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3 DIY Ways to Remove Your Gel Manicure

It’s easy to wax poetic over the benefits of a gel manicure—two weeks of chip-free wear and glossy shine? Yes, please! Removing the LED-cured lacquer, however, is another story. Once the free edge around the cuticle starts to lift, it takes all of our self-control trying (and sometimes failing…) not to rip all ten shells from our digits, which can cause major damage to the natural nail bed underneath.

Whether you’re wearing a gel manicure from the salon or your own handiwork, we rounded up three foolproof DIY ways to remove the product. No matter the method you choose, make sure you shield the skin around the nail with a preventative layer of Vaseline, as each involves acetone. Follow your technique of choice with an ample amount of cuticle oil or cream, like Lush’s Lemony Flutter ($20; lushusa.com) afterward to restore moisture, and if you must re-shellac your nails, give them a few hours to breathe before applying another layer.

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Removal kits like Red Carpet Manicure’s ($13; amazon.com) and Nails Inc.’s Gel-Less Gel Nail Polish Remover Kit ($19; sephora.com) come equipped with everything you need to strip the shellac from your nails. Both work on salon-cured and DIY jobs, but differ only in the type of soaking pads involved. Red Carpet Manicure’s kit includes ten foils with each piece affixed to the nail surface, while Ciate’s comes equipped with conditioning acetone and a gel remover pot in which you pour the solution and dip your hand in one at time to loosen up the gel polish. 

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If a gel manicure is a frequent treatment for you, this method might be best, as some of the kits may not include enough solution for regular removals. Pick up a bottle of acetone like Beauty Secrets’ formula ($3; sallybeauty.com), ten cotton balls, and a roll of tin foil from the kitchen. Buff the surface of your mani with a nail file to remove the shine, then soak a cotton ball in the acetone and place it directly on top of your nail. Follow by wrapping each finger with a small piece of foil, and after 10 to 15 minutes, the gel manicure should slide right off with the cotton ball. If some residue remains stuck to your nail, use an orange wood stick to work it off.

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This method takes the longest and requires a little elbow grease, but works wonders if you don’t have any foil or cotton balls on hand. Grab two bowls from the kitchen, one slightly larger than the other. Fill the larger bowl with warm water, place the smaller one inside (as you would with a double-boiler), and pour in some acetone. Because acetone is highly-flammable, you should not heat it in the microwave or stove. As you allow the solution to warm for a minute or two, buff the surfaces of your manicure with a nail file, then place your hand inside the acetone and allow the gels to gradually soak off. After 10 to 15 minutes, you should notice the corners coming loose. As your nails are steeping in the acetone, take an orange wood stick and gently begin to loosen the gel on each nail until it is removed completely. Repeat on the other hand, and top off with a generous amount of hand cream and cuticle oil.