Need to get your acrylic nails off, but don't have the time or patience to go to the salon? We have 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 Game of Thrones binge-watching session.
Removing acrylics forcefully also means removing some of the many layers of your natural nail plate, too, according to Savannah Walker, a professional nail artist at Vanity Projects in New York City. "Usually this results in thin, flimsy, damaged nails, which last for months until they grow out," Walker says. And that's the best possible scenario! So, if you opt for acrylics, we suggest keeping this handy tool kit at home for a damage-free removal.
Now, follow these three simple steps to return to natural nails without tearing apart your tips:
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 course grit, file off as much 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.
Pro safety tip: "Be careful not to cut the skin around the nails with the edges of the file," Walker 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 for as long as it takes to dissolve the product.
There are two ways to do this. One way, Walker says, is to wrap each fingertip in foil with an acetone-soaked piece of cotton. "This is the superior technique," Walker says. Otherwise, you can soak fingers in a bowl of acetone. It's simpler, but "the bowl technique is very harsh on your skin and takes longer," Walker says.
If you do go this route, "Only dip your nail tips in the bowl to avoid drying out the rest of your skin on fingers and hands," says Birnur Aral, Director of the Beauty Lab at Good Housekeeping. "Be sure to only use acetone in a well-ventilated area because it is very volatile and can easily irritate your respiratory system," Aral notes.
3. Gently scrape or buff the last bits of acrylic nails away
After soaking in acetone, check nails "every 20 minutes or so to scrape off the softened product 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 refuse to go, but don't get rough with them! "If there are any little bits of acrylic that won't budge, a soft foam buffer can be used to buff those little stubborn bits smooth," she says.
Keep in mind, even if you follow these steps, you may be left with somewhat compromised natural nails, depending on how the technician applied them in the first place and how carefully you execute the removal. However, Walker says, "If the acrylic process is done patiently, it can be virtually damage-free."
How to protect your nails from acrylic nail damage in the future
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. And give ’em a little love with this moisturizing treatment from Deborah Lippmann.
“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, starting now!
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