How to Remove Gel Nail Polish Without a Salon
For when your vacation manicure goes bad.
For many well-groomed travelers, one of the last stops before heading out on vacation is the salon. We get it, no matter where you’re heading you want to look your best. After all, great hair, skin, and nails are practically packing essentials.
Still, it's hard to get through a bucket-list trip without some sort of beauty mishap. How many times have you gotten a fabulous gel manicure only to have it chip two days into your island vacation or the moment you pick up your suitcase at baggage claim? Yes, gel manicures aren’t supposed to chip, but sand, sun, and surf can be harsh enough to erode even the tough stuff.
You don’t want to walk around with chipped nails all week, but you can’t just peel it off, and there isn’t a nail salon in sight. Not to worry! The good news is you can do it yourself as long as you have a few tools and a little patience.
Follow these easy steps for removing your gel polish without ruining your nails—and with items easily found in a hotel gift shop, no less.
1. Get your arsenal of tools.
You will need 100% pure Acetone, Vaseline, cotton balls, aluminum foil, and a wood nail tool.
Yes, 100% Acetone is not the best for you, but neither is peeling away the top layer of your nails. Don’t waste your time with the other stuff, it will just leave you frustrated and your nails sticky.
Allow one cotton ball per nail; you can use cotton rounds or papertowl as a last resort.
Vaseline is best but any type of emollient moisturizer, like a lip protectant, will do. It forms a protectant layer between your skin and the acetone.
Get comfy, put something good on TV, or head out on your hotel balcony (hopefully it has a view!), this will take a little while.
Lay down a towel so you don’t ruin any hotel surfaces. Have your acetone, Vaseline, and cotton balls nearby. Rip the aluminum foil into 10 pieces, about 2 square inches each—enough to fit around the tip of your finger.
*See below if you can’t get aluminum foil*
Acetone will dry out your skin, so create a protectant layer by spreading the Vaseline around your nail beds and cuticles as well as the surrounding skin.
4. Soak your nails.
Take a cotton ball and completely saturate it in acetone. Place the cotton ball on top of one nail so it is fully covered. Hold it in place by wrapping the tinfoil around your fingertip. Repeat for each finger.
Leave on for 20-40 minutes. After 20 minutes, test one nail—if it doesn’t budge, replace the cotton ball and leave it for another 10 minutes then try again. The gel should wipe off fairly easily by pressing firmly and swiping the cotton ball off the nail.
5. Gently scrape off any extra.
Once you’ve wiped off all (or most) of the polish, use the wooden tool to gently scrape off any gel or residue left behind. But don’t force it, if you need to let it soak longer, do so. Excessive scraping or peeling off the gel can leave your nails brittle.
The acetone will dry out your cuticles and nails, be sure to use your in-room moisturizer to restore your nails!
*If you can’t get aluminum foil, try Saran Wrap. If neither of these are options, replace step 3 with the following: Pour the acetone into a shallow bowl and rest hands, nails down, in it. Try to keep as much of your skin out of it as possible, soaking mostly your nails.
Lindsey Campbell is the Associate Audience Engagement Editor. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @lyndzicampbell.