Ripping your gel manicure off might be a fast and convenient removal technique, but the swift process can actually cause more harm than good. Everything might appear to be OK to the naked eye, but the delicate layers of the nail plate are actually stripped with every tear, potentially causing permanent damage.
“The gel attaches to layers of your nail plate so it could take months and months for that to grow out again,” celebrity manicurist Patricia Yankee tells SELF. Her professional advice to ensure the health of your nails is to head back to your salon for proper removal. But if you can’t make it in, there are a few easy-to-follow steps to get similar results at home.
First things first: Protect your cuticles.
Acetone can wreak havoc on the skin around your nails. “Before you soak protect the surrounding areas with a cuticle oil,” Yankee explains. A quick home remedy is the tried-and-true Vaseline. The petroleum jelly will create a barrier to minimize damage that the liquid can cause.
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Be sure to loosen up the top layer.
“Before soaking you should take a coarse nail file and go over the top surface of all of your nails,” Yankee says. The gel top coat is a tough nearly impermeable layer that seals the color in place—that’s why gel manicures are able to last for weeks instead of days. So scratching the surface will help the acetone to penetrate without a hitch. “When filing apply a light and parallel pressure,” Yankee says, to avoid scratching the nail plate underneath.
Take your time and let them soak.
Here’s how to soak your nails: Apply acetone-drenched cotton balls to each nail (acetone is stronger and more effective than nail polish remover, FYI). Next, wrap each finger with aluminum foil to generate more heat to help the particles breakdown faster. If that method sounds like too much work, you can also pick up less cumbersome ready-to-go wraps by Graham Professional Beauty from Sally’s for under $3 (sallybeauty.com).
Gel polish formulas vary in strength, so the wait time can be anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes. Yankee’s expert tip: “Sometimes it’s best to do one hand at a time at home. I like to start with the dominant hand to get the toughest part out of the way.” So if you’re a lefty, begin soaking the nails on your left-hand side, and then your right hand will be a breeze. “It’s a small change, but it makes a huge difference,” the pro reveals.
Soak again and gently scrape.
Once you give the acetone time to work its magic, grab the file (or a wooden orange stick) again and continue to gently scrape the layers to safely remove the gel polish. You’ll notice the first few coats begin to peel off easily. If you encounter more resistant layers you’ll need to loosen them up with another acetone soaki. Repeat the soaking and scraping method until you’ve safely removed all.