How To Remove Nail Polish Without Damaging Your Gel Manicure

How To Remove Nail Polish Without Damaging Your Gel Manicure

Gel nail manicures have become increasingly popular for their longevity and glossy finishes. Clients desire the candy-coated nail designs for their trendy color options and versatility. Since the gel polish lasts for 14 days, your client may likely choose to change the polish color within that time. 

While regular polish can be painted on top of a gel manicure, it must be removed properly to avoid damaging the gel underneath. Here is a guide on how to safely remove nail polish without damaging the gel manicure. This information is excellent for the nail tech to share with the client.

What Is a Gel Manicure?

Gel manicures are famous for what traditional nail polishes can’t provide—longevity. The gel polish lasts longer than regular nail lacquer yet isn’t as much of a commitment as acrylic. 

A basic gel polish manicure application consists of a gel base coat, gel polish, and gel topcoat painted directly over the natural nail. Each layer is cured (dried) under a UV light or LED lamp for around 30 seconds. 

Gel nail polish does not chip easily, making it a favorite for many people. A typical gel manicure will last around 14 days without needing a retouch. Gel polish must be soaked in acetone to be removed.

There are also hard gels and soft gels. Hard gels accompany nail extensions to add length to the nail. Soft gels add strength to natural nails that are short to mid-length. Since the soft gel is not strong enough to hold up a longer nail extension, they are not commonly used for long nails.

Let’s take a deeper look into the difference between soft gel and hard gel.

Hard Gels

Hard gel manicures are applied by painting a gel onto the natural nail with a nail brush. The gel is a thick consistency and it is brushed and sculpted onto the natural nail and the attached nail forms. The nail form provides length to the natural nail. A nail form is also called a nail enhancement.

Hard gels require a dehydrator, primer/bonder, base gel, sculpting gel, and a topcoat for application. Unlike acrylic, hard gels are usually odorless.

Since hard gel requires a dry environment to provide a solid adherence to the nail, it is advised not to use cuticle oil, coconut oil, or vaseline as moisturizers during the manicure process.

Hard gel is shaped and formed using a nail file, usually a high grit file or coarse nail file.

Hard gel nails can be topped with regular nail polish, soak-off gel color, or hard gel colors. The gel is cured (dried) with a UV light or LED light. 

As the client’s nails grow out, they will need a gel refill. During a refill application, the hard gel will be reapplied where the client’s nail regrowth has occurred. 

Hard gels are non-porous, so they cannot be removed with acetone. Hard gel nails must be filed down to be removed.

Hard gel is the strongest of the three types of gels and lasts about three to four weeks.

Soft Gel

Soft gel is applied directly to the client’s nails with a manicure brush as an overlay or protective layer. This gel is softer and more porous than hard gel, making it easily penetrable for acetone removal.

Soft gel applications require a base gel, sculpting gel builder, color, and a topcoat. Dehydrator and primer are unnecessary for soft gels since this type of gel is more flexible than hard gels. 

The client’s gel nails will be soaked off and reapplied at each appointment; no need for refills. Soft gel nails can be topped with regular nail polish and soft gel colors. These gels are cured (dried) with a UV light or LED lamp also. The soft gel lasts for two to three weeks.

Gel Polish

Gel polish is a long-lasting polish that lasts longer than traditional nail polish. It is a runny gel that is brushed on like nail polish and lasts two to three weeks. 

Gel polish manicures consist of a special gel base coat, gel polish, and gel topcoat. Each layer is cured under a UV or LED lamp.

Removing Gel Nail Polish

Since regular gel nail polish is soft, it can be removed with acetone, leaving your neutral nails behind. Avoid peeling or picking the gel from your nails. Doing so will result in damage to the nail plate.

Gel polish removal requires the nails to be soaked in pure acetone. Soaking the nails in acetone will soften the gel and allow it to be pliable enough to scrape away from the nail plate. Gentle pressure must be used in order not to damage the nail bed.

How To Remove Regular Nail Polish From a Gel Manicure

Removing regular nail polish from a soft gel manicure without damaging the gel nail is possible. The gel will not be damaged as long as you use an acetone-free polish remover on your nails. Acetone breaks down all gel types except hard gel.

Remove regular nail polish from a gel manicure without damage to the gel by following these steps:

  1. Soak a cotton ball or cotton pad in non-acetone nail polish
  2. Apply the soaked cotton ball to each nail
  3. Gently rub the cotton on each nail, removing the polish
  4. Follow with cuticle oil to add moisture to your nails

How To Remove a Gel Nail Manicure

A gel polish manicure can be easily removed with acetone. The removal process will require the following:

  • Cotton balls or cotton pads
  • Aluminum foil
  • 100% pure acetone
  • Small bowl
  • Cuticle stick
  • Cuticle oil

Take note that these instructions are for removing the gel completely. To begin the removal process, gently buff the topcoat off of each nail. Then, soak ten cotton balls in acetone and place one on each fingernail. Wrap each nail in a small piece of foil. Allow the foil wraps to penetrate the nails for about 15 minutes. 

After 15 minutes, remove the foil wraps from your fingertips and gently scrape off the gel into the bowl. If the gel is still too hard to remove, simply re-soak the nail in acetone for a few more minutes.

Follow removal with cuticle oil to rehydrate parched cuticles and nails.

Removal Is Easy

Gel manicures are on-trend because of their longevity and high-gloss finishes. Three types of gel manicures can be applied: gel polish, soft gel, and hard gel for longer nails. 

Regular nail polish can be removed from a gel manicure without damaging the gel nail as long as a non-acetone remover is used. 

V Beauty Pure has designed gold standard products for every manicure on your client’s wish list. Check us out on Instagram @valentinobeautypure for up-to-date nail trends and inspiration.


  1. Difference Between Nail Polish and Nail Lacquer | What is Nail Polish / Nail Lacquer? Is there any difference? | Epediaa

  2. Hard Vs. Soft: A Closer Look At Gels | Nailsmag
  3. Dermatologists secret for removing gel nail polish at home | AAD