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How to remove gel nail polish without damaging your nails

Woman showing gel nail polish on nails
Woman showing gel nail polish on nails (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Having a gel polish manicure at the nail salon is a nice treat, especially for those who want to protect their nails from daily wear and tear. But after a few weeks, it can look worn, lacklustre and in desperate need of replacing. 

If you can’t get an appointment at the nail salon in time, you’ll need to learn how to remove gel nail polish without damaging your nails. Unlike regular nail polish that can be easily removed with acetone, removing gel nail polish is challenging. This is because these are made from a strong, liquid lacquer that will only dry under a UV or LED lamp. Not only does this strengthen the nails but are longer-lasting than regular polish. 

If you don’t know how to remove gel nail polish safely, you may ruin the condition of your nails. The good news is, it’s not that difficult to do at home, it just requires patience! 

Simply follow these tips on how to remove gel nail polish without damaging your nails, and save you the trip to the salon. 

How to remove oil nail gel polish without damaging your nails

First things first, you'll need to assemble the right tools for the job. Fortunately, these are all things you'll probably have around the home already. If not, they can all be bought locally or online. We've included suggestions where relevant.

What you'll need

Nail file

Nail polish remover (acetone)

Cotton balls

Oil nail and cuticle conditioner

Aluminium foil strips

Nail stick or tool

1. Start by filing the top coat of your nails. To do this, take a coarse nail file and gently file down the topcoat of gel polish on the nail. 

Don’t aim to remove all of the polish; you just need to sand off the shine. 

Filing nails

Filing nails  (Image credit: Shutterstock)

2. Next, coat your cuticles. You'll need to protect your skin around your nails with cuticle oil or cream. This will provide protection from the acetone/nail polish remover alcohol which is often drying to the skin. We can recommend Onsen Cuticle Cream, Cuticle Oil ($8, Amazon) to protect your nails.

Applying cuticle oil on nails

Applying cuticle oil on nails (Image credit: Shutterstock)

3. With that done, you can soak the cotton balls in acetone. Simply place cotton balls in a small bowl and pour acetone on top of each ball until they are soaked. Most salons tend to use cotton balls as they’re small and closer to the shape of your nails. Be sure to open a window or find a well-ventilated space to prevent you from breathing in the strong smell of acetone.  

Cotton balls in bowl

Cotton balls in bowl (Image credit: Shutterstock)

4. Once you've done this, you'll need to wrap each nail in aluminium foil. To do this, prepare the aluminium foil by tearing it into squares about 3 x 3 inches in size. Then, place an acetone-soaked cotton ball on top of the nail before wrapping your fingertips in the foil square. Leave these on for about 15 minutes to let the acetone work to breakdown the polish.  

Foil wrapped around nails

Foil wrapped around nails (Image credit: Shutterstock)

5. Next comes the crucial bit as you remove the foil and lift off the gel polish. Start by removing each foil to check if the polish has loosened before scraping the polish. Use a nail stick to gently work under the gel polish to  lift it off. If you notice that the polish hasn’t completely broken down, rewrap the nail with a new cotton ball/foil and repeat for five minutes or until it starts to shift.

Removing gel nail polish with tool

Removing gel nail polish with tool (Image credit: Shutterstock)

6. Finally, it's a good idea to hydrate your nails. Acetone can dry your nails and fingers in the process of removing gel polish, so you need to moisturise your nails afterwards. We recommend soaking your nails in coconut oil or cream for at least five minutes before applying cuticle oil. This will protect the skin and nails. 

Coconut cream and husk

Coconut cream and husk (Image credit: Shutterstock)

What are the benefits of gel nail polish? 

Gel nail polish on nails under UV lamp

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Unlike regular nail polish, the hard protection will not make the nail break, peel or chip easily. In addition, gel nail polish keeps its glossy shine for weeks without fading. 

How long does gel nail polish last?

Generally, gel nail polish can last up to four weeks, which is much longer than regular nail polish.  

Cynthia Lawrence specialises in Homes ecommerce, covering all things homes and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 


Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.


With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!