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Love Acrylics But Worried About Damage? Here’s How to Remove Them Safely

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There’s so much to love about acrylic nails. Not only are they long-lasting and super durable, getting a set of acrylics gives us instant “I-can-do-anything” vibes. The confidence boost. The gorgeous look. The instant need to emphasize everything with your hands–and, yes—that satisfying clickety-clack sound they make are all reasons we’re fans of acrylic nails,

But, like all good things, acrylic nails have their end (in between your next set, of course). And while it’s always best to have acrylics removed professionally by your nail tech, we all know sometimes that just isn’t possible. That being said, it is possible to take off acrylic nails at home, and it can be done without damage or breakage as long as you remove them the right way. “Removing acrylic nails properly is important to keep the health of your natural nails, [as] improper removal can cause stress and damage to the nail bed,” says celebrity manicurist Sherwin Hora. “When acrylics are not removed properly, it can lead to types of trauma—like removing layers of the natural nail bed, causing them to become paper-thin, or nail tearing.” (Um, eek.)

Celebrity and editorial manicurist Jin Soon Choi agree, adding. “Maintaining your nail’s health and integrity is the number one priority when removing acrylics.” Luckily, both nail experts shared their pro tips, so you can remove your set safely—and all you need are a few nail products and a heaping dose of patience. Here’s exactly how to remove acrylic nails while keeping your natural nails strong and happy.

About the Experts:

Sherwin Hora is a celebrity manicurist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Jin Soon Choi is an editorial manicurist and founder of JINsoon Spas and JINsoon Nail Lacquer.

Want to know how to remove gel nails, too? Check out this tutorial:

Here’s what you’ll need:

Here’s Your Step-By-Step Guide to Remove Acrylic Nails at Home:

1. Trim Down Those Nail Extensions

Take a moment to say goodbye, it’s time to cut away at your acrylics. Trust us, making the acrylic nails smaller will make the following steps much, much easier. Hora says, “Use the nail clipper to cut the extension down to the natural nail,” This way, you’ll have less of the faux nail to actually remove.

2. Start Filing Away at the Acrylic

Filing your nails is a crucial step to wear down the top layer of nail polish, but before you go to town with your traditional nail file, you might need to call in backup. “Two types of files are needed,” says Choi. “Begin with a coarse file to remove the outermost portion of the acrylic, then use a fine file as you get thinner so you don’t file your natural nail too much.”

Coarse files will have rougher texture compared to the file you typically use to shape your nails. “File perpendicularly to the nail bed in long, gentle strokes,” says Choi. Since most salons use mechanical files, patience is key to yielding the best results, so keep at it until the shine of the nail polish is completely gone. Doing so will allow the polish and the nail to soften quicker once you’re ready to apply acetone. “If you use force when trying to remove your acrylic nails, you'll undermine the nail bed,” says Choi.

3. Time to Soak Your Nails in Acetone

Hot Tip: To achieve the best results, opt for 100 percent acetone, which will dissolve acrylic much quicker than the diluted stuff. You’ve got options when it comes to soaking–here’s what the pro’s recommend:

  • The acetone soak-off: Once you’ve filed away the top layer of polish, put your fingers in a shallow bowl of warm, pure acetone. To warm the acetone, you can run the bottle under warm water before you pour it into a bowl. Whatever you do, do not use any other method to heat it as acetone is extremely flammable. Then, make sure your nails are completely submerged and keep them in the bowl for at least 30 minutes. “Acetone softens the acrylic,” explains Choi. “It gradually melts the acrylic to make removal easier.”
  • The foil method: If you want to reduce the damage to your skin, and free up your fingers faster, you can try the same method your nail artist uses to soak off gel nail polish. Start by soaking pieces of cotton ball with acetone so they're completely drenched, and then apply them directly onto the nail. Next, wrap the nail in tin foil to seal it up, and hold it in place for at least 30 minutes. “It’s essentially the same as soaking your nails in acetone, except that you don’t have to submerge your entire fingertip in the acetone,” says Choi, who adds that “The reduced exposure of your skin to acetone is worth the effort.”

4. Buff Away Any Leftovers

At this point, your nails will be looking, well, not so pretty. But don’t worry, you’re halfway to acrylic nail freedom. Once you’ve allowed the acrylic to dissolve, you’ll be ready to remove the remaining pieces of fake nail with a nail file, cuticle pusher, cuticle stick, or nail buffer. “Buff gently instead of filing,” says Choi. If the remaining pieces are resistant, try soaking your nails in acetone again for a few minutes, then try to gently remove them again (key word: gently!).

5. Re-Hydrate Your Nails

It’s no secret that applying, wearing, and the removal process of acrylic nails can take a toll on your real nails. That’s why, after removing, you’ll need to treat your nails to a little TLC. Hora says the immediate next step is to wash your hands. Then, it’s time to restore hydration and strengthen your nail beds. “Lots of moisture is needed,” says Choi. “A good cuticle oil, a rich hand cream, a hand mask, or a paraffin treatment are all great to restore hydration in both your hands and nail beds.” Even if you don’t have time for a DIY manicure, a little hand lotion can work wonders.

And, you’re done! It may be tempting, but it’s important to not head straight back to the nail salon for another acrylic nail session. You can add a topcoat on nails for some shine and protection, or leave your nails bare to breath. “Take a nail detox once in a while,” says Choi. “Regularly cleaning and caring for your nails will prevent any nail fungus and bacteria issues that may come from constant use of acrylics.”

Want to work on your DIY mani technique? Check out our easy At-Home Mani Guide.

Want more tips and products for your best nail looks ever? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.

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About the author
Katrina Mitzeliotis Lanza
Katrina is a freelance writer and on-air correspondent with over a decade of experience covering beauty, fashion, and entertainment. When she isn't freelancing, you can catch her on QVC or chasing after her two-year-old son.
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Article Last Updated April 2, 2023 12:00 AM