I’m a Pro at Removing Gel Polish at Home—Here’s How I Do It

Gel manicures are one of the greatest beauty inventions. They’re chip-resistant and have longevity no regular nail lacquer could compete with. I’d get them all the time if there wasn’t one glaring downside: Removal.

I dread getting gels because they can’t come off with a simple swipe of acetone. Nope, you have to soak and wait and file it off. It’s a whole process I don’t have time for. Also, don’t even get me started on the fact most salons will charge you extra for removal. That $5 to $10 could go toward coffee, thank you very much.

That being said, I have mastered the at-home gel removal process for times I do decide to commit (say, if I’m going on long trip). Ahead, I break down exactly how I do it and get some expert input from Sarah Gibson Tuttle, the founder of top L.A. nail salon Olive & June.

Step One: File

Because there are at least four layers on the nail, I usually take a file to buff down the top coat. Tuttle suggests doing the same.


Step Two: Soak

I usually take whatever drugstore nail polish remover I have lying around and use it to soak up a cotton ball. I place the cotton on my nails and wrap it in tin foil (I literally just cut up tiny squares from the foil in my kitchen). Tuttle has a great pro tip to add: “We like to wrap a hot towel around as well to expedite the soaking process.”

Step Three: Wait

Tuttle advises waiting 10 to 15 minutes or until the gels are lifting off completely. She says, “The most important piece is having the patience to allow the gels to lift before removing the cotton. No harsh removal or picking please!”

This is the most annoying part, because you can’t really do many activities (like going on your phone, eating, or cleaning) while your fingers are all wrapped in foil. “Remove while you’re FaceTiming a friend or watching TV so you’re not tempted to damage your nails by rushing,” Tuttle suggests.

Step Four: Finish

After waiting with my gels soaked in the acetone, the polish usually peels off on its own. Sometimes, there are spots that are sticking a little stronger, and for those I gently use a cuticle pusher to get the rest of the color off. Then, I follow with a swipe of acetone, cuticle oil, and buffing—and I’m ready to start a new manicure.

There’s a common misconception that removing gels leaves nails brittle and unhealthy. Tuttle assures me that’s not the case: “Removal does not damage your nails when it’s done correctly and patiently,” she says. “But picking your gels off does hurt your nails and can prevent future polish and/or gel from sticking.”

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