Remove a Set of Gel Nails in 20 Minutes

All it takes is some filing, soaking, and a cuticle stick to quickly take off gel nails.

Gel nails are great, say some nail technicians, until you need to take them off a client’s nails. We asked Lisa Postma  and Elsbeth Schutz, two experienced gel users in Southern California, for their tips on no-hassle gel removal.

Gel are actually easy to remove, say Postma and Schutz, unless you try to remove them like you would a set of acrylics. First, gels are nonporous, so you have to rough up the entire gel nail surface with an 80-or 100- grit file or the gel won’t break down when you soak it in acetone. “Run the file around the sides and edges, too, to make the product easier to push off,” advises Postma.

After roughing up the nail surface with a coarse file, soak the client’s fingertips in acetone. To save even more time, Postma recommends soaking both hands at once. “Soak the nails for 3-5 minutes, then push a cuticle stick under the edges to loosen the gel from the natural nail,” she says. “If I loosen the nail like this it comes off in one piece instead of in a gooey mess. But just gently pry with the cuticle stick; don’t force the gel off or you’ll damage the natural nail.”

Schutz prefers to file off most of the gel nail, leaving just a thin layer that has to be soaked off. She then scrapes the surface of the nail with a cuticle stick while it’s soaking. Both technicians recommend scraping the product while the nails are submerged in acetone. Says Postma, “Unlike with acrylics, you need to leave the nail submerged while working with the cuticle pusher or the gel will harden back up.”

And, adds Schutz, “You have to scrape more than you do to remove acrylics; that’s what bothers people.”

From start to finish, it shouldn’t take longer than 20-25 minutes to remove a set of gels. 

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