How to Remove Your Gel Manicure at Home

Photo: Yaroslav Astakhov/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, nail salons have had to shut their doors, meaning people are going to have to take the fate of their thoroughly washed fingernails into their own hands. Now is a great time to paint your own nails, but what if your canvas isn’t blank because you previously paid a professional to seal sturdy gel polish onto your nails with a UV light?

Gel manicure removal should not be taken lightly. Ripping, picking, or peeling off the polish risks taking layers of your nail beds with it. Since you currently can’t ask a professional to get the polish off in person, we turned to Brittney Boyce, gel extension specialist and consulting nail artist for ORLY, and Sigourney Nunez, OPI’s North America education manager, to remotely walk us through how to safely remove a gel manicure at home.

1. Break the Seal

Gel polish is sturdier than regular polish, so you need to begin by “breaking the seal,” as Nunez calls it. Start with a medium nail file (look for a grade of 180). “File off the top coat and around 50 percent of your gel color,” says Boyce. Your polish should lose its characteristic shine, but you shouldn’t be hitting your natural nail. “Be gentle and careful not to overfile your nails; if it starts to hurt or burn, stop,” says Boyce.

2. Prep Your Wraps

Next, grab some aluminum foil, cotton balls, or cotton pads and a pair of scissors for arts-and-crafts time. “Cut your foil into small squares that will fit around the tip of each finger, and cut your cotton pads or balls into pieces that are big enough to cover the entire nail,” says Nunez. So that’s 20 things that should be laid before you. If you’re already overwhelmed, my sympathies; ORLY has handy little Pocket Removers designed precisely for this in their at-home gel removal kit which should help.

3. Sit and Soak

Next, crack a window and cue something up on streaming. Completely soak each cotton piece in acetone, place the cotton over the entire nail, then wrap the tip of each finger in foil, folding over the tip to lock it in place. Repeat the process on all fingers. It’ll take some coordination once you have to do your dominant hand, but Boyce says these little contraptions help the acetone loosen the gel without evaporating. Sit with your metallic finger hats on for at least 10 to 15 minutes to let the acetone loosen the gel completely. If your polish still looks stuck, sit for a little longer until the polish looks lifted and loose.

4. Push It

Once the polish looks lifted, it’s time to remove the wraps. Rub each wrapping back and forth gently and pull the foil off, one nail at a time. Then, use a cuticle pusher to gently push off gel. “You don’t want to push too hard and dig into your nail bed,” Boyce warns. No scraping or harsh chipping either; it should be satisfying, like watching a soap-cutting video. Repeat the process until you have polish-free nails. Nunez recommends wiping away any lingering residue with alcohol and a cotton ball or cotton pad so your nails are completely clean.

5. Oil Up

The hard part is over; now it’s time to moisturize. Apply nourishing cuticle oil all over your natural nails and finish whatever you were watching. If you notice any excess base coat or dehydration hanging around, Boyce recommends using a nail buffer after applying the oil to gently buff it away.

Need a little more guidance? Boyce filmed the entire at home process below.

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How to Remove Your Gel Manicure at Home