How to remove gel polish at home without damaging nails

Getting a manicure is relaxing, but removing gel nails at home can be anything but.

“If you pick your polish off, you are potentially taking up to six layers off your nail — and it takes three to six months for that natural nail to completely grow out,” said Leeanne Colley, a nail artist and owner of Tips Nail Bar in Toronto.

To avoid destroying your nails, most technicians advise returning to your salon to get gel professionally removed. But if you’re low on time (or looking for a cheaper option), there is a safe way to do it yourself.

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According to Colley, there are two types of gel nails — soft, like Shellac, and hard. The gel polish used affects the removal process.

“A soft gel nail … is a product that’s removable with acetone,” Colley told Global News. “A hard gel is obviously a lot more durable and harder, but it’s not removable with acetone.”

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Colley said it’s important to confirm with your manicurist what product they are using because “not all nail techs will tell you it’s a hard gel or what the difference between a soft gel is.”

If you have soft gel polish…

A soft gel manicure is relatively safe to remove at home if done properly. However, you’ll want to carve out some time since it’s not a quick process, Colley said.

“All the different brands are different, but with Shellac, it’s very easy to remove it at home,” Colley explained.

For the DIY route, Colley said you first need to “give your nails a light buff with a file or buffer to remove the shine and break down the top coat.”

Then, soak your nails in acetone for about 10 minutes. You’ll want to briefly dip your fingers in a bowl of acetone then use acetone-soaked cotton balls and secure them to your nails with pieces of tinfoil, creating a finger wrap.

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After you remove the finger wrap, start removing a layer of the polish using a wooden nail stick. Repeat the acetone treatment if needed.

After a few more minutes of acetone, use the nail stick to remove another layer of polish. Make sure you are taking off the polish and not scraping your actual nail.

“It’s a very, very long process as you can only work on one hand at a time,” Colley said. “It needs to be done with patience and in different layers.”

Your polish should lift with the acetone treatment, but Colley said it’s important to know when to stop.

“As long as you’re using an orangewood stick and not filing on the actual nail, you should be OK,” she said.

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If you have a Shellac manicure, Colley said you can also use a removal kit made by the brand.

“Because we use Shellac in our salon … we sell removal kits that contain all the products you would need,” she added.

Regardless of the method, a regular cuticle treatment is important for keeping your nails healthy.

If you have hard gel…

If you have a hard gel, Colley says you need to use an abrasive tool to take the polish off, and if that’s the case, it’s best to see a professional.

“Going into a nail salon and having a set of extensions put on or … a coating over your natural nail using hard gel, you’re kind of stuck with it,” she explained.

At the salon, Colley says technicians use a nail file to smooth out the nail and start the removal process.

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“We usually take down, leaving a very, very thin amount on the natural nail so we don’t file on the natural nail,” she said.

“But a lot of places will just use an electric file and remove it with a drill, which makes it really difficult to see how far they’re going down, which can definitely damage your nail. It’s best to just stick with something that’s more of a removable product.”

If you’re not sure, see an expert

While removing soft gel at home is safe to do, Colley said that if you’re not comfortable with the process, it’s best to see nail specialist.

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“A lot of places actually charge extra for removal so I think that’s what makes people potentially want to remove it themselves or pick it off,” she said.

“But I think that going somewhere and having it removed is less time-consuming and potentially less damaging.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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