How to Remove Fake Nails Without Ruining Your Real Ones

Make the process a little less painful.

Before (left) and after (right) removing acrylic nails

D Mills / Byrdie

Before you scoff at the idea of acrylics, just think: Wouldn’t it be nice to go two weeks without a manicure and still have long, shiny nails (with gorgeous nail art, if that's your thing)? We think so.

While there are quite a few perks to fake nails, there are some downsides—namely, potential damage to your real nails. (Emphasis on the potential: "Proper removal of fake nails should never leave your nails damaged," says licensed manicurist Hannah Lee.) While we all love a beautiful full set, it shouldn't come at the expense of your nail health.

How to Remove Fake Nails Without Ruining Your Real Ones

Byrdie | Design by Zackary Angeline

So, we asked Lee and nail expert Pattie Yankee to share their best advice for damage-free fake nail removal. Read on for what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

  • Hannah Lee is a licensed manicurist, nail content creator, and Sally Hansen partner based in Atlanta.
  • Pattie Yankee is a consultant at Dashing Diva with over 30 years of experience in the nail industry. She is also a celebrity nail artist whose clients include Priyanka Chopra, Kim Kardashian, Selena Gomez, Chrissy Teigen, Nicki Minaj, and many others.

What You'll Need

  • Nail file
  • Nail buffer
  • Nail clippers
  • Acetone
  • 10 pieces of cotton and 10 squares of aluminum foil OR two bowls
  • Manicure stick
  • Cuticle oil
  • Moisturizer
01 of 05

File Down Your Nails

Woman files down a fake nail

D Mills / Byrdie

Before you soak your nails, you'll want to take a file to the surface: "Roughing up the surface and removing as much of the top layer as possible helps the fake nails soften quicker in acetone," says Lee. Yankee and Lee both recommend cutting down the fake nail as well.

After this, Lee likes to saturate the nail in cuticle oil. "This helps keep the nails and skin moisturized during the removal process since acetone can be very drying," she says.

02 of 05

Soak Your Fingernails in Acetone

Woman wraps nail in foil with acetone-soaked cotton

D Mills / Byrdie

When it comes time to crack open your acetone, you've got two options: Dipping your hands into two glass bowls filled about halfway with acetone or soaking cotton in acetone and wrapping it around your nail with foil or a nail clip. While Lee favors the bowl method (she considers it both easier and faster), "your skin is more exposed to the acetone, so you'll have more drying."

03 of 05

Repeat the Process (if Needed)

Woman removes foil and acetone cotton from a fingernail

D Mills / Byrdie

And then you wait. "It will take around 20-30 minutes to break down the fake nails," says Lee. "You will notice them sort of melting throughout the process. Once you see this, you can gently push the acrylic off the nail." She tells us that though your fake nails "should remove easily," if they don't, just repeat the process until they do.

04 of 05

Clean Up Your Nail Plate

Woman chips away at remaining polish on her fingernail

D Mills / Byrdie

After you've removed your fake nails, you can push away any loosened product with a manicure stick. Then, lightly buff any remaining residue from the nail plates with a fine-grit file or buffing block. "Buff your nails gently after everything is removed," says Lee. "This helps smooth out the surface and remove any leftover product."

Once your nails are totally bare, wash your hands a slather on the cuticle oil and moisturizer. "Acetone is extremely drying on skin and nails, so you can rehydrate and get them back to looking their best by applying this combo a couple of times a day," says Lee.

05 of 05

Give Your Nails Some TLC

Final view of a woman's hand, free of fake nails

D Mills / Byrdie

In the days after removing your fake nails, it's time to show your real ones some love. Along with the aforementioned cuticle oil and moisturizer, you might want to offer your nails a little PTO before getting a new mani. "If you wear [fake nails] a lot, it's always a good idea to give your nails a little break and focus on caring for your natural nails, even for a few days," says Lee. Yankee does suggest protecting and strengthening your nails with a few layers of a nourishing base coat.

  • Can I just quickly remove my acrylic nails at home?

    While you can remove faux nails at home, it will take some time (you'll want to file them down, soak them, and gently remove them), so don't try to just quickly yank them off.

  • How long can I go in between acrylic nail sets?

    There's no definite timeline, though it's best to wait until your nails are healthy again (which could take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months).

  • How should I care for my natural nails after removing my acrylics?

    First off, you'll want to keep nails short and healthy, as they will likely be weak from the acrylics. Moisturize with oils often, and apply a strengthening treatment as necessary.

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