The promise of a chip-free manicure that lasts for three to four weeks instead of three to four days with regular nail polish is practically irresistible. Gel is perfect if you’re on your nails or you don’t have the time (or cash) for weekly manicures, but still need your hands looking neat.
If you’re curious about how gel nail polish works and why it’s so different from regular polish, head on over to my guide to the Top 10 Best Gel Nail Polish Brands of 2018 for a quick science lesson, tips and tricks for a great gel manicure, and the best brands available right now.
Whether you’re a professional nail technician or you’re doing your own gel nails at home to save money, you need a quality lamp. If your gel polish doesn’t have to cure under UV/LED light, it’s not really a gel. Read my article on the Top 10 Best UV & LED Nail Lamps of 2018 to see which is the best fit for you.
So now that you’ve got long-lasting gel polish, how do you get it off?
The best thing about gel polish is that once it’s cured, it’s really on there. The trickiest thing about gel polish is that when you want to take it off, it still really on there. This is the reason gel nail polish can get a bad rap for damaging nails, and it’s true that removing gel incorrectly can leave you with thin nails, but the same could be said for repeatedly picking off regular nail polish. It’s all about the process. If you remove your gel properly and don’t try to rush it, gel should come off with minimal effect on your natural nails. But it’s all about timing, patience, and supplies.
Timing. As soon as your gel nails are really starting to chip, it’s time to remove them. With regular polish, you can leave it on all chipped and scraggly-looking until it falls off or grows out, but with gel you don’t want to wait that long. Because it’s so strong, once it’s cracking and chipping, gel lacquer can trap water underneath the polish holding it against your nail which can create the perfect environment for bacteria and other nasties. All this to say, it’s important to be able to take your gel polish off when it’s time to come off.
Patience Hate to break it to you, but removing gel will take time. If done correctly, I’m only talking 10 to 20 minutes. It’s not that bad considering when you rush and force it, that’s when gel is going to damage your nails by removing a layer of nail along with the lacquer. I’m always seeing products advertising that they can remove gel in five minutes. Is it possible to remove a gel manicure in five minutes? Maybe. You can also stop needing to do dishes if you break all your dishes. It solves one problem, but creates way more.
So take your time. The gel needs to soak for at least 10 minutes. If you’re struggling to pry it off, it’s not ready. Soak it more. Gel should come off with minimal scraping.
Supplies. There are a few things that are non-negotiable: a nail file, acetone, cuticle pusher or orange stick, and some kind of moisturizer. There are lots of different ways to remove your gel, but all should have these four things involved.
When you’re ready to remove your gel, make sure you take a nail file and file down the top layer of your gel. Don’t go too deep, just enough to dull the shine so it’s more matte looking. This will break the seal of the gel and make soaking easier and faster.
You’ll need at least a 98 percent solution of acetone to get gel off. Non-acetone won’t cut it and removers with a lot of conditioning agents may slow down the removal process. Best to just bite the bullet with full strength acetone so you can soak for 10 minutes instead of 25 with a weaker solution.
After soaking, you should be able to gently scrap off the lacquer. You can pick up a gel polish removal tool, but most cuticle pushers will do. If you don’t have a quality personal manicure kit, read my guide to the Top 10 Best Manicure Sets and Kits.
Acetone can be very drying for both your nails and your skin. After removal, make sure you’re hydrating with either a thick hand lotion or good cuticle oil. See my posts of the Best Cuticle Oils and Creams and Best Luxury Hand Creams for suggestions and tips.
Now that we know the how and the what, let’s check out the best products today for removing your gel nail polish.
1. Blue Top Electric Gel Nail Polish Steamer
The most high-tech solution to gel nail removal, the Electric Gel Nail Polish Steamer speeds up the process. It’s super easy to use and won’t actually “steam” your fingers. You pour a small amount of acetone nail polish remover into the bowl on the inside and close it up. Insert your fingers through the holes and hold the grip like you would a ball so that your fingernails are in the correct position to get the full effect. If you let them dangle, the removal process will take longer. Then just switch it on and the machine heats up the acetone just enough to create a warm mist that gently breaks down the gel. It works on acrylics too, but will take almost double the time. It’s not a miracle worker but it’s still faster than straight soaking and more comfortable than wrapping your fingers in aluminium foil. Make sure to file your polish first and moisturize after.
Buy the Blue Top Electric Gel Nail Polish Steamer here.
2. Onyx Professional 100 Percent Acetone Nail Polish Remover
When you need a good remover to go into your steamer or other removal method, Onyx is a great brand to go with. Their Professional 100 Percent Acetone Nail Polish Remover is literally as strong as it gets. It doesn’t contain any conditioners and vitamins for your nails, and that’s a good thing when you need full strength to get a job done fast. The only ingredients in this are acetone and denatonium benzoate which is the most bitter substance in the world and is added to products to make sure no one accidentally drinks them. This 16 ounce bottle comes with a glass nail file, and if you’re still using a cheap emery board, you’ll be amazed at the difference. I featured another Onyx brand remover in my Best Nail Polish Removers article.
Buy the Onyx Professional 100 Percent Acetone Nail Polish Remover here.
3. Creative Nail Design Shellac Foil Remover Wraps
Foil wrapping by soaking a cotton pad or ball in remover and then holding it in place on your nail with strips of aluminium foil is a basic method of removing gel polish and stubborn glitter in regular nail polish. It can get a little finicky when you’re juggling cotton balls with foil-wrapped fingers and tearing strips of foil either too small or way too big. CND makes this process simpler with their Shellac Foil Remover Wraps made specifically for their Shellac Nail System–but they’ll work on any gel or regular nail polish.
These pre-cut foil strips come with attached cotton pads that won’t slip around or fall off on you. They’re a great size for both fingers and toes, but can be a little small on thumbs and big toes if you have large hands and feet. These come dry so you’ll need to add your favorite acetone to the pad before wrapping. This box comes with 250 wraps or enough for 25 full manicures, bringing the price to under $1 per manicure removal.
Buy the Creative Nail Design Shellac Foil Remover Wraps here.
4. Set of 20 Nail Polish Remover Clips With Cotton Pads
If you don’t like the idea of disposable nail wraps, try these plastic nail clips that you can reuse over and over. The set comes with 20 clips, one set of 10 in pink and another set of 10 in purple, as well as 500 cotton pads which you’d soak in remover and then hold in place on your nail with the clips. With that many cotton pads, this price comes out to around $0.20 per manicure, but unlike with foil strips, after that you just need to repurchase the cotton as the clips can last you indefinitely. There aren’t specific clips for specific nails so they fit about what you’d expect for a one-size-fits-most sort of thing. If you have very large hands, these might not work on your thumbs, but otherwise you’re probably okay. The pads aren’t pre-dampened so you provide your own acetone remover.
Buy the Set of 20 Nail Polish Remover Clips With Cotton Pads here.
5. Etereauty Gel Polish Removal Kit
This removal kit from Etereauty comes with everything you need to remove your gel nail polish. You get a two grit emery board, nail buffer stick, 102 foil nail wraps pre-moistened with nail polish remover, double-sided cuticle pusher tool, and a bottle of cuticle oil to soothe your nails afterward. This basically gives you everything you need. There’s a lot here for under $15 so I wouldn’t expect these to be the highest quality possible, but if you want to pick up all your tools in one purchase, this is a good option. T
he packets are neat in that they look like wet-wipes so you tear open the package and put your finger inside where there’s a cotton pad already soaked with remover. Then, you tear off a clear strip of plastic on the middle of the outside of the packet. This strip is how you secure the packet to your finger by wrapping it tightly around. Keep in mind that you may need to add a bit more nail polish remover to the packets if they’re not wet enough for you to begin win. I don’t really ever recommend buffing as it thins and weakens your nail, but if you’ve got serious ridges after your gel nails, it’s not a bad thing to have around.
Buy the Etereauty Gel Polish Removal Kit here.
6. Teenitor Gel Nail Polish Remover Clips for Nails & Toes
These nail clips are unique because you get a set for your manicures and a set for your pedicures. The clips for your fingernails are similar to the clips above, but the clips for your toes include smaller clips suitable for little toes and two larger clips to fit around your big toes. Only some colors (like purple) come with cotton pads, but to be able to stop fussing with tin foil falling off my baby toe, I’d be willing to buy the rest separately. Cotton balls can work, but you’ll have to tear them in half or so to properly fit. The set comes in orange, purple, and pink.
Price: From $7.99
Buy the Teenitor Gel Nail Polish Remover Clips for Nails & Toes here.
7. Onyx Professional Nail Polish Remover Kit
If you want to go a little gentler on your hands (and your nose) try this Nail Polish Remover Kit from Onyx. It comes with a four ounce bottle of the Onyx Professional Soak Off Gel and All Nail Coatings Remover which contains vitamin E and grapeseed oil to protect your nails from drying out. That does mean your soaking time could be a little longer, but the remover is also coconut scented so the wait isn’t so unpleasant. The kit pairs this with a four ounce bottle of Nail Prep Cleanser for before you do your nails which removes any natural oils from your nails that can interfere with your nail polish properly sticking. You also get 20 foil wraps, six sanding blocks for filing, and 20 salon wipes for removing the tacky layer of your gel top coat. The only downside here is that these aren’t huge bottles. If you decide you love the Onyx Professional Soak Off Remover, you can pick it up on its on really cheap which is nice.
Buy the Onyx Professional Nail Polish Remover Kit here.
8. Makartt Nail Polish Remover Soak Off Gel Foil Wraps
Foil nail wraps on a budget, these foil strips with attached cotton pads from Markartt perform almost as well as the CND brand, and for much cheaper. They don’t seal quite as well as CND and can dry out, but the difference isn’t huge. With 200 strips in the package, you’re looking at around $0.55 per manicure. These do not come pre-moistened so you’ll have to provide your own acetone remover before applying them. The foil is easier to bend and maneuver than aluminium foil from your kitchen and the pads keep the acetone from dripping.
Buy the Makartt Nail Polish Remover Soak Off Gel Foil Wraps here.
9. Bundle Monster Gel Nail Polish Removal Kit
This is a nail polish removal kit that covers several different methods for removing nail polish, all in a feminine pink. First is the tried and true soak bowl for literally soaking your gel nail polish off in a bowl of acetone. The soaking bowl is designed to let your hand comfortably rest with only your fingertips submerged. You also get 100 foil nail wraps with attached cotton pads along with a pump nail polish remover dispenser. The Zoya Remove Plus made this design popular because the acetone is only dispensed if you press down on the top, that way you can press one of the foil wraps onto the bottle without having to worry about tipping the entire bottle of acetone over and ruining whatever table you’re working on. For a more reusable option, you get 10 plastic nail tips.
These things look like little astronaut helmets for your fingers but are a way to soak only your fingertips. Nail polish remover sits in the clear section and then the pink cap seals around your finger to keep the acetone from spilling. It’s a little awkward, but some people love it. Personally, it looks a little risky to me and I’d stick a acetone soaked cotton ball in there instead. The kit also comes with a cuticle pusher for removing the gel polish and two empty nail pens with extra nibs. You can fill these with acetone to clean up mistakes when polishing or with cuticle oil for a convenient, no spill applicator. You get a lot here, so again, for this kind of price, it won’t be the highest quality, but it will definitely get the job done.
Buy the Bundle Monster Gel Nail Polish Removal Kit here.
10. Super Nail Pure Acetone
If you’re still looking for the right acetone, Super Nail Pure Acetone is 100 percent strength and manufactured in the United States. It’s strong, fast, and cheap. On regular nail polish, it works so fast you’ll forget why you ever though of taking off your nail polish as a chore. It’s very effective on gel polish in either soaks or wraps. Super Nail also is a company that doesn’t use animal testing so you can feel good about where your money is going.