Picture of How to Remove a Gel Manicure

Gel manicures are all the rage these days.   Gelish and Shellac each offer the client long-lasting, chip-free manicures that promise to stay put for weeks at a time!  My experience with gel manicures was gravely disappointing.

The truth about gel manicures:
  • Gel manicures DO chip.  Mine lasted about three days.  Assuming that the polish had been applied incorrectly (it's quite a process, and involves setting under UV light!), I went back to have it redone.  The second gel manicure I received lasted about three days. 
  • They cost up to 3 times what a normal spa manicure does.  If they actually lasted three times as long, this *might* be worth the limited color selection available and the fact that:
  • You can only have your polish removed at a salon that offers gel manicures (until now!) and the process involves soaking your nails in acetone.  Often the removal process requires an additional fee as well!
Deciding this was all a little too ridiculous, I set out to see how I could remove the gel manicure I'd submitted my poor little nailbeds to on my own.  I even compared using acetone-based nail polish remover to using straight-up acetone.  I'm sorry to report that the nail polish remover just didn't cut it - even after 30 minutes of soaking.
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Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
To remove your overpriced gel polish without incurring the expense of an additional salon visit, you will need the following:

Acetone (only the real stuff will do)
Cotton balls
Aluminum foil

This is the working woman's solution to gel polish removal.  I suppose if you have all day to sit around soaking your fingers in a bowl of acetone, that would probably work just as well, and you could bypass the need for cotton balls and tin foil.  As it was, I still had work to do!
tracie.greg28 days ago

...isn't soaking your fingers in a bowl of acetone extremely bad for you? Your skin is your largest organ and soaking your fingers in that crap goes right into your bloodstream, you might as well drink the acetone!! Their must be a better way to get this gel off that is healthier??


After paying to have my nails done in the gel polish at the salon a few times I started doing my own. I bought an LED light, not a UV . The LED light cures the polish a lot faster and no worries about being exposed to UV to often...although the LED light costs a bit more. I paid 40.00 for mine on Amazon. As for taking the gel polish off I use the acetone polish remover a cotton ball and finger cots (it's like the gloves at the Dr. office but is only for the tips of your fingers), you can find them almost anywhere...I buy mine on Amazon but have bought them at walmart also. You just put a good amount of the polish remover on the cotton ball, set it on your nail and roll the finger cot over your nail. So easy. You let it soak for a bit (the longer you leave it on the easier it is to just swipe off). If all the polish doesn't come off with the cotton ball as you wipe it across your nail then use those metal cuticle spoons as I call them and remove the little bit left on the nail. It really isn't very hard and doesn't damage your nails. Also I think that the finger cots make it so much easier then the tin foil as the finger cots kind of keep things air tight so to speak and I think that really helps loosen up that gel polish. I hope this helps.

bamagal4 months ago

I have been getting gel manicures for years. They last for 3 to 4 weeks, or even longer. I have had this done at several different salons over the years, so they must all have been doing it correctly. (My hands are not exposed to chemicals throughout the day; maybe that's why the gel lasts longer for me.) But yes, it is difficult getting the polish off unless you go back to the salon or use the method described in this article. I am also concerned about the monthly exposure to the UV light on my hands. I thought about getting those gloves that expose only the nails, but I have found a better solution. I am going to switch to Jamberry nail wraps. Then I can switch out my colors and patterns anytime I want. No more salon trips! Other than occasionally perhaps to get cuticles cut or whatever, but I won't get color applied there, since I'll be using the Jamberry wraps at home from now on.

AngelK1 bamagal1 month ago

I LOVE Jamberry nail wraps and I love the gel polish! It's great how long they both last and look soooo cute :)

My gel manicure lasted for about a month without chipping, I think it just depends on where you go. But thanks for the tips!

My gel manicure has lasted 2 weeks so far and no chips yet!!!

AryssaT1 month ago

Thanks that helped a lot! I got gel nail polish and it lasted for 9 days they said it would last 14 i though it was a good deal. Thanks for the tip.

BiancaT12 months ago

I have to disagree whole heartedly with this post. I get gel or schellac manicures and IF DONE CORRECTLY they last 3 weeks or longer depending on how fast your nails grow. Be careful about making blanket statements about things. It is your experience but it is not good to tell other people that it doesn't work. I am assuming the place that you got yours done did not really know what they were doing. Shop around and find a person that has experience doing them.

GamalielA7 months ago

Thank Rachel and Paula, I needed to know that back before I return to my manicurist, she did a very professional job, this is my forth week. No chipping at all, two came off completely because they were acrylic tips, and three of my own nails break in the bed of the nail anyway. All in all, great first experience for me, but no more gels for me. I removing the remainder of them now, my glue on pre-polished nails work great for me, I just use a super professional glue, and my natural aren't the least damaged. Yep, I am ditto on Avon nail gel polish they do work!! Going to try Sally Hansen on light gel polish now, back at you later. Thanks ladies, keep up the good work.

I am so glad I found this - thank you! I had one set of Gel Nails last year, but my nails really hurt because of the way they were put on, so I ended up getting them taken off after 3 days, which was even more brutal than the way they were put on. I have since found out that it was done very incorrectly. I am getting my second ever set done in a couple of days, but by a different person who has a significantly more experience and a great reputation, so am looking forward to it. But I thought I would see about ways of getting it off myself just in case. Also, I have brought a couple of Avon's Gel Polish's and they last for ages longer than a normal home use polish, and it comes off really easily with normal nail polish remover. So far I have gotten bored with the colour before its had chipped.

I have to say that you must not have gone to someone who knows what they are doing. I have been using gel polish instead of regular polish for my manicure now for a year. I work as a waitress and my hands are constantly in water, sorting sharp silverware, handling cleaning chemicals, etc. My gel manicure not only doesn't chip from the wear and tear of the never ending shifts at work, but even after my nails grew out too long, and I TRIMMED them with clippers, THE GEL STILL DIDN'T CHIP. Perhaps you might find a new place to get yours done, because I have found that while the gel is more expensive, it is TOTALLY WORTH the price for the endurance of the polish. These pictures were taken after almost three weeks of wear, AND after I CUT THEM DOWN with nail clippers. NOT EVEN A CHIP...just the gap from where they've grown out.

Christie101 year ago

Check out nail mates for gel and glitter removal, The best! Easy for techs and Do it yourselfers will LOVE them. The site will explain everything, I can only say I have used them and they are the bomb! I'd never use foils and cotton again!

holly-g1 year ago
Yeah, acetone is acetone. If you've followed correct steps, your gel WILL slide off in four minutes! As with anything, you pay for what you get. No equipment from home is salon quality. Certain treatments are best left to salons and practitioners if you want to look professional. Seriously, who wants to look cheap and home made! We do know.
tbrown492 years ago
After putting on the foil i popped a plastic glove on top to hold foil in place as they kept falling off, works a treat
china pink2 years ago
I just finish having a expensive mistake, the first time that I had the jell done on my nails it lasted three weeks, when I went back to the salon singing the praise of my nails. I do not think the lady was happy the next one lasted three days so I went some place else and they butchered my nails. I t cost me triple to get that stuff off and I still have some great damage, but thank goodness I have thick nails
I wish I had seen this earlier , will be telling my friends about this thank you.
scoochmaroo (author)  china pink2 years ago
What a bummer! I finally have one that's lasted me almost two weeks!!! Yes, from now on you can remove your own manicures, but now when I get one that only lasts a couple days, I'll go right back to the salon and ask them to redo it. They've always done it for me for free!
kazmataz3 years ago
I just gave this a try, and it worked great! Thanks Sarah!
enjoi743 years ago
I assure you it was not done correctly. I purchased everything and did mine myself and my nails have lasted at least over 1 week. Mine would last longer if my uv light was'nt such a barney. I have ordered a led and am positive I will have better success with that. I have a huge collection of opi polishes and I will never go back to regular nail polish. The gelish system is sold at sally's beauty supply and online btw. Don't give up, if you do it yourself you'll save a ton of money and you'll be better results I bet. The shiniest nails ever!
oh and theres a few reasons why it could have chipped

1)incorrect prep method (cuticle removal and dehydrating nail beds)
2)improper curing( didnt cure for the right time)
3) uv light bulbs needed 2 be changed
4) your lifestyle( if you work w/ chemicals or have to have your hands in water/washing them)
and 5) your nail beds (if theyre oily or if they have ridges and all that)

but the main ones are improper prep or water for enhancements water is the enemy but you could always try different brands to see if any are for you as well
I have fond if the tips are not capped with product they will chip very soon after application.
the method 2 taking it off is correct but as a nail tech student i should warn u that using anything on ur nails thats not supposed to go on your nails is VERY DANGEROUS your nail beds soak up whtevers on your nails and it gets into your bloodstream and can permanently damage your nails so just use nail acetone believe me if u still want nails just use that :)
Pure Acetone IS what is used in a salon. There is no such thing as Nail Acetone.
Ninzerbean3 years ago
Wow, I have never heard of this before, thank you for the info though, just in case it ever makes its way to Florida. I wish I could have pretty nails but with all the DIY projects I tackle it would be such a waste of time.
zurichko3 years ago
Ouch. I just nail stamp, it's cute and not painful!