The Foolproof Guide to Removing Gel Polish at Home

manicure nail file

Stocksy

Whoever invented shellac polish should be simultaneously kissed and shaken. Yes, we love admiring our ever glossy nails day after day, nary a chip in sight. But then the dreaded two-week mark hits, and the shine starts to fade, chips start to show, and cuticles suddenly start growing in at breakneck speed. The only solution is to remove them and start all over…le sigh. To save you a trip to the nail salon, we spoke with celebrity manicurist Carla Kay (she’s painted the nails of Lily Aldridge and Jennifer Hudson) and got her expert advice on how to remove gel polish in the comfort of your own home. Turns out, it was a lot simpler than we thought—and it actually works. Below, find her step-by-step tips.

Meet the Expert

Carla Kay moved to California in 1991 and began perfecting her craft at popular L.A. salons. During that time, Kay secured a coveted spot at the respected Cloutier Agency (now known as Cloutier Remix), and quickly became one of L.A.'s premier manicurists. Now, she works with private celebrity clients and creates looks for editorial and advertising shoots. 

Tools

What you need:

Break the Seal

Take your soft grit nail file and very lightly file the top of your nail,” Kay says. She calls this “breaking the seal”—essentially, breaking up the gel layer of your polish so the acetone is able to soak in. But be careful not to go overboard. “Swipe only about five times—you don’t want to go all the way down and damage your nail,” Kay warns. Try BallHull's Nail File Double Sided Emery Board ($9) to gently file.

Saturate

Tear each cotton ball in half and saturate with a nail polish remover that’s specifically formulated for removing gel nail polish. Kay recommends OPI’s Expert Touch Lacquer Remover ($6) because unlike other acetone removers that can be harsh and drying, this formula actually conditions your nail bed as it removes the polish.

Apply + Secure

Place each saturated cotton ball over your nail and secure in place. “A lot of people use foil, but I find that it doesn’t hold the cotton ball in place very well,” Kay says. “Instead, use masking tape and wrap it around each cotton ball so that there is a bit of pressure—this will help the remover soak into your nail.” Kay suggests doing one hand at a time so your free hand can better secure each cotton ball.

Saturate

Set the timer for 10 minutes and wait for the remover to soak in. 

Remove

Gently rub the cotton ball back and forth a few times on each nail, then pull off. There will most likely still be polish left on each finger. Take your orange wood stick and gently scrape off any leftover gel polish. “Never use a metal stick,” Kay warns. “It’s way too abrasive!” Try Adecco's Orange Wood Sticks or a Rubber Nail Cuticle Pusher instead.

Condition

“Moisturizing your nails after removing gel polish is vital,” Kay emphasizes. You can use cuticle oil like Olive & June's Cuticle Serum or an all-over nail conditioner. She raves about Duri Cosmetics’ Rejuvocote too. “It’s made with keratin and calcium, so it immediately starts nourishing the nail bed once you apply it. I’ve gotten two clients off of wearing gels using this product—I could see the results in just two weeks.” 

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