Gel manicures last longer, they dry faster, and you just can’t get a shine like that from traditional polish. But when that mani finally starts to fade, it’s a lot harder to get rid of a disintegrating gel polish than the old-school enamel variety. You might be tempted to simply scrape the gel polish off your nails when you’re sick of the look. That does seem to work—but only if you like trashing your natural nails in the process. To safely remove gel polish by yourself without damaging your nails, just follow these four simple steps.
1. Buff off the shiny surface of your manicure.
The very thing we love about gel polish is the thing that makes it so hard to remove. The gel manicure has a shiny top layer. This stuff is a beast to remove with chemicals alone. So we suggest you blast it off the old-fashioned way. Take your finest nail file and sand that layer of gel right off. You’ll know you’ve gone deep enough when your manicure stops reflecting the light. Once you’ve got a soft matte layer of color, stop buffing. You don’t want to sand down to your actual nails. That’s how they get damaged.
2. Soak your nails in acetone nail polish remover.
Note that we didn’t say “soak your fingertips.” You really don’t want your skin to contact acetone for very long. To keep this chemical polish remover against your nail without dipping your whole hand in a vat of the stuff, grab some cotton balls and pull them apart into little nail-sized chunks. Soak a bit of cotton in acetone and place it on your fingernail. Then hold it in place with a layer of foil. Even better, stick it in place with masking tape. Repeat for all of your other fingers. Here’s a word of warning: Don’t wrap your fingertips up too tight. You don’t want to cut off the circulation, right? Of course you don’t. So wrap up that polish-destroying cotton just tight enough to hold it firmly in place. Then wait 15 minutes while the acetone does its destructive magic.
3. Slide off the weakened gel with a wooden cuticle stick.
After 15 minutes, unwrap your fingertips and grab the nearest wooden cuticle stick. If you’re thrifty, a popsicle stick will work almost as well. Gently slough away the gel. Although 15 minutes in the acetone chamber should be enough to take the fight out of most gel polishes, you might find yourself with a stubborn hanger-on. Do not try to take it by force! Instead, reapply the polish-remover–soaked cotton, wrap again, and wait another five or 10 minutes. Then try again.
4. Use cuticle oil to replenish your nails after the ordeal.
Acetone polish remover is some toxic stuff. It melts away nail polish, but it also pulls all of the moisture out of your fingernails. That’s why it’s important to moisturize when you’re done removing that old gel mani. Pick your favorite cuticle oil and give your nails a generous coating. Then you’re ready to go natural or plan your next manicure, whatever you want. Your fingernails are a blank slate; go write your story!