There’s a reason we’re so addicted to gel nail polish. I mean, you get your mani done and within seconds your nails are gleaming. There’s no waiting under that puny fan for 15 minutes.

With gel polish (often called Shellac – which is actually a brand name) you can pay with your eftpos card (no smudges), lift weights, wash a thousand dishes, and they’ll still look amazing two weeks later.

What’s not to love?

Hard as Nails

Precisely what’s not to love about gel nail polish – is how to get it off. If you’re one of those people who’s ever tried picking it off you’ll know that moment when you start to wonder: is it too dramatic to call emergency services and ask for the fire brigade?

And would they be able to bring some cuticle oil and a nail file…?

Yes ladies, you know who you are. But, for anyone who just doesn’t have the time or inclination to get back to the salon, I have some good news. There is a way to remove gel nails and it doesn’t involve a blow torch or bathing in acid. Or calling Triple Zero.

What is Gel Nail Polish?

First of all, gel nail polish is not the same as acrylic nails. One is a polish and one is a false nail. So if it’s just regular nail polish why is it (almost) harder to remove than a tattoo?

Jocelyn Petroni, a Sydney-based skin and nail expert explains; “Gel Polishes are similar to regular nail polishes in that the polish is applied to the nail and then dried, however gel polish dries instantly once it is set under a UV light, which causes the gel to harden.”

Home brands like Essie Gel don’t require a UV light to cement the colour but they still last longer than regular nail polish. 

When you get it done at the salon, “Gel polish will outwear natural polish and last more than twice as long,” says Jocelyn. “It dries instantly under UV light, which means no bumping or smudging nails before they’re dry, and makes it perfect for putting trainers on straight after a pedicure.”

She adds that gel polish needs to be applied in a special way to avoid nail damage. “Gel polish forms an occlusive over the nail bed so applying cuticle oil every night before bed is a must to nourish the nail plate and keep nails healthy and strong.”

DIY if you Dare

Professional manicurists generally don’t advocate removing gel polish at home. “Some brands can be removed yourself but not all gel polishes are easily removed,” warns Jocelyn. “Never remove gel polish by peeling it off the nail plate as this can peel away the natural nail.”

“To remove gel polish at home you have to be extra careful as it requires an acetone based remover or a specially formulated gel remover.”

You’ll also need a few cotton pads, some kitchen foil (cut it into large rectangles before you start), and a cuticle push.

Woman removes the nail polish. Hands with dark blue manicure on whote table.

Remove Gel Polish Without Damaging Nails – Step by Step

Once you have the equipment set up simply follow Jocelyn’s step-by-step and be sure to give your nails a break from any polish for a couple of weeks to allow ventilation and rehydration.

Note: depending on the gel product, removal can take from 15 to 30 minutes.

#1 Soak a Cotton Pad in Nail Polish Remover

Really drench the cotton pad with gel polish remover then place a cotton pad on each nail. “To remove gel polish at home you have to be extra careful as it requires an acetone based remover or a specially formulated gel remover,” says Jocelyn.

#2 Wrap Each Nail in Foil

You need to seal the nail polish remover and make sure it gets it into the gel polish and the nails, so wrap the foil tightly around the soaked cotton pad and your fingers.

Then, sit and wait at least 15 minutes to allow the nail polish remover to soak into the nail polish.

#3 Wait 15 Minutes – Then Gently Remove

When you take the foil hats off, the gel polish should have lifted off the nail slightly. Gently use a cuticle pusher to remove the gel but be careful not to scrape the actual nail. If you file or scrape harshly it will damage the first layer of the nail.

If the gel polish doesn’t come off very easily, repeat steps #1 and #2.

#4 Apply Cuticle Oil

You should apply cuticle oil every night when you have gel nail polish as it will help to keep the nails hydrated. However, it’s even more important to add moisture once you’ve removed the gel polish as the acetone will dehydrate your nails even more.

Words by Hannah Hempenstall for