How to Remove Gel Nail Polish at Home: A Starter's Guide

Feeling anxious about damaging your nails while removing gel nail polish at home by yourself? You're not alone.

Here are the gel polish removal methods we use at S&L Beauty Company to maintain our nail beds healthy between gel manicures. We also touch on how to avoid brittle nails from removing gel nails.

Whether you decide to remove gel nail polish traditionally, or with a gel nail polish remover, we provide the instructions for both methods.

Below is a complete step-by-step guide on how to remove gel nail polish at home:

  1. File your nail bed with a nail file
  2. Apply acetone to a cotton ball
  3. Wrap the tip of the finger in aluminum foil
  4. Use a cuticle stick to remove gel polish
  5. Buff your nails
  6. Apply cuticle oil on your nail

Nail removal preparation items

Before you begin, to remove gel nail polish you will need these items:

  1. A nail file (180 grit)
  2. A cuticle pusher (cuticle stick)
  3. Cotton balls or cotton pads (lint-free)
  4. 100% pure acetone
  5. A nail buffer
  6. Aluminum foil
  7. Cuticle oil

The core supplies you need to remove gel nail polish at home are acetone, cotton balls (or pads) aluminum foil, a cuticle pusher, and a nail filer. Cuticle oil and nail buffers are supplementary items that help maintain healthy nails, but are not necessary.

Preparations before removing your gel nail polish at home

Here are some tips to consider before removing gel nail polish.

  • When removing gel nail polish, it is easier to work on one hand at a time. 
  • Set up an area in a well-ventilated space. Acetone has a strong smell. 
  • Cover your work surface with a towel, as acetone can cause stains.
  • Cut out 10 squares of aluminum foil that are big enough to wrap around the tip of each finger.
  • If you’re using cotton balls, break off 10 pieces that are big enough to cover just the nail bed of each nail.

How to Remove Gel Nails at Home: 6 Easy Steps

Now that you know what you need to remove a gel manicure at home, here is an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide on how to remove your own gel nails at home.

1. File your nail bed with a nail file

Filing the top coat layer until it is no longer shiny and smooth

Use a coarse nail file to file down the gel top coat layer until the top coat is no longer shiny and smooth. File down every nail. 

Start by filing the gel top coat on your non-dominant hand. Use the flat face of a nail filer to gently file your nail from the cuticle to the edge of your nail in a left-to-right motion (not a back-and-forth motion). Do not focus on a single spot.

By filing down the gel top coat, you expose the gel polish on your nail plate. This will make it easier to remove the gel polish with the acetone you'll be using later.

2. Soak acetone to a cotton ball or cotton pad

A cotton pad soaked in acetone and cut to fit the nail bed

If you're going to use cotton balls, pull off 1.5x1.5 cm balls, making sure they're thin and big enough to cover the nail bed. 

The cotton ball shouldn’t be so big that it's overhanging and touching the surrounding skin and cuticles. 

Then, soak a cotton ball in acetone until it is damp but not dripping wet. Typically it takes about 5 to 10 drops of acetone to achieve this. 

Showing the size of the cotton pad over the nail

Saturating a cotton ball with too much acetone can cause mild irritation to the skin, causing the skin to become red, dry or cracked.

If you’re using cotton pads, apply acetone directly onto the pad so it’s, again, damp but not dripping wet.

Place the acetone-soaked cotton on top of a fingernail and move on to the next step.

The fingertip is wrapped in precut aluminium foil while the cotton ball soaks.

3. Wrap the tip of the finger in aluminum foil

Folding aluminum over the finger

To hold the soaked cotton ball in place, begin wrapping the fingertip with the 3x3 inch pre-cut aluminium foil you prepared before.

Now you can repeat steps 2 and 3 for each fingernail until all your fingers are wrapped in aluminum foil and contain cotton balls. 

Over the fingernails with acetone-soaked cotton

After wrapping each nail, wait 10 minutes to let the acetone soak into the gel polish. 

Fingers wrapped in aluminium foil soaked in acetone

After 10 minutes, the gel nail polish should be softened and appear bubbling/curling. This means you can pinch away the foil and cotton ball from the nail.

Removing the foil with a cotton ball from the nail

4. Use a cuticle stick to remove gel polish

Cuticle pusher gently loosening gel nail polish

Gently loosen the gel polish off each nail with a metal cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick by pushing it off.

If the gel polish isn’t sliding off easily, continue soaking the nail with the acetone cotton ball for another 5 minutes. 

5. Buff Your Nails

 Buffing the nail after scraping off the polish

Gently buff your nails to remove both ridges and uneven edges and smooth the surface of your nails.

Buff off any remaining flecks of visible gel polish.

Keep in mind, buffing your nails too much can thin the nail plate, weakening your nails and the gel polish's ability to adhere. This happens when overly buffed nails bend too much, causing the gel polish to separate easily from the nail plate.

6. Apply cuticle oil on your nail

Applying cuticle oil on cuticle

Removing gel polish with acetone is damaging to your nails and skin. The acetone dries your skin and makes your nails coarse to touch. 

Apply cuticle oil to rehydrate your cuticles to keep your nails healthy and strong. 

Then, massage the cuticle oil to completely cover your cuticles. 

Massaging cuticle oil to restore moisture to cuticle

You can never use too much cuticle oil. Apply cuticle oil as frequently as three times a day daily if you feel it’s worth keeping your nails and skin in perfect shape. 

That's it!

Using a Gel Nail Polish Remover

If you're pressed on time, you can avoid the inconvenience of soaking cotton balls in acetone and wrapping your nails in foil by using a gel nail polish remover.

Here's why gel nail polish removers are gaining in popularity:

  • Removes your gel polish in 5 minutes
  • Easy to use 
  • Doesn't damage your nails
  • No hassle of foil wrapping
  • Skip nail salon visits
  • No pungent odor
  • Travel-size friendly
  • Works for gel polish, acrylic, dip powder, and regular nail lacquer

If you don't want to frequently pay a salon to have your gel nails removed, use our gel polish remover and do it yourself in 5 minutes. 

Simply put, gel nail polish removers are easy to use, require fewer tools than the traditional method of removing gel nails and doesn't damage your nails.

How to Use a Gel Nail Polish Remover

1. File the topcoat

File down your top coat layer with a coarse nail filer until the top coat is no longer shiny and smooth. 

2. Apply the gel polish remover

Apply a thick layer of gel polish remover over the gel nails. Avoid skin contact. 

3. Wait 5 minutes

Wait 5 minutes for the gel polish remover to soak into the gel nails. The edges of the gel nail polish should begin to peel, crack, bubble or burst. Allow extra time for thicker gel polish.

4. Loosen the gel polish

Gently loosen the gel polish on each nail using a metal cuticle pusher or an orangewood stick until it is completely removed. Clean with a nail buffer.

5. Moisturize your nails

For nail care, apply cuticle oil to rehydrate your cuticles.

Avoid These Common Mistakes When Removing Gel Nail Polish 

Soaking your nails in an acetone bath 

When you fully submerge your nails in a bowl of 100% pure acetone, the excessive exposure to acetone on your skin and nails will dehydrate the nail plate, cuticles, and the surrounding skin. 

This method often results in nails becoming dry and brittle. The skin and cuticles can become dry, flaky, red, and irritated. 

The method we recommend involves using acetone-soaked cotton balls to isolate where the acetone is needed on your nail to avoid exposure of acetone on your skin.

Due to the potential damage caused by an acetone bath, it will take longer to repair your nails and skin before applying gel polish again. Do not follow this commonly told advice.

Using an electric nail drill is not recommended 

If you’re a beginner, using a drill to grind off gel nail polish is not recommended since you may risk grinding past the gel polish coat and into your nail plate. 

As a result, your nail plate will be damaged and your nail bed will be more sensitive to pain. Your nails will be left thin and weak. 

When this occurs, you will have to wait for the entire nail to grow out to be replaced by a new, healthy nail.'

It's not OK to pick and peel off your gel polish

When you pick and peel off the gel polish without acetone, you damage the top layer of your nails, which can lead to brittle nails that crack and break easily. 

When your nails are weakened, it can take weeks (sometimes more than a month) for them to become healthy again and prolong your next gel manicure.  

2 comments

Thank you so much for the information on removing gel nails. I learned some things that I was not aware of that could damage the nails.

Cyndy Robinson August 10, 2022

Thank you for the information it was very helpful now I’m ready to do my nails

Carmen July 21, 2022

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