Acrylic Nails

Troubleshooter: Removing Acrylics Without Damaging the Natural Nail

Whatever the reason your client wants to go natural, it's a good opportunity to maintain her as a client by preserving her natural nail as only a nail professional can. 

At one time or another, you’ll have clients who opt to go au naturel, whether they’re taking a break from enhancements or staying off them for good. Lifestyle changes — such as retirement — have been cited as the most common reason clients go natural.

The challenge in removing enhancements, particularly acrylics, is doing so without causing more damage to the natural nail.

The product itself doesn’t damage the nail plate, but the nail beds can be ruined by both the application and removal of acrylics.

When acrylics are worn, moisture will build up underneath. The nail plate becomes a reservoir for the extra moisture. This does not harm the nail plate; in fact, it’s very beneficial for clients with overly dry nail plates.

As for the removal process, picking the product off can damage the nail, while soaking the product off can dry the nail plate out, but it can be reconditioned.

SaVerne Smith of Nails by SaVerne in Inglewood, Calif., specializes in acrylic removal and restoring damaged nails back to health.

She begins by having her client’s nails soak in a bowl of acetone for about 20 to 30 minutes after removing the polish. [Picture I]


You can have your nail removal client come in 30 minutes early, so she can get started while you finish your current client.

“Be sure to use a glass or stainless steel bowl,” she says. Depending on how thick the acrylic is and how long it’s been on, you’ll need to check periodically to see if the product is loosening.

Next, shorten the acrylic nails with a tip slicer or other type of cutter. [Picture 2] Apply petroleum jelly or a similar heavy cream generously to the client’s skin on the fingers up to the knuckle; don’t forget the underside of the finger at the smile line.

Remove the shine from the acrylic with a coarse file to break the surface of the acrylic. [Picture 3]

“Since most damage comes from over-filing the natural nail when filing to remove lifting, be gentle with your method,” recommends Smith.

The key to not damaging the natural nail is nipping the nails correctly.

“Don’t pull and snag if you need to nip the nails,” says Smith. “Only if the nails have started to already lift.”

For clients who’ve had acrylics on for a long period of time, one or two layers of nail plate may have been damaged, so the nails may be tender.

Next, take an orangewood stick and gently scrape off the loosened acrylic. [Picture 4] If it doesn’t all come off, let the nails soak for about 10 more minutes in the acetone.

Then take your orange-wood stick again and scrape off the remaining acrylic, which should now easily glide off. [Picture 5]

Follow the removal by performing a natural nail manicure. Since acetone evaporates any natural oils the nails may have, use a few drops of oil in the bowl of water that her hands are soaking in.

“Don’t use hot water since the nails will be very sensitive,” says Smith. “And be sure to take care of the cuticles since they are usually dry and crusty from the acrylic.”

After removal of any type of nail enhancement, the nail plates will retain the higher-moisture levels and then gradually dry out. The high-moisture levels in the nails make them more flexible. This increased flexibility is often mistaken for thinning, weakness, or other damage. After 24 hours, they will lose the extra moisture and flexibility, returning to their drier and more rigid state.

Because the nails tend to be softer after removal, recommend using a good cuticle oil and nail strengthener. Keep the nails short until you feel comfortable letting the client let them grow longer, recommends Smith. And have her commit to six weeks of manicures. After three weeks, you can start dipping her hands in paraffin to moisturize both the hands and nails. “The skin will be sensitive so she may not be able to handle paraffin right away” says Smith.

It will not be long before the client’s nails are long again and your enhancement client will now be a natural nail client.

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