Menu Join now Search

How To Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home Without Ruining Your Nails

No, you shouldn't just peel it off. Learn the right, damage-proof way to remove shellac or gel nail polish between salon visits.

Hey, we all love a good gel polish manicure (See: 33 Thoughts Every Woman Has Had At The Nail Salon). With all the at-home gel nail kits now available, it's easy to do yourself, extra shiny and long lasting. Er, super long-lasting. After two Manicure Mondays had passed and my gel nails were still on, I was ready for a color change. But removing gel nail polish isn't as easy as swiping your nails with a bit of polish remover. If not properly done, you can cause some long-lasting nail damage. Read on for advice on how to remove your gel nails at home without ruining your nailbeds.

Before you try to remove your gel nails via peeling them off in the shower (believe me, you will not be pleased with the results), Candace Szpiech, a manicurist behind several New York Fashion Week nail looks, suggests taking a stroll through your kitchen. That aluminum foil you used to wrap up last night’s leftovers is also part of a handy trick for removing gel nails.

Materials You Need:

  • Aluminum foil
  • Acetone (found at drugstores and beauty supply stores)
  • Cotton balls
  • High-grit buffer (such as a white block buffer)
  • Nail file

Removing the Nails:
This method is simple and easy for DIY gel nails you did at home or for your salon manicure.

1. Start by gently buffing or filing the top coat of your nails to break the seal of the gel polish. Make sure to only file the top of the nail. Filing too deep will rough up the nailbed.

2. Soak a cotton ball in acetone and place on the fingernail. If you want to minimize use of the cotton balls you can pull them apart a little into wispy strands to apply to each nail. Just make sure the strands are thick enough that you won’t completely soak the nail in acetone. Note: On a regular basis, you should avoid using acetone-based polish removers when simply cleaning off regular nail laquer. It can cause yellowing of the nails. Ick.

See: How To Fix And Prevent Yellow Nails

3. Cut your foil into squares large enough to wrap around each nail. Wrap a foil square around each nail to hold the cotton ball in place, and let your nails sit for 15 minutes. “The aluminum foil is basically holding the cotton ball in place, as you don’t want to soak the entire finger, but only the plate of the nail,” says Szpiech. The foil will also work to trap in your body heat, helping along the process of the acetone. “Don’t use an alternative like plastic wrap, because the acetone will melt it.”

4. As you remove the cotton balls and foil, the gel polish should flake off fairly easily. “Try not to scrape any remaining product off the nail,” says Szpiech. “If you find the product is difficult to remove, take a little more time using the cotton ball and acetone method and it should work.”

5. Remove the remaining gel polish or the clear underlayer using the high-grit buffer.

Once you’ve removed your gel nails, hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! “Whether you’re using a traditional nail polish or a gel polish, it’s always best to keep your nails hydrated with a good quality cuticle oil a few times daily, especially before bedtime,” says Szpiech. “I cannot stress the importance of hydrated nails and properly removed nails, gel or no gel.”

See: Acrylic Nails Or Gel Nails? How To Know Which Is Right For You

Hayley Mason

Haley served as the associate beauty editor for DivineCaroline (now More.com) after graduating college with a degree in journalism. Sephora has nothing on the number of color tubes that are jammed into her bathroom cabinet! She's a product junkie who loves trying out new and outrageous trends. She's lived on three continents and dreams of reporting on global beauty news.

More You'll Love

Close