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How to Remove Shellac Nail Polish at Home: A Step-by-Step Guide

Updated on November 25, 2018
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How To Remove Shellac Nail Polish: Easy At Home Tips

Shellac nails are hugely popular these days, due to their unique properties which result in weeks of hard-wearing, glossy, perfect nail color. Like all good things, however, these too must come off at some point - you might get two or even three weeks of wear, but eventually the natural nail will grow out, leaving an obvious gap between your nail color and your nail bed. At this point, you’ll need to remove the shellac - but how? You can head to a salon, but that will cost you time and money. Instead, why not do it yourself? In this article, I’ll teach you how do it at home; it’s so easy, and doesn’t require a bunch of fancy equipment.

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Why Regular Remover Won’t Work

Shellac nails are a relatively new invention, being a combination of gel nails and regular nail polish. They are applied, then cured with a UV light, making them incredibly strong and resistant to chips and water damage. It’s no surprise, then, that they require a specific process to get them off. To remove shellac nail polish, you must soak each nail in a 100% acetone solution. Regular nail polish remover is a lower concentration of acetone and will not work effectively on a shellac manicure.

But wait a second - soaking each nail in acetone? Does that conjure up visions of sitting with your hand in a bowl of acetone? Some people actually do it this way, but I don’t recommend this method at all. Acetone is great at breaking down nail polish, and that to me suggests that I don’t want it on my skin for extended periods of time. Rather, it’s best to soak the acetone against only the nail - that way, the chemical does its work on what it’s supposed to - the polish, not your skin. Luckily, there are two easy methods for this! Read on to learn exactly how without damaging your skin in any way.

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The Soak And Wrap Method Works Best

It’s easy to soak each nail by simply saturating a small piece of cotton in acetone and placing it on the nail. The trick is to wrap the tip of your finger so that the cotton doesn’t move; especially since, to effectively remove shellac nail polish, you want the acetone to be in contact with the polish for at least 10-15 minutes and sometimes longer.

There are two ways to do this; one is to use nail wraps, which are specifically made to do the job; these combine a cotton pad with a stretchy wrapping material. The second, DIY version is to use cotton balls and pieces of tin foil to achieve the same purpose. Both methods are effective ways to remove shellac nail polish at home, but each has pros and cons; let’s go over them and you can decide which method will work best for you.

Method One: Nail Wraps

Nail wraps are a product designed for gel or shellac polish removal. They come with a cotton pad, which you saturate with acetone and place on your finger; then, use the attached strips to wrap around your fingertip, securely attaching the pad to your nail. The tricky part is wrapping these around your own fingers, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Work on one hand at a time, starting with the pinky finger and working across to your thumb. Sit tight for 10-15 minutes, then check to see if the nails are ready: slide the wrap down to see if you can easily flake the polish off. If you can, it’s time to slide each wrap off; much of the polish should come off with the wrap, and you can use an orange stick to gently scrape the rest off your nail bed.

The cons:

  • Some find them more difficult to apply to fingers than foil
  • They cost more than tin foil and cotton balls - although not a huge cost by any means

The pros to these:

  • Less fussy than tin foil, since they’re all one piece and there’s no need to cut anything
  • Many people find them easier to apply than trying to convince tin foil to stay on
  • The soaked cotton pad is better contained, lessening the chances of acetone running down your fingers, which is hard on skin and can damage surfaces
  • Many people find they can apply the wraps to one hand, then re-use the same five wraps on the other hand, saving time and cost
  • They’re not expensive, considering the number of uses you’ll get from a box of 250

Method Two: Tin Foil Strips And Cotton Balls

This is an equally effective way to remove shellac nail polish... and uses household supplies you likely have on hand: cotton balls or squares, and tin foil. Pre-cut your tin foil into pieces of approximately two by three inches; test-wrapping a finger is a good idea to see if this size works for you. If not, adjust as needed.

For this method, saturate a cotton ball with pure acetone. Consider tearing the cotton balls in half or even smaller, to ensure an ideal fit on your nail. Place the cotton on your nail and then wrap the fingertip in foil, carefully and tightly. The foil doesn’t need to go all the way down your finger - just to the first knuckle. As with the wraps, you wait 10-15 minutes, then check to see if the polish is lifting as it should. Then, slide the foil off and use an orange stick to gently slide the polish off.

The cons to this method:

  • Since the foil may not seal as tightly as a wrap would, the acetone may leak out and down your fingers
  • Some people find the foil more difficult to apply than strips

The pros to this method of shellac nail polish removal:

  • It’s very inexpensive
  • The supplies are probably already in your house
  • Some people find the foil easier to apply than strips


For either of these methods, you need 100% pure acetone. Your local drugstore may carry it, or you may be better off ordering online.

You’ll also need a cuticle pusher - the classic orange wood stick, or these awesome bamboo ones - supposedly they’re a little harder-wearing than the orange sticks.

After Removal, Buff Well To Restore Shine To Natural Nails

With the polish off, your next step is to grab a good-quality nail buffer and restore the natural shine to your nails. This step will clean up any last traces of residue from the removal process . You will find a buffer such a handy tool - but make sure to look for quality. Cheaper ones will quickly burn out and will be more difficult to use. These ones by Dead Sea Products are the top of the line, and with a six-pack like this you won’t run short for years - in fact you could gift one or two to friends and still come out ahead.

The Final Step: Conditioning

The final step is to condition the nail bed and cuticles with a restorative oil. There are several types of oil that will work for this, including almond oil and Argan oil. But the best by far is Jojoba Oil, a product that is highly recommended in the nail industry. Jojoba oil by Leven Rose is 100% pure and works wonders to moisturize dry nail beds and cuticles. In fact, professional salons recommend that you apply this oil daily overtop of your shellac nails, as it will penetrate through the layers of polish and keep your natural nails healthy and glowing.

To complete the process of removing your shellac nails, apply the oil and massage it in well, all around the top of your fingertip. You’ll find this a valuable product to keep around the home!

How To Remove Shellac Nails at Home, The proper Way

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A Few Key Tips:

-I’ve heard that placing a pair of rubber gloves over your hand allows you to do more while the nails soak. I’ve never tried this but it seems like it should work.

-If you have sensitive skin, consider applying petroleum jelly or Solar Oil to the skin around the nail, to prevent possible irritation from the acetone coming into contact with skin.

-You may find, after scraping off the shellac nail polish, that there are a few stubborn bits; if this is the case, a last swipe using a cotton ball dipped in acetone should take care of it.

I hope that explains the process of removing your shellac nails at home... but it’s always helpful to have a visual, and I think you’ll benefit from this great video.

Final DIY Thoughts

Do you wear shellac nails? What do you love about them? And are you convinced that removing them at home is easy? Give it a go and let me know how it works for you! I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

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    • manicuregirl profile imageAUTHOR

      Sarah 

      4 years ago from Canada

      Hi Lisa,

      It's definitely a polish that is designed to stay on through anything - which consequently makes it challenging to remove. But if you know the tricks, it's easy. Thanks for your comment!

    • profile image

      LisaKeating 

      4 years ago

      I got this polish treatment for my son's wedding. I usually do not have manicures, only pedicures. I used regular polish remover and had to scrape my nails endlessly to remove the polish. My nails looked terrible until they finally grew all the way out. I think I'll just stick to old fashioned polish in the future. Thanks for this informative article. Voted up.

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