How to Take Off Gel Nail Polish

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on August 11, 2021
4 min read

The first nail polishes were made in China as far back as the year 3000 BC. They were made from natural materials like beeswax, egg whites, and vegetable dyes. In the early 1920s, chemists developed what we think of today as nail polish.

We've come a long way since then. Gel polish has become a popular way to paint fingertips, and while it looks lovely while it last, it can be a pain to remove. Luckily, there are some tips on how to take off your gel polish once you're tired of it.

Why do people enjoy getting gel manicures and pedicures?

  • It lasts longer. Gel manicures can last for as long as three weeks, whereas a regular manicure may only last for one. So, busy people may prefer this because they will have to go to the nail salon fewer times.
  • It is chip-resistant. Regular nail polish manicures tend to chip. Gel is very chip-resistant, again leading to fewer trips to the salon for fixes.
  • It dries quickly. As soon as you take your hand or foot out of the UV curing light, your manicure is dry. Most gel polish brands cure in just 30 seconds under the UV light.
  • It doesn't smell. Acrylics and regular nail polish have strong scents. Gel polish has nearly no scent at all.

Gel manicures do take longer than regular ones, so make sure to leave extra time in your schedule.

If you want to change your nail color frequently, you may not be happy with gel manicures since it's harder to remove than other nail polishes. 

Experts recommend that young children avoid gel nail polish.

While your manicure and pedicure may look lovely for a while, eventually you may want to take off the gel polish for a different color or finish. The removal of gel nail polish is slightly different for each manufacturer. Read the information provided by the manufacturer with your gel kit. 

Here are the supplies you will need to remove your gel nail polish at home:

  • Acetone (make sure it is 100%)
  • Foil, plastic wrap, or nail clips intended for gel polish removal
  • Nail file
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Cotton balls
  • Towel
  • Washcloth

Step 1: Line your workspace with plastic wrap, and put a thick towel on top. Acetone can damage surfaces, so you'll want to cover up.

Step 2: Put a bit of petroleum jelly on each of your cuticles and the skin around your nail to protect against the acetone, which can be harsh and drying.

Step 3: Rip several cotton balls into pieces large enough to cover your nails. These smaller sizes help you avoid getting too much acetone on your skin. Plus, you'll use many less cotton balls.

Step 4: Buff your gel nail polish with a nail file to help the acetone soak in more easily.

Step 5: Soak your cotton ball pieces in acetone.

Step 6: Place each cotton ball on a nail and wrap it in plastic wrap or foil, or use a nail clip to keep the cotton in place. Wrap tightly enough to keep the cotton in place but not so tight that it cuts off circulation to your fingers. Some experts recommend using plastic wrap since it keeps a tighter seal and can prevent acetone from dripping.

Step 7: Leave the cotton on for 10-15 minutes. 

Step 8: Take the cotton off. The gel polish should come off easily. If it is still too hard, repeat the soaking process for another 5 minutes.

Step 9: Use a warm washcloth to gently scrub off the gel polish.

Step 10: Once all gel is removed, wash your hands or feet with soap and water.

Step 11: Moisturize your hands or feet.

If you'd like to avoid doing this removal process, you can simply let your nails grow out. You can cut the gel off as it grows above your nail bed when you would normally clip your nails. However, this process can take up to six months for fingernails and up to 18 months for the more slowly growing toenails.

Don't use an orange stick. These are small wooden sticks that nail technicians often use to push gel nail polish off. However, they can damage your nails and leave spots on them.

You may also be tempted to file the gel off or to use a dremel tool to sand it down. However, these tools can damage nails, especially when used by people who are not professional nail technicians. 

Keep in mind that the longer your gel has been on your nail, the harder it will be to take off. Certain additions to your gel nail look, like glitter, may also make it harder to take off.