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How to remove overgrown gel nails at home without damaging your own

Some things are best left to the experts. But during the MCO, here’s how you can be your own manicurist.

You often hear manicurists advising you not to remove gel nails on your own. That’s because there’s a high possibility that you’ll damage the nails or even skin if you’re not extra careful.

But with the whole partial lockdown that is currently ongoing, nail parlours have been considered an inessential service. This leaves us with our overgrown gel nails and no choice but to take matters into our own hands, quite literally. Here’s what you can do to remove them as safely as possible without damaging the nails.

File it down

Don’t go overboard. Just file off the top coat will do. (Image: Shutterstock)

Whip out your best nail file, because your first step is to sand it down. File down the top layer of your gel nails with the coarse side of the nail file. The aim is to remove just the top coat — the shiny part of your nail polish. This is so that removing the nail colour in the later process will be much easier. As soon as you start seeing coloured flecks, that’s when you know you’ve touched the nail colour and it’s time to stop. Don’t overdo it.

Protect at all cost

Before moving on to the next step (which involves a fair bit of chemical) here’s your chance to protect your skin. Apply cuticle cream or a thick layer of hand cream to protect your nails and hands. Acetone will be mainly used to remove the gel polish, and it’s extremely drying to the skin. By applying a layer of protection before, your skin will be spared from the harsh drying chemicals.

Bring out the cotton pads

The key is to keep your fingers soaked in acetone to remove the gel extensions. Dip the cotton pads in acetone — preferably the ones without any moisturising benefits, unfortunately. Those will only slow down the removal process and you will have to leave them on longer than needed. Alternatively, you can soak your fingertips in a bowl of acetone but this step restricts your movement. You won’t be able to move your hands away from the bowl, aka you can’t reach for your phone. 

Wrap them up with aluminium foil

Cut or tear the aluminium foil into squares. (Image: Nail Art Gear)

Cut the aluminium foil in small squares before wrapping your fingers in the soaked cotton pads. The size should be large enough to wrap and secure the cotton pad around your fingertips.

Do this on all 10 nails. The easiest way to start would be with your dominant hand first. It will be a little tricky to do it on the last few nails with aluminium-foiled fingers, but hang in there. Leave it on for 10-15 minutes for the gel to unlatch itself from your nails.

By the end of 15 minutes, the gel extensions should loosen up. It will look as though it’s peeling off or lifted — that’s when you know it’s ready. As you remove the cotton pads, apply some pressure and pull. If the gel extension is still glued on pretty tight, leave the cotton pad on for another five minutes.

ceramides skincare
Remember to moisturise your hands after the entire process. (Image: Shutterstock)

If there are any leftovers after all that

Then it’s time to put some elbow grease into it with a nail stick (not a toothpick). Leftovers are usually around the sides and cuticle areas, so be extra careful when removing it. Just gently scrape the gel off by going underneath and lifting it up. If there are still more stubborn spots, soak a new cotton pad with acetone and wrap it around the nail again with aluminium foil for another 10 minutes.

Now your nails are clean and ready to brave the rest of this MCO. You’re welcome. 

How to remove overgrown gel nails at home without damaging your own

Jolin Lee


Unlike most modern-day millennials, Jolin does not need caffeine or alcohol to power through the day (and night). Her eye for beauty is as sharp as her eyeliner flick, and she can spot your unblended eye makeup from a mile away.

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