Gel nail polish is, we can all agree, one of the great wonders of the beauty world. A manicure that remains chip-free for at least five times longer than regular old polish – what’s not to love? Well, there is one downside. When you do want to remove the UV-cured colour, you can’t just swipe a remover-soaked cotton bud over your fingertips and watch it disappear in a flash. So, if you’re anything like us, you end up picking the polish off bit by bit (to be fair, it is SO satisfying), and leaving your nails in a ragged, flaky mess.
A perfect gel manicure (Thinkstock/PA)
But there is a better way. In fact, several ways.
From the lazy (but pricey) salon option to DIY home techniques and ready-made kits, we assess the best way to remove gel nail polish.
1. The soaking method
Whichever method you use, the most important thing you need to know when taking off gel nail polish is that the remover has to contain acetone, at least 98%, so that it’s strong enough to dissolve the polymers in the polish. Fill a small glass bowl (large enough to fit your fingertips in) with acetone and place that bowl into a larger bowl filled with hot (but not boiling) water. While the acetone is warming up, use a nail file to buff the top layer of polish off and file the top of the nail to break the ‘seal’ of polish on the edge.
Soak your nails, one hand at a time, in the acetone, for about 15 minutes, during which time you should see the polish start to lift. Use a cuticle stick to gently scrape the polish off, soaking for longer if you need to. Finish by rinsing your hands in water and applying cuticle oil (your skin will probably be wrinkly and dry from the acetone).
Does it work? Yes, but it takes a lot of scraping and soaking, and the acetone feels very harsh on your skin.
Our verdict: 7/10
Products to try:
(Cutex/Elegant Touch/Sally Hansen/PA)
Above (left-right): Cutex Ultra-Powerful Nail Polish Remover, £1.59; Elegant Touch Professional Cuticle Nail Cleaner, £9.50; Sally Hansen Polish Remover, £2.45, all from Superdrug
2. The foil method
Cut out 10 squares of kitchen foil and buff your nails as with the bowl method above. Soak a ball of cotton wool in acetone, place it over the nail and hold it in place by wrapping the foil around the nail. Repeat for each nail, then wait 15 minutes for the acetone to work, then use a cuticle remover to scrape off the polish, putting the foils back on if you need to. Finish with a generous application of cuticle oil.
Does it work? Yes, and it’s not as harsh on your skin as the bowl method, but it’s hard to keep the foils in place while using enough remover to soak off every last scrap.
Our verdict: 6/10
3. Gel polish removal kits
There are a variety of kits you can buy that promise to make gel removal easier, from foils with cotton pads attached to plastic clips that hold cotton balls in place. New to the market is Elliona Gel Off, a thick acetone gel that sits on top of the varnish and gets to work in just two minutes and doesn’t require any foils, so you can scrape off the polish once it’s lifted. Does it work? Most of the kits are only marginally better than the at-home method, but the Elliona gel is very effective, stops acetone from getting on your skin and is the fastest of all.
Our verdict: 9/10
Products to try:
Above (left-right): Superdrug Foil Wrap Gel Nail Polish Remover 24 Pack, £2.49; SensatioNail Gel Polish Removal Tool, £5, and Wraps, £10, Boots
Above: Stylefile Gel Polish Remover Kit, £14.99, QVC
Above: Elliona Gel Polish Remover Kit, £19.99, QVC
4. At the salon
Even if you’re not going back for another manicure, you can pop into any nail salon and, for £5-£10, have a manicurist do the hard work for you (and if you’re going in for a reapplication, they’ll usually do it for free). The nail technician will use a file to take off the top layer of the polish before using the foil method to loosen the polish and scrape off the remains, finishing with a file and application of cuticle oil.
Does it work? This is, of course, the easiest method, as you just sit back and relax, but at up to £10 a pop, it’s also by far the most expensive.
Our verdict: 8/10