Here’s How to Safely Remove Your Fake Nails

A woman with manicured nails holds a coffee cup.
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If your beauty routine includes gel or acrylic nails, figuring out how to remove them or care for them by yourself can be tough. 

Here’s how to remove them yourself and keep your nails in good shape if you can’t get to the salon.

How to Remove Your Fake Nails

There’s a reason we trust nail salons to remove gel or acrylic nails instead of doing it ourselves. Yanking them off can seriously damage your natural nails, so make sure you’re prepared to remove yours the right way.

For gel or acrylic, Allure recommends setting aside at least 30 minutes to do the job properly. If your nails are acrylic, prep them by clipping off excess so the acrylics are about the same length as your nails.

You’ll need to use a nail file to remove the shine from the top layer of polish. The file should be pretty coarse; if you use a finer one, this step will take you longer. Roughing up the top layer helps the acetone soak into the acrylic or gel more easily, which will make the removal process less time-consuming, according to Cosmopolitan.

Once your polish has lost its shine, smear thick hand cream around your nails to protect your skin from the acetone. The goal is to coat your skin so the harsh chemicals won’t dry it out. (You can also use cuticle oil.)

Speaking of chemicals, those are up next. Grab some cotton balls and soak them in 100% acetone. Put a cotton ball on each nail and wrap with foil. You can also get plastic nail clips designed to keep the cotton balls on your nails — those are readily available from Amazon and other online sellers.

Keep the acetone-soaked cotton balls on your fingers for 10-15 minutes to give them enough time to work the polish loose. Once the polish looks like it’s starting to come off, it’s time to try removing it. If your polish isn’t there yet, give it a few more minutes.

If it’s loose enough, you should be able to remove it by applying slight pressure with the cotton ball as you wipe. Use a nail stick to remove any leftover bits of polish, and do it gently and slowly to avoid damaging the nail beneath.

Once your acrylic or gel polish is off, soak your nails in coconut or olive oil to help rehydrate them. You can also use a rich hand cream to nourish your fingers and prevent them from drying out post-acetone.

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Caring for Your Newly Nude Nails

After removing your manicure at home, make sure you take care of your nails. At the very least, that means using cuticle oil and hand cream regularly. If you want to be really careful, it’s a good idea to wear rubber gloves when washing dishes or cleaning your house to protect your nails from chemical exposure.

Keep your nails short to prevent snags. Use a glass file — not a traditional emery board — to carefully file your nails carefully with the grain. Glass files are gentle enough to be used on even the weakest, most brittle nails.

Biotin supplements claim to promote nail strength, so you might consider taking them daily to keep your nails healthy. You can buy biotin supplements at most grocery stores or pharmacies. (I buy mine in bulk at Costco to save money.)

Alternatives to Fake Nails

You may want to look into alternatives to fake nails to keep your manicure looking fresh. 

The easiest option is simply painting your nails yourself. Always use a base coat to smooth the nail surface for a more even application of color. Base coat will also protect your nails from staining. After applying the color, finish with a top coat to prevent chipping and help your manicure last longer.

Another alternative to fake nails or traditional polish are nail polish strips like Color Street or Jamberry. Applying these takes practice, but after a few applications you’ll be a pro. 

Nail polish strips last longer than traditional polish, but the adhesive that sticks them to your nails can be damaging. When removing nail polish strips, soak cotton balls in nail polish remover and leave them on your nails (secured with nail clips or foil) for 5-10 minutes to avoid unnecessary damage.

Cat Hiles is a contributor to The Penny Hoarder.