A celebrity manicurist reveals her top tips for getting rid of even the most stubborn colors and enhancements.

By Jennifer Aldrich
March 23, 2020
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As I'm approaching week three of my dip nails, it's when I'd normally head to my salon to get the old color removed while enjoying a relaxing manicure appointment. However, things are a bit different now, so I'm going to have to take it off myself and do my own nails at home. Although I've visited my technician plenty of times, I'm certainly not an expert on the process, but I know that if done incorrectly, the removal process causes damage. (And the last thing I want to do is damage my nail beds after overcoming my bad biting habit.)

So, I enlisted the expertise of celebrity manicurist, Jess Alexander-Snyder (who's worked with actresses Mindy Kaling, Amber Heard, and Aidy Bryant, among others) to find out the best ways to remove any type of polish, including regular, gel, dip powder, and acrylics, right at home. She offers step-by-step instructions for how to remove nail polish and enhancements the right way to help keep our nailbeds healthy.

Olhakozachenko/Getty Images

How to Remove Regular Nail Polish

Although traditional polish doesn't last as long as other options, it's by far the easiest to take off. "The best tip with regular polish is to soak a cotton ball in acetone and hold it on your finger for a few seconds before rubbing your nail bed," Alexander-Snyder says. (You can buy a bottle of acetone for just $.99 at Target.) She adds that dark colors, reds, and glitters can be stubborn, so soak those shades with remover for at least a minute. She often uses Butter LONDON's nail scrubbers that come in packs of 10 for $10, which have a rough side for scrubbing to get off those problematic colors.

How to Remove Gel Nail Polish

The issue with gel polish is that the formulas are all different. "Not all removal techniques fit all," Alexander-Snyder explains. "Some will remove in under five minutes; others need to soak up to thirty." The most important thing you need to remember for gel or any nail enhancement is to have patience. First, you should buff the topcoat with a nail file. (You can buy a shape and buff file from Ulta for $3.49.) Then, you can either soak your nails in a bowl full of acetone or wrap each finger in acetone-soaked cotton balls that you'll need to cover with tin foil.

If you decide to do the latter, Alexander-Snyder has a few tried-and-true tips. "Take a cotton ball, unroll it, and break it into small pieces," she says. (The bits should be big enough to cover your nail, but not so small that it doesn't hold liquid.) "I've found it's best if you fold and rip the foil into little squares that are no smaller than 3 inches by 3 inches," she says. "The tin foil will help trap your body heat and help the acetone work even faster," Alexander-Snyder adds. She says to wait at least 10 minutes to check. If necessary, repeat the process.

Once the gel starts flaking, take the edge of your file, and gently scrape the rest off. Then, lightly buff your nailbed. "The goal is to smooth out your nail beds, not to take any of the nail bed off," Alexander-Snyder explains.  

How to Remove Dip Powder Nails

If you skipped how to remove gel nail polish, you'll want to go back to that because that's the first step when learning how to remove dip nail polish. After you've broken down the top layer with acetone, "try to file down as much of the product as possible, [but] avoid filing the nail bed itself," Alexander-Snyder says. "This is where the damage comes from. That, or picking it off."

How to Remove Acrylic Nails

Now, we're repeating steps from both the gel and the dip powder tips. "Formula-wise, acrylic and dip are incredibly similar. Because of that, you can remove them the exact same way," Alexander-Snyder explains. So first, you buff, then, you soak in acetone (Alexander-Snyder recommends the cotton ball and tin foil method here from the gel section, for quickest results), and after that, file down the acrylic. "If you have tips and your natural nails are short, try to clip your nail enhancements down to your natural nail length," Alexander-Snyder says. 

Once your nails are naked, Alexander-Snyder recommends applying a nail strengthener, such as Horse Power Nail Rescue Base Coat from BUTTER London, $18. She says you're free to add polish as soon as you'd like. "There is no such thing as letting your nails breathe," she explains. "There are no pores. Nails are made of dead tissue." However, she does recommend moisturizing "like crazy" before and after you apply polish with BUTTER London's P.D. Quick Dry Conditioning Drops, $18. "After all of that soaking in acetone, you need as much moisture as you can get."

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