Shellac and gel manicures always come with mixed feelings; straight out of the nail salon, you feel fresh, your nails instantly dry with the perfect shiny finish. A week later, though, and you’re back at the salon forking out a small fortune to get your grown-out, less-than-perfect polish removed.

Thankfully, there is another way. You can remove them easily enough yourself, with nothing more than a few cotton balls, some foil and nail-polish remover.

Here’s how to safely remove shellac or gel polish at home.

You will need:
• Emery board
• Cotton balls
• Foil cut into 10 six-by-six-centimetre squares
• Acetone-based nail-polish remover
• Cuticle sticks
• Nail scissors or clippers
• Nail buffer
• Good quality hand cream (optional)
• Cuticle oil (optional)
• Hand mask (optional)

Step one: prep the polish
Using a nail file, gently buff away the shiny layer of hard-to-dislodge polish until it takes on an opaque appearance. This will allow the acetone to penetrate.

Be careful not to file down to your actual nail – using a softer cardboard emery board rather than a harsh metal file will ensure you don’t go too far.

We recommend completing the next few steps one hand at a time.

Step two: acetone away
Soak five cotton balls in nail-polish remover. Any remover with an acetone content of 60 per cent or more will work, but it’s best to find one designed to remove shellac or gel polish – like this one – as it will be less harsh on your skin and nail beds. Pure acetone is also very effective, but it can also be drying to your skin and nail beds.

Place a cotton ball over each nail, then wrap a foil square over the top of the finger to keep the cotton ball in contact with the shellac or gel layer. Let the nail soak for 10 to 15 minutes, or until you start to see the polish flake off at the edges.

Repeat with the other hand.

Step three: remove and repeat
With a wooden cuticle stick, push the flakes of gel away from the nail – try not to dig into the nail, or scratch its surface. It’s best to use wooden cuticle sticks rather than metal, as they’re less harsh on your natural nail surface.

If stubborn sections of the polish won’t budge, simply pop the foil-and-cotton-ball combo back on the remaining polish and soak for another five minutes, or until you can remove the additional layers more easily.

Step four: rinse and repair
Using a soft nail buffer (not an emery board), buff the surface of the nail to remove any remaining glue and smooth out the natural nail surface.

Trim and file the nails, then wash your hands and dry.

Step five: moisturise
If your hands are feeling sapped of moisture (and you’re not applying polish again straight away), moisturise with a good quality hand cream, or try a hand mask. You can also apply cuticle oil to the nail beds.

This article was first published in April 2020.