The DIY Guide to Removing Gel, Dip and Acrylic Nails—Without Damage

The coronavirus pandemic has completely turned life upside down. Even if you and your loved ones are lucky enough not to be impacted directly by COVID-19, the things you’d normally leave the house to do have become strictly at-home activities—including your regular visits to the nail salon.

So what’s a manicure enthusiast to do when your gel, acrylic, or dip powder nails grow out? Normally, removing your nails isn’t something you should try at home. But before you give in to the temptation to bite or pick off your polish, know that there are ways to remove it at home without damage. Here’s how to take matters into your own hands (heh) and remove your fake nails safely.

What you’ll need:

  • Nail file (180 or 100 grit)

  • Nail clipper

  • 100% acetone nail polish remover

  • Cotton balls

  • Aluminum foil

  • Cuticle pusher or stick

  • Nail buffer

  • Cuticle oil

File your nails

Gently file the surface of your nails with a coarse nail file. If you have gel or dip powder nails, you just want to remove the shiny top layer. For acrylics, you can file down a bit more, taking care not to hit the natural nail underneath. The thinner the coat of acrylic on top of your nails, the easier it will come off when you soak it in nail polish remover (our next step). Be really careful not to go overboard and damage your nail bed.

If you have extensions, use a nail clipper to clip off the tips before you get started.

Soak ‘em (and resoak ‘em)

Next step: Soak your nails in nail polish remover—the 100% acetone variety. You can do this by filling up a small bowl or mug with acetone and dipping your nails in it, or you can soak cotton balls in acetone, put them on your nails, and wrap them in small squares of aluminum foil.

After about 10 minutes, check on your nails. The polish will have softened and turned sticky and gummy. Use a cuticle pusher or wooden stick to gently scrape away any softened polish—you shouldn’t have to use much force. Once you’ve removed any sludge that comes off easily, soak your nails again for another 5 to 10 minutes. Repeat this process until most of the polish is off of your nails.

Buff off any last bits

After you’ve removed the majority of the polish, you’ll probably still have small bits of product clinging to your nails. Use a nail buffer to gently buff away any remaining product, making sure not to over-buff your natural nails.

Apply nail oil

At this point, your natural nails have taken a beating. If you need to, clip and file the edges of your nails. Then massage a generous amount of cuticle oil into your nail beds and cuticles. Follow up with hand cream if you have it—your skin is probably pretty dry from all the handwashing you’ve been doing these days.