How to Remove Gel Polish at Home Without Ruining Your Nails for Good

Trust us—we know the feeling all too well. You’ve had a gel manicure, your colourful nails look amazing for two to three weeks, and you’re on top of the world. But then you notice that they’re catching a little when you wash your hair. Later, while washing up, you spot that the edges are starting to lift. You start inspecting. First, you just pick a tiny corner to try to minimise the damage, but then the high of the peel takes over, and 20 minutes later, you’re crying into a pile of gel flakes with nails that resemble shredded tissue paper. 

The truth is nail upkeep is actually quite tough. Without an expert there to guide you through things step-by-step, it’s all too easy to make a wrong turn, especially when it comes to gels. Nail expert at OPI Belinda Price explains, “The nail is made up of many layers, and if the gel is peeled off, it can take a layer of nail with it, causing thinning and damage. To grow the damage out can take around three months.”

Keeping nails looking healthy after gel removal is easier than you think.

However, despite being told time and time again that when it comes to gel nails, it’s always best to leave it to the experts, we figured that we can’t be alone when it comes to succumbing to the peel. So in a bid to protect nail beds across the land, keep scrolling for a step-by-step guide on how to remove gel polish yourself without ruining your nails.

First of all, depending on the type of gel you have on your nails (it’s always worth taking a mental note in the future), you will usually have to file off the top, glossy layer of the polish before you start soaking in remover. The key is to gently buff off the shiny layer to weaken the bond, without hitting the nail itself.  With that being said, there are certain formulas that don’t require this step—most notably the very popular CND Shellac. Global team CND education ambassador Nataliya Al-Ta’ai explains, “Shellac is a thin but very protective gel polish colour coating. The formula contains unique polymers that allow for it to be removed effortlessly (without filing), which can easily be done at home.”

These handy nail buffers file, buff, smooth and shine nails for a pretty, preened finish.

Nail artists swear by this kind-to-nails file and buffer, so you can expect salon-grade results.

If you want a file and buffer that looks cute and colourful on your dressing table, look no further than this multi-use block from The Body Shop.

Next up comes the important bit. Unlike normal nail varnish, gel formulas require removers that come with a bit of extra oomph. First, saturate a cotton pad in an acetone-based or gel-appropriate remover and place it on the nail. Then, wrap kitchen foil around the nail and cotton pad to hold it in place. “Ensure a snug, tight fit,” says Al-Ta’ai. “Squeeze the top centre of the foil to secure the wrap onto the nail itself.” Repeat this on all fingers. If it all sounds a little too tricky, pre-made-up wraps are available to buy. All you have to do is saturate the pad, and you’re ready to wrap. The key to getting this right is patience. Different formulas require different wait times, but we have found that 15 minutes is usually long enough before you check on them. Once the colour has visibly lifted and bubbled, you should be good to go.

You can always find a bottle of this professional-approved polish remover on any reputable nail bar.

This stuff is really clever. Just apply to nails and watch on as your gel starts lifting away in a matter of seconds.

These foil wraps save a lot of time tearing up kitchen foil. Plus, you can just apply your remover to the included absorbent pad.

Keep these pre-made foil wraps on hand for when your gel is starting to wear.

Now that you have let the remover do its job, it’s important you don’t pull the foils off in a rush. “Securely grip the foil remover wrap around the nail, applying slight pressure, and slide the wrap off the nail,” says Al-Ta’ai. Once you have removed the wraps, you should be able to tell what areas require more attention. If certain areas still have big chunks of colour left, it’s always best to rewrap the nail and wait for a little longer. However, for smaller areas where the bond is already visibly weakened, you can slide it off with an orangewood stick. “Follow the direction of the growth of the nail plate. It’s really important to be gentle here and not force the product of the nail to prevent unnecessary damage,” warns Al-Ta’ai.

Wooden cuticle sticks are gentle on the nail and help prevent damage during the removal stage.

You’ll get a lot of use out of these cheap but handy little sticks.

As with any nail treatment, it’s essential to nourish your nails and cuticles once finished. Gel polish removers tend to contain more aggressive, drying chemicals than your average remover, so be sure to wash your hands afterwards and apply a nail-and-cuticle oil to keep the area hydrated and healthy.

This nail-and-cuticle oil contains a nourishing and hydrating blend of jojoba, rice-bran and sweet-almond oils to soften cuticles and keep nails looking healthy.

I don’t know a single nail artist who doesn’t swear by the nail-transforming abilities of this stuff.

For a more affordable nail-nourishing alternative, this apricot oil from Essie is ideal.

This gel kit contains everything you need for the perfect gel manicure, from polishes through to removers.

This super-cute UV lamp looks like a giant macaron, and the gel polishes work with just a single layer. What’s not to love?

Nail artists and technicians love this full gel manicure kit from Mylee.

This super-tiny gel kit can be popped in your travel bag so that you can get your gel mani fix on the go.

These clever polishes give gel-like results but can be removed with a simple acetone-free nail polish remover. It’s all very clever.

Next up, I’m seeing these five nail designs all over Instagram, and I want in.

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