Hard Gel Manicure Removal Is Trickier Than You Think

Ever considered treating yourself to a hard gel manicure? If so, you'll probably already know the many benefits it has over a traditional polish or a soft gel manicure. "Hard gel is a nail enhancement product used to coat and overlay, or extend, a natural nail," Pattie Yankee, a celebrity nail artist and consultant for Dashing Diva, explained to Byrdie. "It's cured (or hardened) in an LED or UV lamp and is long-lasting, chip resistant, and more flexible than acrylic extensions," 

In addition to being longer-lasting, hard gel polish can also be used for nail extensions instead of traditional acrylic tips. One of the big differences between hard gel and other polishes is that it's usually applied with a gel brush (a larger, thicker brush compared to a traditional nail polish brush) and comes in a pot. The reason hard gel manicures are ever-growing in popularity is because they can create a new nail shape and have an incredible wear time, literally staying on your nails for months until they grow out or the gel is taken off.

One thing you may not know about hard gel manicures, though? How difficult they can be to remove. Hard gel manicures are notoriously difficult to say goodbye to because they're designed to be resistant to the traditional solvent products used to remove standard polishes and soft gels — hence the great wear time. Not to mention, when you're ready, it can be pretty darn tricky to remove.

Hard gel manicures need to be filed off the nail

While a soft gel manicure can be taken off the nail by soaking it in acetone — and standard nail polish can be dissolved using nail varnish remover (or some at-home ingredients that can be used as nail polish remover in a pinch) — removing hard gel is much more difficult. Due to its resistance to the solvents usually used in the nail world, it actually needs to be filed off the nails. As celebrity manicurist Mar y Sol Inzerillo told Allure, you're going to need to have it filed down using an electric drill. Because it can be so hard to get rid of, it's a good idea to let a professional get the hard polish off your nails. That's because they'll have all of the proper equipment in a sanitary environment to remove the product without the potential to damage your nails. 

But if you really are in a pinch and absolutely have to remove hard gel at home, Heather Reynosa, director of global education design for OPI, suggested to Byrdie, "File your nails until there is a thin coating of product left, around the thickness of a layer of polish. Then wrap in foil with cotton pads saturated in acetone. The thin layer should release from the natural nail after 25 to 30 minutes." You'll probably need to repeat this process if your gel is super stubborn. However, professional drill removal is always recommended.

Hard gel can seriously damage the nail if it's not removed properly

Because a hard gel manicure is so hard to take off, all too often many people end up damaging their nails in order to remove it. Particularly if they don't know what they're doing or have the wrong tools. Pattie Yankee told Byrdie that people can file their nails too aggressively hoping to essentially sand down the gel, which can result in the nail being scuffed or damaged several layers down. Mar y Sol Inzerillo also explained to Allure that many people attempt to peel their hard gel off, which is also a huge no-no. 

"Peeling or biting off a gel manicure ensures damage to the nail bed," she shared. Vicki Ornellas, an international nail trainer and stylist, recommended to Glamour getting the gaps in between your gel and nail bed filled out as your nails grow until you're ready to have it removed, as this will keep your nails strong.

But, according to board-certified dermatologist Shari Lipner, one of the safest ways to remove hard gel polish is actually to just let your nails grow out, cutting your talons down until it's completely gone. But that could take a while. "It takes about six months to grow out your fingernails. Toenails need 12 to 18 months to grow out," she told the American Academy of Dermatology Association.