How to Remove Acrylic Nails: An Expert Guide

That was easy.

How to Remove Acrylic Nails: An Expert Guide
(Image credit: Getty)

If you're obsessed with your nails, then you know there’s nothing as satisfying as walking out of a salon with a fresh acrylic set. But after a few weeks with those glamorous nails, you also know what’s coming: the dreaded and tedious acrylic nail removal process.

"It is important to remove acrylics in a proper way by soaking, versus breaking them off your self and tearing them away from your natural nail, which in turn can damage your nails," explains LeChat Nails educator Syreeta Aaron. "When you choose to tear off the acrylics from the natural nail you are tearing extra layers off the nail, or onyx, [which is] the technical term for the nail." The more layers that are removed, the more the nails are damaged. "Nails are composed of hard keratin which is technically what skin is made from," explains Aaron, adding that "to tear off extra layers would be like tearing off extra skin." (Yep, eek.)

Although experts recommend that you seek out a qualified nail tech to remove your acrylics safely, you can do it at home. Read on for DIY removal advice from Aaron, celebrity manicurist and CEO of Master Class Nail Academy Julie Kandalec, and CND Nail Education Ambassador Vanessa McCullough.

Step 1: Cut Off Nail Extensions

Start by using an acrylic nail clipper to trim any of the nail extensions and their acrylic coatings that extend past the length of your natural nails. Clipping off the excess product helps to expedite the removal process.

Step 2: File Down the Top Layer of Acrylic

Using a 100-grit coarse nail file, begin to file down the acrylic coating to thin out the acrylic and to scratch up the surface a bit. The scratches that the file creates on the acrylic are important, because they act as channels, which helps the acetone you’re going to apply next absorb more quickly.

Whatever you do, steer clear of nail salons that use harsh chemicals such as methyl methacrylate (MMA) during the acrylic application process—"In order to remove this unsafe acrylic, you would really have to rough up the nail bed, causing permanent damage to the natural nail,” Kandalec explained.

Step 3: Apply Cuticle Oil

Before you soak off the acrylic layer of your nails, you need to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. “Acetone remover is extremely drying so you want to be sure to apply cuticle oil around the perimeter of the nail, on cuticles and even under the nail on to your fingertips,” Kandalec says. 

McCullough recommends a cuticle oil like CND Solar Oil, which has natural oils that serve as a protective barrier, so your skin doesn’t absorb the drying acetone.

Step 4: Soak the Acrylic Off

Aaron recommends first determining whether you have regular polish or gel on top of the acrylics. "If you have regular polish you can begin the process of soaking right away. If you have gel polish on top of the acrylic you must first break the top layer or topcoat of gel polish and then you may begin to soak," Aaron explains. 

Drench a cotton ball into 100 percent pure acetone, place the cotton on to the surface of nail, and wrap each nail in foil. Wrapping the nail in foil serves two purposes: “It prevents the acetone from evaporating quickly while retaining your body heat, causing the acetone to work even faster,” said Kandalec. Be sure to let each nail remain wrapped for at least 20 minutes to allow the acetone acrylic to fully break down.

When you're not immediately getting another mani, Aaron also offers an additional tip. "If you are not planning on putting gel polish back onto your natural nails you may began to soak with 100 percent acetone mixed with a few drops of cuticle oil like LeChat CBD Cuticle Oil," which will help replenish the nail as you remove the polish.

Step 5: Gently Scrape Away Acrylic

Unwrap and work on one nail at a time, so the other nails remain wrapped as long as possible. “After unwrapping, check to make sure the acrylic has a soft and gummy consistency,” says McCullough. 

If it does, take a wooden stick cuticle pusher and gently scrape off the softened acrylic, working from the area closest to the cuticle outward toward the tip of the nail. If the acrylic isn’t coming off easily, don’t pry it. Instead, stop, place the acetone-soaked cotton back on the nail, then re-wrap the nail for a few more minutes.

Step 6: Buff Off Any Remaining Acrylic

No matter how carefully you remove the acrylic, stubborn spots may remain on the nail bed. If there are any remnants left behind, use a multi-sided buffer to buff away the last bits until your nail bed is clean and smooth.

Step 7: Finish with More Hydration

Apply a final layer of cuticle oil to rehydrate the nail. If you don’t plan on getting a new acrylic set immediately, finish with a keratin-based nail treatment, like CND RescueRXx. “Your nails are made out of keratin, so this nail treatment actually absorbs into the layers of the nail plate to make the nail strong and healthy,” says McCullough.

Chelsea Hall is the Assistant Fashion and Beauty Editor at Marie Claire, where she covers celebrity style, fashion trends, skincare, makeup and anything else tied into the world of fashion and beauty