How to be your own nail technician: Removing gel nails at home

Because not even a Zoom filter can save your three-week-old manicure.

Credit: Varnish

Linh Khuu, owner of Vancouver’s Varnish Nails and Beauty Lounge, hands out some expert tips

Because not even a Zoom filter can save your three-week-old manicure

OK, I’ll admit it: access to beauty services is not the most important thing going on in the world right now. But global pandemic or not, time still passes, and nails still grow. No fear, the expert esthetician is here! We got some DIY advice from Linh Khuu, owner of Vancouver nail salon Varnish Nails and Beauty Lounge. Read on to take your nails from busted to bare.

What you’ll need:

  • acetone
  • cotton balls
  • orangewood stick or cuticle pusher
  • nail file
  • fine/medium nail buffer
  • aluminum foil pre-cut into 10 small squares
  • cuticle oil
  • nail clipper (optional)


  1. Start with one hand at a time. Cut and/or file your nails to your desired length. Using a nail file, gently remove the shiny coat. The more product you file down, the shorter the soak-off time will be. If you start seeing spots of natural nail, you’ve gone too far.
  2. Saturate a small piece of cotton with acetone. Cover the nail with the cotton, then wrap aluminum foil around each finger to secure. Let that soak for 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. One finger at a time, remove the piece of foil. The gel polish should be separating from your nail. Using an orangewood stick or a cuticle pusher, gently apply a little pressure to scrape away the polish. Dont force or peel the product off—if it doesn’t come off easily, you can rewrap the nail with a new saturated peice of cotton and move on to the next one. Repeat until all of the gel polish is removed. 
  4. Acetone can be dehydrating to the cuticles and nail plate, so it’s important to restore moisture to your nails and cuticles. Applying cuticle oil three to four times a day is recommended—especially right now, with all the hand sanitizing and washing that we’re doing.
  5. Repeat on other hand.

After, Khuu recommends using a nail strengthener (like OPI’s Nail Envy) to your clean and dry nails. Swipe on one coat every other day, then remove with nail polish remover after one week, and repeat if desired. Khuu also suggests using a cuticle treatment (like CNDs RescueRXx) twice a day. “The keratin protein treatment helps strengthen weakened or damaged nails while restoring moisture,” she says. CND cuticle eraser also helps to micro-exfoliate the cuticles and condition the nail plate and surrounding skin—you can massage a small amount onto your cuticles daily.

Here are some of esthetician Linh Khuu’s at-home manicure dos and don’ts:

Do moisturize your hands
Water alone can be drying to the skin. Keep your hands moisturized to prevent your skin from scaling and cracking. Make sure to rub lotion onto your nails and cuticles, too.

Do use a base coat when wearing nail polish—it protects your nails
Stay away from polishes that contain toxic chemicals such as dibutyl phthalate (DBP), formaldehyde and toluene. These chemicals lead to brittleness, splitting and cracking.  

Don’t bite, peel or pull hangnails
You might rip the tissue along with the hangnail. This can cause minor cut alongside the fingernail, allowing bacteria or fungi to enter and cause an infection. Clip off the hangnail instead.

Don’t bite your nails
Plenty of germs lurk underneath your fingernails, and it’s difficult to get rid of all them even by washing your hands. Biting your nails increases the risk of catching a cold, developing skin infections around the nail and causing long-term nail damage. (It can also damage your teeth!) Trimming your nails every two weeks is recommended.

Don’t peel off gel polish
If you pick or peel off gel polish, you’re also peeling off layers of nail. This causes thinning of the nail plate and makes them brittle and weak.