How to remove gel nail polish at home, according to a nail artist

The 'no tears' guide on how to remove gel nail polish without destroying your nails

Close-up of woman applying nail varnish, with black background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Two weeks of chip-free wear and glossy shine sets our pulses racing — until we get to the part when we're Googling 'how to remove gel nail polish.' 

After months of social distancing, booking a trip to the salon to remove your gel nails is often put on the back burner. Which means taking matters into your own hands (quite literally!). 

We get it — once the layer around the cuticle starts to lift it takes every ounce of self-control not to pick or rip it off. But do resist the urge, as it’s the major cause of damage to the nail bed underneath.

Ultimately, what goes on, must come off. We spoke to Michelle Humphrey, Dua Lipa's nail artist, to find out the best way to remove your gel manicure when it’s time to call it quits.

1. Break out the nail file

"Before you apply nail polisher remover, take a coarse nail file and gently sand down the very top layer of polish as this effectively breaks the seal," says Humphrey. "If you skip this stage you'll find removal a nightmare!"

2. Hydrate your skin 

"Next, coat the skin surrounding your nails with cuticle oil to prevent dehydration from the acetone in the polish remover. I love Sally Hansen Vitamin E Nail and Cuticle Oil as its thick formula really nourishes nails."

3. Soak cotton pads in nail polish remover

While the pros use remover wraps that already have built-in cotton pads, this is where your DIY skills are put to good use. Cut aluminum foil into squares big enough to cover your nail tips. "Place a cotton pad, cut in half and soaked in acetone or nail gel remover, in the middle of the aluminum foil," Humphrey says.

4. Wrap your fingertips in aluminum foil

Wrap your fingertips in the aluminum squares, making sure the cotton pad is secured against the nail. Then wait 10 or 15 minutes.

5. Hurry things along a bit

"Gently push any gel, that's come loose, off the nail plate using an orangewood stick," explains Humphrey. 

"Never force it. If necessary, re-wrap and repeat on the remaining polish, making sure you keep the cotton pad well-saturated in polish remover.  Expect this process to take 30-45 minutes and always do one hand at a time."

6. File again, buff and hydrate (in that order)

Once all the gel has been removed, Humphrey recommends you gently file nails into your desired shape and buff the surface into a smooth, glossy shell. Then drench them in moisture with another layer of cuticle oil. 

Brush on a nail strengthener

"Nail strengthener is optional after removal, but great for when you’re having a break from gels," adds Humphrey, who recommends OPI's Nail Envy Sensitive & Peeling Formula Nail Strengthener.  "Just ensure the nail is wiped clean of any excess cuticle oil first." 

Et voila, not a single brittle, broken nail in sight.

Fiona Embleton
Fiona Embleton

Senior Beauty Editor, Future Publishing. Portfolio: Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, Stylist.