A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist US.
Last week, I wrote an article about everything a person might need to give themself an at-home manicure, according to my nail tech Fleury Rose. It included cuticle oils, buffing tools, and polishes that make painting your nails from the comfort of your couch simple and easy. After it went live, dozens of people with SNS, acrylic, and gel manicures, which they got before they began social distancing, emailed me to ask how on Earth they would be able to get them off without the help of their beloved nail techs. Typically, this is not something I would ever suggest trying at home — done incorrectly, it can badly damage your nail bed. But with salons closed, many of us don’t have much of a choice. Although it might sound like a trivial problem, if left on too long, SNS, gel, and acrylic nails can start to lift around the edges, allowing water to get trapped underneath and cultivate bacteria (we are especially susceptible to this considering how frequently we’re all washing our hands.)
So I reached out to Fleury a second time, to ask her the best way to safely remove gels and acrylics at home. And with her recommendations and the tools below, I was able to safely and comfortably remove my own hard gel manicure on my sofa while watching First Wives Club.
According to Fleury Rose, the numbers on your nail file correspond to their strength — and you’ll need at least a 180-grade file or less to sufficiently scrub off the polish. Take the file, she says, and try to scrub off as much of the gel polish as possible. If you have hard gels on, this will be a bit trickier, and it’s especially important to spend a lot of time trying to get as much off as possible — hard gel is one of the trickiest things to remove with acetone alone. This step can get a little dusty so you might want to put a towel underneath while you work. A very important note: you want to avoid hitting the natural nail here. So stop if you see yourself getting close.
For the second step, you’ll need 100 percent pure acetone, some tin foil, and regular cotton balls. Soak your cotton balls in the acetone until they’re completely wet, place them on your nails, and then wrap the whole thing up in aluminum foil. Fleury explained that depending on what you have on your nails — regular gel, hard gel, SNS, or acrylic — this step takes a bit of time. Regular gels will start to lift up and off of your nail in about 15 minutes, SNS and acrylics will take closer to 20, and hard gels are the trickiest, and depend on how much you’ve been able to file off first. After 15–20 minutes of soaking, check on your nails and then begin to gently file again. Acrylic and SNS will start to form a kind of thick gluey consistency that you can wipe off as you go. After getting rid of some of that sludge away, put the acetone-soaked cotton ball back on your nail (add more acetone if it feels dry), rewrap them in aluminum foil, and wait another 15 minutes. Repeat this process until most of the product is off of your nails.
If you’re struggling to get the gel, acrylic, or SNS off of your nails, you can use a nail clipper (or nipper) to pull up any of the edges that might be lifting or raising. Don’t peel or tug anything—that can rip it off your nail and be damaging — just trim what’s already lifting. If you also want to cut your nails short to make the removal process a little easier, these will get the job done (you can do this before you soak your nails.)
Any left over bits that are stuck to your nail can be removed with a cuticle pusher. Try and get underneath the polish and push so that it lifts. Again, be gentle! You don’t want to damage your nails.
It’s likely that your nails will look very brittle, dry, and damaged after removing gel, acrylics, or SNS. So lock in some moisture with a super hydrating cuticle oil. I bought the Blossom Cuticle Oil that Fleury suggested and it’s been wonderful at nourishing and healing my now very fragile nails. I’ve been using this every day to make sure my nails stay well-moisturized.
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