Nail Treatments

How to Remove Gel Nails at Home without any damage

After writing a thorough How to DIY Gel Nails At Home article, the only next logical step was to write about removing said gel nails.
As you already know, I got my gel nail kit from Nail the Nail. Last time I’ve used Canni paint number 512, and this time I will paint my nails in the shade 325 (darker, almost neon pink).

Before I do that, I would like to show you the wear (or the absence of) my gel nails.

After one week, they looked like this:

diy gel nails after a week

My growth is minimal, but I assure you that this was after a week. It is just due to the fact that my nails grow painfully slow. As you can see from the picture, the nails look intact and the shine is still there. Well, a week is nothing for gel nails, so let’s see how they looked after two weeks.

diy gel nails after two weeks

The lighting was a bit different so the picture is not really true to color, they look way more orange here. The growth was now noticeable so I’ve decided to remove them after taking this picture.

After two weeks there were no signs of chipping or lifting so I was pleasantly surprised. I’ll try to keep my next nails even longer to see when will they actually chip (if they do), fingers crossed that I won’t get bored with them again and remove them before I test them to their max.
The one thing I was most impressed with was the shine! Regular nail polish will lose its shine after a few days. It may be chip-free for a week, but if I don’t apply a top coat again, it will go dull. Sooner than I would like.

So there you have it, my homemade gel manicure was a success in my eyes. It looked decent for a first timer like me and it lasted long enough.

So, how do we remove it?

FYI, I am talking about the removal of soft (or soak-off) gel. I haven’t tried acrylics or hard gel nails so this method is not meant for anything other than soft gel nails.

Removing Gel Nails at Home


It is important to know that the longer you wear your gel nails – the harder it is to remove them. Not that you should remove them after a week just so you can remove them easier. I just want to let you know so that you realize how much will it vary in practice.

You’ll only need a buffer (something like Nail Art Buffer Buffing Sanding Files Block) for your nails and these EZGO Nail Gel Polish Remover Pads.

It comes in a pack of 200 so it is really worth it! You could use lint-free cotton pads and aluminum foil, but it won’t be any cheaper or more efficient. Trust me, I tried it!
You’ll get everything you need in the Nail the Nail kit if you order it.
Anyway, you won’t need a wooden stick or any scraping tool. That’s what spreads the myth that gel nails ruin your nails. It’s not the gel, it is the improper removal.

We’ll start by buffing our nails. I’m guessing you have at least three coats of gel on your nails (the base, color, and the top coat) so all those tips that you need to be extra gentle are not so important.

Chances that you’ll buff so fast to your nail plate are paper thin so we won’t worry about that. The least you should buff is until you remove the shine from your polish. That means you’ve penetrated the top layer which is the hardest. Here is how it looks before, during and after buffing.

buffing diy gel nails at home

It looks dull and horrible now and that’s the point! You could even buff a little more, that means less soaking in acetone. Just try to keep an eye on your nail bed if you have nude colored gel polish where it is not so obvious when you have almost removed it all.
After you are satisfied with the amount of buffing, we can move on to the next step which is actually removing your gel nail polish.

If you’ve bought the kit or just the removers I’ve linked you above, you’ll have a lot of these:

gel nail manicure remover

You should split this in two and get two separate packets that open where the dotted line that says „tear here“ is. After that, you just stick your finger inside. The outer packaging acts similar to aluminum foil in the „aluminum and soaked cotton balls“ hack for removing your gel nails. It keeps the acetone from evaporating.

Unlike foil, this packaging has an adhesive on the front side covered by a transparent plastic foil. That means it also helps to tighten the grip on the nail so it won’t fall off. You’ll probably need to put it on your nails a few times before you get a hang of your perfect technique.
Inside is a piece of square cut cotton that is soaked in acetone. It is just as big enough to cover your nail and not too much skin around it.

That brings me to my next point, you know the sites that recommend you soaking your hands for 20 minutes in warm acetone’ Well…don’t do that! Period.

Not only will it dry your skin and nails too much (which is not that big of a deal since you can re-hydrate), but the acetone will actually be soaked through your skin and into your bloodstream. Now, if we’re talking about small amounts, it won’t pose a health issue. But I wouldn’t risk doing this biweekly AKA every time I’m removing my gel mani. Better safe than sorry.

Here are the two ways of how I applied it depending on whether the adhesive was on the top or on the bottom.

removing diy gel nails at home

I prefer the right side of applying because it holds the cotton tighter and more secure to my nail. Try to wrap this as tightly as possible to reduce the evaporation of acetone and so that you don’t need to worry about it falling off.

How long should you soak your nails in acetone?

Well, it depends. It depends on how long you had your gel on, how much did you file the top layer, how many layers of gel did you apply and so on.

For my mani, I had four coats (base + 2x color + top) and let me show you how the soaking part looked for me.

gel nails polish remover after beeing used

My ring finger (left one) was soaked for five minutes. It is clearly not enough time to lift of the polish. Obviously, you need to re-wrap your nail and leave it on at least twice the time since barely the tip has been lifted. My middle finger (right one in the picture above) has been soaking for ten minutes straight.

You can see that a lot of the gel is lifted and you could probably scrape it easily, but DON’T! Just re-wrap this finger too and leave it on for a couple more minutes. The acetone may dry out your nails, but the damage is simply not comparable to the damage you would do by scraping. The only kind of scraping your nails should tolerate is firmly pressing the soaked cotton while pulling the wrap off. If there are only a few spots of gel left, try to rub them off with a cotton ball soaked in acetone. Since the gel has mostly already lifted, it shouldn’t be a problem to remove a bit of gel here and there.

It is important to be patient and remove it simply with acetone and rubbing with a cotton ball, anything more aggressive and suddenly you’re looking at permanently damaged nail plate.
Here is how my end result looked on paper (literally):

gel nail manicure removal junk

Yes, it is messy and yes there will be gel shreds everywhere. The white cotton you see in the picture is the one removed from the wraps and used to rub on my fingernails.
I was getting a little bit frustrated by the end of it, but the results are worth it. There is no visible damage done to my nails apart from them being a little dehydrated. The cuticles are saved because the acetone never really soaked them. Well, you be the judge.

nails after removed gel nail polish

I admit, there are visible dry patches on my index finger and pinky, but nothing a little argan oil won’t fix.

So, to recap: better soak your nails for a little longer than to scrape the gel off, even with the gentlest tool you have – you’ll still be doing some damage to your top layer.
After painting them again, I was set for another two weeks (at least). Here is how they looked after the torture was finished.

gel nail manicure at home

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