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As a person who has never been able to make a normal manicure last more than three days, discovering the magic of gel nails (near-flawless for three weeks?!) was literally life-changing.
But the worst part about gel nails is that moment when you need to take them off and you just can't. Suddenly you feel like you're trapped in a gel nail prison. The options are basically stab and scrape and peel your fingernails with various objects for what feels like hours or head back to the salon to pay someone else to take them off. The worst!
So I tested three methods to see if there was a better way. Spoiler alert: There is!
METHOD #1: THE STORE-BOUGHT JAR
You'll need: Whatever product you pick up in the nail polish aisle at the drugstore.
Our Style editor Emily Sher did the honors here, swinging by her local drugstore to pick up one of the "over-the-counter" gel removal options for me to try. There are a lot of these products on the market, and the frustrating part is that you can't know how they work until you get them home.
This one was essentially an acetone-soaked sponge in a jar. The instructions told me to stick my finger in the jar and twist, implying that with this simple motion, my nail color would magically come off. So I twisted and twisted and twisted...
And, nothing. I tried so many times! There was no way the polish was coming off.
The verdict: If you go this route, you're taking a risk, and it's likely not worth your time, money or energy. Pass.
RELATED: How to stop a manicure from chipping
METHOD #2: ALUMINUM FOIL WRAPS
You'll need: Aluminum foil, a nail file, cotton balls and acetone nail polish remover.
The steps are pretty simple, and if you've ever gotten a gel manicure removed at the nail salon, this one will seem familiar because it's typically what the nail techs do.
First, buff your fingernails with a nail file, removing the shiny coating of the gel polish.
Then, soak a cotton ball in acetone until it's saturated. Put the soaked cotton ball on top of your buffed nail, and wrap your finger in a small square of aluminum foil to keep the cotton ball in place. Repeat for all of your fingers.
Set a timer for 10 minutes.
Remove the foil wraps, and use the cotton ball to wipe off any leftover polish on your nails.
The verdict: B+. The cotton ball soak left my fingers a disturbing shade of gray, but the polish had bubbled and puckered during the 10 minutes, so that was encouraging. The actual foil wrap process was extremely unwieldy and annoying, and it was difficult for me to do it on all my fingers. Plus, the cotton ball-swipe method to finish removing the polish didn't really work, and that felt rough and kind of painful on my fingers. If you use something else, like an orange stick, to scrape off the leftover polish, this method is pretty effective.
METHOD #3: THE DOUBLE BOILER
You'll need: Two bowls, hot water, a nail file, acetone nail polish remover, and an orange stick.
I love a double boiler when it comes to baking — hello, melted chocolate! — but I had no idea you could use it in any other context. Here's how it works as a nail polish remover!
First, buff your nails with a nail file to remove that shiny polish finish.
Then, fill a large bowl with hot water and place a smaller bowl inside. Pour acetone nail polish remover into that bowl. Soak your fingers in the small bowl for 10 minutes. Then, use an orange stick to push off the remaining polish.
The verdict: Success!!! This method was the hands-down winner. It was easy, it was clean, it was super cheap — no real supplies required — and it was *super* effective. The polish just pushed right off.
So, there you have it! Struggling with an old gel manicure? Avoid the urge to peel and get double boiling!