Need to get your acrylic nails off, but don't have the time or patience to go to the salon? We've all been there — but it pays to remove that manicure correctly instead of, say, prying them from your natural nails (ouch!) or mindlessly biting them off while absorbed in a TV-watching session. If you're wondering how to take off your acrylic nails quickly at home, we've got you covered — and we've even got an acetone-free option.
Unfortunately, removing acrylics forcefully means removing some of the many layers of your natural nail plate, too, according to Savannah Walker, a professional nail artist and owner of Manifest Nail in New York City. "Usually this results in thin, flimsy, damaged nails, which last for months until they grow out," she says. And that's the best possible scenario! So, if you choose to wear acrylics, we suggest keeping this handy tool kit at home for a damage-free removal:
How to remove acrylic nails at home with acetone
Keep in mind, even if you follow these five steps, you may be left with somewhat compromised natural nails, depending on how the technician applied them the acrylics in the first place and how carefully you execute the removal. However, "if the acrylic process is done patiently, it can be virtually damage-free," Walker says. Now, follow these simple steps from nail pros to take acrylics off fast without damage:
1. File off as much of the acrylic nail as possible
Instead of filing your nails in the usual way (along the top edge of the nail), you'll need to thin out the entire area the acrylic covers. "Using a coarse grit file, file off as much of the acrylic product as possible," Walker says. "You need a really good file for this; an emery board would be useless." Look for a 100-grit nail file, which is coarse enough to file down the surface of the acrylics, or a nail drill.
Pro safety tip: "Be careful not to cut the skin around the nails with the edges of the file," she advises. "Always 'season' a new file by using another file over the edges to soften them."
2. Soak off any remaining acrylic nail
Once the acrylic has been filed down much as possible, Walker recommends soaking the nails in 100% acetone nail polish remover for as long as it takes to dissolve the product.
There are two ways to do this. One method is to place an acet0ne-soaked piece of cotton over each nail, then wrap each fingertip in foil, Walker advises. "This is the superior technique," she says. Otherwise, you can try soaking fingers in a bowl of acetone. It's simpler, but "the bowl technique is very harsh on your skin and takes longer," Walker notes.
If you do go this route, "only dip your nail tips in the bowl to avoid drying out the skin on your fingers and hands," says Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab Director Birnur Aral, Ph.D. "Be sure to only use acetone in a well-ventilated area, because it is very volatile and can easily irritate your respiratory system."
3. Gently scrape or buff off the last bits of acrylic
After soaking in acetone, check nails "every 20 minutes or so to scrape off the softened acrylic using an orange stick or cuticle pusher, repeating this process until all the product has been dissolved," Walker says.
There may be a few small areas of acrylic that remain, but don't get rough with them! "If there are any little bits of acrylic that won't budge, a soft foam nail buffer can be used to buff those little stubborn bits smooth," she says.
5. Protect your nails from future acrylic damage
Acrylic isn't necessarily bad for nails, but it can take a toll on natural nails. For acrylics devotees, try to take a weeklong break from them every month so your nails' health doesn’t completely dwindle. During that time, brush on one coat of a strengthening nail treatment every day to prevent breakage, like this moisturizing oil created by nail artist Deborah Lippmann.
To give them an even more intensive treatment, “cover your nails with cuticle oil and cuticle cream, then wrap each hand in a warm washcloth for five minutes,” says manicurist Deborah Lippmann, founder of Deborah Lippmann nail collection. The result: shinier, stronger nails in no time.
How to remove acrylic nails at home without acetone
You can remove acrylic nails without acetone using an acetone-free nail polish remover as a soak-off solution. But know that "if you wish to avoid acetone, it will take longer to remove acrylics," says Anastasia Totty, a LeChat Nails Educator in Saint Johns, Florida. Here's how:
- Start by trimming the extra length of the enhancement using nail clippers to cut down on the soaking time, she advises.
- Use a 100-grit nail file to remove as much product as possible without filing into the natural nail. "This will remove any top coat, gel polish or nail art making it easier for the solution to penetrate the enhancement," Totty explains.
- Soak a piece of cotton in the remover and wrap your fingertip in a piece of foil about two inches long, with the piece of cotton in direct contact with the acrylic, repeating on each finger. Wait 15 to 20 minutes, then remove the foil and cotton and gently push the soaked product away from the cuticle using an orange wood stick or cuticle pusher. "Be patient and don’t scrape or peel any of it if it’s not soaked enough," she says.
- If you have acrylic left on nails, wrap them again using more of the remover.
- Use the file to shape nails, gently buff if necessary, and wash hands to remove any remaining solution.