How to Remove Gel Polish Yourself Safely, According to a Pro

If you went into quarantine with a full gel manicure, here's how to remove the gel polish yourself.

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Your home has become your workout studio, office, and local watering hole in a matter of weeks—so you might as well add nail salon to the list! If you're regretting getting that gel manicure a few weeks ago, you're not alone. With all of your sacred salons closed, you're left to fend for yourself in terms of upkeep. And though it's tempting, please don't peel your gels off! If you're wondering how to remove gel polish safely by yourself at home, we've got the answers, straight from celebrity nail artist Alex Jachno.

How to Remove Gel Polish Safely: A Step-by-Step Guide

What you'll need to remove your gel polish:

  • Polish remover or acetone
  • A coarse nail file (100 or 180 grit)
  • A small bowl
  • Cotton balls
  • Aluminum foil or foil remover wraps
  • A cuticle pusher or orange wood stick
  • Cuticle oil
  • A towel for easy clean up

Pro tip: Do all steps on one hand at a time. After removing your gel polish completely from one hand, repeat the step on your other hand.

Step 1: File down gels.

filing nails to remove gel polish
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Lay down your towel to prevent a mess. Using a coarse nail file, file down the tops of each nail. "This step is very important because you need to rough up the surface layer and break the seal of the gel so the polish remover can penetrate," says Jachno. Don't completely buff off the polish, but scratch up the surface enough to visibly see.

Step 2: Soak nails in polish remover.

soaking gel polish off with foil
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Once you've filed, it's time to soak the gels off. You can do this in one of three ways:

Method 1: Soak nails in a bowl of nail polish remover or straight acetone for at least 10 minutes.

Method 2: If you want to really feel like you're at the nail salon, you can place a polish remover-soaked cotton ball on each nail and wrap it with aluminum foil.

Method 3: In truth, even the pros like Jachno find method two difficult to do alone, so her back up is Orly Gel Remover Foils. "These already have a cotton pad on them, so just apply the remover to the pad and wrap on each finger," says Jachno. The longer they are on, the easier the gels will come off.

Step 3: Push gels off.

pushing off gel from nails after soaking
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Remove foils or nails from the bowl of remover. Using a metal cuticle pusher or orange wood stick at a flat angle, gently push along nail to push off the gel—the key word is gently. "Don't force this—if they aren't peeling off easily, soak for another 10 minutes before attempting again," says Jachno.

Step 4: Smooth nails.

buffing nails with turquoise buffer
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If you made it this far, your nails are free—congrats! Once your gels are completely removed, your nails will feel very rough. Take a fine grit buffer and lightly buff your nail bed until smooth.

Step 5: Rehydrate with cuticle oil.

applying cuticle oil to nails after removing gel polish
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Gels wreak havoc on your nails, so now is a great time to let your nails breathe. Cuticle oil can help restore and maintain healthy nails. "Polish remover is very drying, so apply a generous amount of cuticle oil to hydrate your nails back to life," says Jachno.

Jennifer Bennour
Jennifer Bennour is a freelance writer covering fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. Read more
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