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How to remove gel nail polish

Gel nail polish removal techniques

Gel nail polish is perfect for those times when you need your nail polish to last. It chips far less easily than traditional polish and provides a glossy finish that looks great for weeks.

But the same factors that make gel polish so durable also make it tricky to remove. Standard nail polish remover won’t work on gel nails and picking it off can damage your nails. Knowing how to remove it correctly can save your nails and allow you to wear gel nails more often.

Shop this article: Sterling Beauty Tools Professional Cuticle PusherPronto 100% Pure AcetoneCliganic Super Jumbo Cotton Balls

Why it's important to remove gel nail polish correctly

Gel polish is made with gel-based ingredients and chemicals that, when dried under a UV lamp, bond tightly to the surface of the nail. That's why gel nail polish lasts far longer than traditional polish and doesn't chip as easily.

However, it also makes it far more difficult to remove than traditional polish. Standard nail polish remover won't work on gel polish. Instead, you need to use harsher chemicals to dissolve and remove the gel.

It can be tempting to pick or peel off gel nail polish. But doing so can damage the surface of your nails and your nail beds. This can make your nails more brittle and prone to breakages.

Steps for removing gel nail polish

Gel manicures can be removed at home without having to perform a return visit to the salon. All you need to do the job properly is:

  • Some cotton balls
  • A bottle of acetone
  • A nail groomer
  • Some aluminum foil

This, combined with following a few simple steps, will ensure that your nails stay in great shape.

Step 1: Prep your tools

First, grab a cotton ball, and break it into 10 small pieces, one for each finger. Next, pour some acetone into a small bowl and grab some aluminum foil.

Cut the foil with scissors to make 10 finger-length strips that are long and broad enough to fit around each finger. Finally, fetch your nail groomer and have it on standby for the final step of the process.

Step 2: Apply acetone to your nails

You first need to dip the smallest cotton ball piece you prepped in the step before into your bowl of acetone. Once it's completely saturated and rung out, you're going to craft the cotton onto the nail of your pinkie finger.

Don't wrap the cotton ball around your finger — acetone can dehydrate your nails and cuticles.

Step 3: Wrap your nails with foil

Take a piece of aluminum foil and wrap it around your finger to seal the cotton ball onto the nail. The foil will act like a heat conductor, ensuring that the acetone goes entirely through the gel on top of your nail. At this point, you will repeat steps one and two for your other nine fingers.

If your gel nails have been on for one week or less, leave the foil on for no more than five minutes. However, if you've had your gel manicure done in the last seven days, leave it for 10 minutes. You'll know that you are ready to move on to the next step when you take off the foil and see the polish peeling up over your nail.

Step 4: Remove the gel polish

When you are ready to push off your gel, grab the nail groomer and start to push off the gel polish very gently. For optimal results, start at the cuticles and end at the tip. If you do this backward, you risk damaging your nail and defeating the purpose of the process.

Once you are done, take a quick look over your fingers and if your cuticles or skin is dry after the process, apply some moisturizer, and you're good to go.

What you need to buy to remove gel nail polish

Sterling Beauty Tools Professional Cuticle Pusher

This multipurpose dual-sided nail groomer can not only push gel nail polish off the top of the nail but can clean under your nail too. This groomer is crafted with precise edges and has a comfortable handle.

Sold by Amazon

Pronto 100% Pure Acetone

This 100% pure acetone will help remove gel nail polish from your nails. The formula works fast and provides a tough clean on even the most stubborn polish, so your nails will be ready for your next manicure in no time.

Sold by Amazon

Cliganic Super Jumbo Cotton Balls

This cotton ball set is jumbo, so you'll find it no problem to break one piece into 10 to fit each finger. What's more, they are designed for makeup removal and are hypoallergenic.

Sold by Amazon

Treamlyn Nail Soaking Bowl Acetone Proof

This set of two acetone-proof soaking bowls is great for saturating cotton balls for gel nail polish removal and sealing the acetone to use later. They’re also designed for warm water acetone mixes, which can work great for traditional nail polish removal.

Sold by Amazon


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Lauren Farrell writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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