be dry after the gel polish comes off, so wash them, and then either soak them for a few minutes in a hydrating oil or reapply the cuticle cream over your nail beds. The only reason not to do this is if you’re polishing again immediately, but experts suggest giving your nails some time to recover between manicures.

Buy the ClassyLady Professional Glass Nail File on Amazon for $9.98

Buy the Deborah Lippman Nail Cuticle Repair Cream at Sephora for $24

Buy Jumbo Cotton Balls at target for $1.89

Buy OPI Nail Polish Remover on Amazon for $5.95

Buy Standard Aluminum Foil at Target for $3.59

Buy Adecco Nail Art Orange Wood Sticks on Amazon for $5.99