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How to remove gel nails

Top tips for fuss-free gel removal

When your gel polish looks chipped or overgrown it’s essential to remove it properly rather than peeling it off, which can cause nail damage. Never a good look! And unlike regular polish, you can’t simply wipe gel polish with nail varnish remover – it requires soaking or foils to remove properly. Don’t be put off though, as it doesn’t take long. You’ll be painting your next mani in no time. 

Here’s our guide to removing gel nail polish at home:

First up, what actually are gel nails?

There are many varieties of gel nails, so to help you determine the differences, here are a few of our favourites: 

- Gel, it’s simply brushed onto the nail in three stages: a base coat, polish colour and topcoat. In-between each stage it’s cured under an LED or UV lamp (depending on the brand), to leave you with firm, non-sticky nails with a lovely shine.

- Acrylic uses artificial nails which are added to the tips using liquid acrylic and powder. They’re then smoothed over with the liquid and filed to the length and shape you love.

- The one we’ve all heard of… Shellac! It’s the brand name for a product made from a mixture of nail polish and gel. This can be easily applied straight to the nail and comes in many different shades. 

So, once your manicure needs a refresh, how do you start again? 

How do I remove gel nails?

When removing soft gel, including shellac, you need acetone to break it down. This can be bought over the counter at your local Boots pharmacy or you can buy specialist gel nail remover such as Sensationail Remover Wraps or Sensationail Gel Polish Remover 98% acetone.


There are two methods for removing gel nails – soaking or foils:


How to get rid of gel nails – soaking method

1. Buff the nails to remove the top layer of polish

2. Fill a nail soaking tray with acetone

3. Immerse the nails in the liquid for five to ten minutes

4. Gently test a nail with a wooden manicure stick to see if the polish has come away

5. If it’s still hard, soak the nail for a further two minutes

6. Remove the gel by gently scraping it away 

7. Continue until all the polish is removed

8. Buff the nails to remove any residue

9. Shape the nails

10. Wash your hands, dry and finish with hand lotion


How to remove gel nail polish – foils method

1. Buff the nails to remove the top layer of polish

2. Soak squares of cotton wool in acetone and place on each nail

3. Wrap each tip of the finger in foil to keep the cotton wool in place

4. Leave for five to ten minutes

5. Gently remove one foil and test a nail with a wooden manicure stick to see if the polish has come away

6. If it’s still hard, place the nail back into the foil for a further two minutes, making sure the cotton wool pad is sitting on top of the nail and has adequate acetone

7. Once ready, remove the gel by gently scraping it away 

8. Continue until all the polish is removed

9. Buff the nails to remove any residue

10. Shape the nails

11. Wash your hands, dry and finish with hand lotion

Top tips

- Never peel old gel polish from the nail as this can cause it to break or become thin

- Give your nails a break for a week or two in-between gel manicures to allow them to breathe and grow

- The foil method might be more suited to people with dry or sensitive skin as there is minimal skin contact with acetone

Our advice: happy nails = beautiful nails!