Dip powder nails (also known as SNS nails) have recently become synonymous with gorgeous, long-lasting color that (supposedly) doesn’t sacrifice the health of your nails. The only problem is, just like gel, removing it at home can be pretty tricky (read: damaging), which is why the process has been getting some flack.
“There are two issues that I've found with dips and nail health,” Lauren Dunne explains. “The first is that it is designed to stay on the nail for 2-4 weeks, which can result in issues like spotting on your nails from keratin granulation or from color pigments. Second, if the dip begins to lift over time, moisture can get captured, which can cause bacterial infections.”
While that sounds scary, the buzz-worthy technique has plenty of plusses too—even when it comes to removing it at home.
Joy Terrell explains that no harsh primers are used in the process of actually painting dip powder on. “With acrylic and gel, primers containing methacrylic acids are often used to promote adhesion,” she points out. “These chemicals are harsh, toxic, and long-term really bad for your nails and body.”
Meet the Expert
- Lauren Dunne is the co-founder of D.C.-based Varnish Lane, a natural, waterless nail salon.
- Joy Terrell is the owner of L.A.-based Powder Beauty Co., a luxury nail and facial bar offering non-toxic and natural services.
Another huge benefit of the dip powder technique is that there are no UV lights used. “Studies have shown that UVA rays damage DNA and collagen, which can lead to premature aging and may increase skin cancer risk,” Terrell warns. “Plus, most clients have experienced that awful burning sensation under the light caused by excessive heat.”
Lastly, removing the powder is actually one of the least damaging processes, in comparison to other long-lasting color options. “One of the huge benefits with dip powder removal is the lack of damage to the nail bed,” explains Terrell. “Unlike gel, there's no scraping involved, so it’s definitely gentler.”
The problem is, even with all those benefits, dip powder clients don’t always know how to go about the removal process themselves, so if they don’t have the time to book an appointment with a powder pro, they tend to take the matter into their own hands. This leads to picking and pulling the dip powder polish as soon as the first chip cracks into view.
“Peeling it off will tear off layers of your nails and instantly leave you with weak, brittle nails that can take months to fully grow out,” Dunne warns.
Since nobody is down for an unhealthy (not to mention unsightly) nail sitch, we had Terrell and Dunne walk us through the removal process, as well as the best way to rehab nails after your powder sesh. Check out their tips, below.
How to Remove Dip Powder Nails at Home
- Nail file
- Cotton balls
- Small bowl (optional)
- Foil (optional)
Step 1: Start by filing down the shiny topcoat.
“The best way to remove dip at home is to file or buff off the top layer—this will allow the acetone to penetrate,” Terrell says. To do so, use a fine emery board in a back and forth, side to side motion until the top layer of your nails look dull and covered with fine white dust. This indicates that the top layer of powder has been removed.
Step 2: Wrap nails with foil and acetone-soaked cotton.
As with any nail polish, acetone is a must. But save yourself the time and effort of rubbing your nails raw with a plain soaked cotton ball, as dip powder won’t come off in a simple stroke. Instead, place a drenched cotton ball on top of your buffed nail and wrap it in a small square of foil. Repeat for each nail. This will help the acetone sink into the powder, effectively dissolving its bond to the nail.
If you don’t have foil on hand, soak your nails in a small bowl of acetone for 10-15 minutes. To speed up the process, place a steaming hot towel over the bowl.
Step 3: Touch up the edges.
Once you peel off the foil or pull your fingers out of the bowl of acetone, Terrell says that the powder should rub right off. “Dip powder uses a cyanoacrylate, a nail glue that is more sensitive to solvents, so it removes easier than gel manicures,” she explains. However, if there’s any excess clinging on, she says that a quick swipe of a cotton ball should do the trick.
According to nail expert Evelyn Lim, if the powder was applied thick, you may have to repeat step two again. "Also, depending on the formula of the dip powder, it may break down to a gummy consistency that can rubbed off or it may crumble," she warns.
Once you’ve removed all traces of your dip powder manicure, you might want to jump right into your next Insta-worthy nail look — but hold your horses. Terrell suggests taking a break from dip powder depending on how frequently you get it. If it’s a regular occurrence in your beauty routine, she says to skip out on the fan-favorite mani for a few days every three to four months to give your nails a breather.
“During that time, a great strengthening treatment is key,” she explains. “IBX is one of the best nail strengthening treatments on the market right now. After one treatment, the difference is noticeable and immediate. We offer this treatment at Powder Beauty Co. and our regular clients swear by it in between their dip manis.”
If you don’t have time to head into a salon for the treatment, consider giving yourself a DIY rehab sesh with Dr. Dana Stern’s Dr. Dana Nail Renewal System ($55). The 3-step system incorporates a series of exfoliation and hydration that smoothes, strengthens, and moisturizes nails while delivering a swoon-worthy healthy shine. Dunne says that another option is to sub in a nail strengthener (we like the Ella + Mila Nail Strengthener First Aid Kiss ($11)) instead of polish for your next manicure.
“Clients should also apply cuticle oil to the nails daily to keep nails and cuticles hydrated,” Terrell advises. To take that to heart, we recommend stowing a tube of Beekman 1802 Goat Milk Cuticle Serum ($20). The vitamin-rich non-sticky formula comes with a cushion tip that makes for easy application that promises ultra-hydrated cuticles.