Gel manicures are gorgeous and long-lasting, but notoriously tricky to remove without the help of a pro manicurist. If you’re not patient and careful, the allure of chipping and ripping them off grows fast. Unfortunately, the damaging side effects arrive just as quickly. I’m talking deep ridges that take forever to even out, sore (and sometimes bleeding) cuticles and a general weakening that makes it impossible to grab anything without chipping your tips. It should go without saying, but knowing how to remove gel nails safely at home is helpful, especially when you’re spending more time than you’d like there.
Ahead, three ways to pull it off—pun intended—according to celebrity nail artists and one brand expert.
The Foil Method
According to Deborah Lippmann, celebrity manicurist and founder of her namesake brand, there are seven simple steps to gel polish removal, but “the most important piece is PATIENCE.”
What you need: pure acetone, aka not nail polish remover ($9.75 at Amazon), nail file ($12 at Deborah Lippmann) or buffer, cotton ($4.19 at Amazon), aluminum foil ($2.36 at Walmart), and a cuticle pusher ($5.09 at Walmart). Lippmann also recommends cuticle oil ($24 at Deborah Lippmann) to help nourish the skin afterward.
Step 1: Buff your fingernails with a nail file, removing the shiny coating of the gel polish.
Step 2: Soak a cotton ball in acetone.
Step 3: Place the soaked cotton ball on top of your buffed nail.
Step 4: Wrap your finger in a small piece of aluminum foil to keep it in place.
Step 5: Soak for about 10 minutes.
Step 6: Remove the aluminum foil and cotton.
Step 7: Use your cuticle pusher and very gently nudge the gel off the nail. If it doesn’t lift right off, do another round of soaking saturating cotton with acetone and wrapping aluminum foil. Resist the temptation to file the gel off; that is where you can damage your natural nail.
The Ready-Made Method
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What you need: ORLY Genius Remover ($5.40 at ORLY), ORLY GELFX Foil Remover Wraps ($6.50 at ORLY), or ORLY Pocket Removers ($5.50 at ORLY), nail file, cuticle pusher or orangewood stick, cuticle oil, nail buffer
(ORLY also makes this beginner-friendly kit if you’re on a time crunch.)
Step 1: File off the top coat and 50% of the gel color. Be gentle and careful not to over-file your nails. If it starts to hurt or burn, stop.
Step 2: Wrap nails with acetone and foil/cotton or use ORLY’s Pocket Removers. This helps the acetone loosen the gel without evaporating.
Step 3: Soak for 10+ minutes to let the acetone loosen the gel completely.
Step 4: Remove foil one nail at a time and use your pusher to gently push off gel. You don’t want to push too hard and dig into your nail bed. Repeat on each nail.
Step 5: Apply cuticle oil on natural nails and gently buff nail to remove any excess base coat and dehydration.
The “Break the Seal” Method
According to OPI North America Education Manager Sigourney Nuñez, the classic method along with a couple of key OPI staples make it easy to gently “break the seal” between gel polish and your nail beds.
What you need: cotton rounds or cotton balls, OPI Expert Touch Lacquer Remover ($5.95 at Amazon), aluminum foil, OPI 240 File (here’s an alternative), OPI Nail & Cuticle Oil ($9.95 at Amazon), manicuring brush ($5.95 at Amazon) if possible, scissors, cuticle stick
Step 1: Cut foil into small squares that will fit around the tip of your finger.
Step 2: Cut cotton pad/ cotton ball into pieces that are big enough to cover the entire nail.
Step 3: “Break the Seal,” or remove the top layer of the gel polish with the nail file using light pressure.
- Start with the tip of the nail, then file the top of the nail.
- Use the manicuring brush to wipe off excess dust.
Step 4: Soak the cotton pad in remover.
- Place the cotton on the entire nail.
- Wrap the tip of the finger with a cotton pad in foil and fold over the tip to lock in place.
- Repeat on all fingers and leave on for 15-20 minutes.
Step 5: To remove, rub back and forth gently and pull off.
- Take off any excess polish by gently scraping with the cuticle stick.
- Wipe away any residue with alcohol and a cotton ball or cotton pad.
Step 6: Finish by applying cuticle oil to bring moisture back to cuticles.
Well, there you have it! Take your pick and take your time.
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