How to Remove Your Shellac Nail Polish at Home

We got expert advice on how to remove your grown-out gel manicure safely (no picking!) in the comfort of your home.

Julia McEwen

Date November 15, 2022

This article was originally published in March 2020. 

I think we can all agree that in the beauty-sphere, Shellac and gel nail polish has been the best thing to come along since sliced bread. These LED-cured polishes bestow our nails with chip-resistant coverage, extreme shine and extend the longevity of our manicure for weeks. But with the highs, come the lows. The removal process is, well, a process! That’s why most of us leave it to the skilled nail artists and technicians to deal with when we transition from an old polish job to a new one.

But times are… strange. In a matter of a few days, we’ve staggered into a global pandemic, which means we’re all faced with an influx of new restrictions, including social distancing rules and spas and salons being temporarily shuttered. Since we’re all doing our part to stop the spread of COVID-19, which means staying home, what do we do with our gel nails? Pandemic or not, nails are going to continue to grow and if your gel manicure is on the brink of total collapse, it’s time to take removal matters into your own hands—and we’ll tell you how.

According to Leeanne Colley, the owner of Toronto’s Tips Nail Bar and a professional manicurist who’s worked with celebrity clients including Lady Gaga and Gigi Hadid, it’s not hard to remove gel polish at home, but it does take inner strength. “Sure, you need a few tools, most of which you probably already have at home. But the most important tool that people need is patience.”

There’s a common misconception that removing gel nail polish leaves nails weak and unhealthy. Untrue, says Colley. “When removal is done correctly and patiently, it doesn’t damage your nails,” she says. But peeling or picking, that’s a different story. It’s tempting and occasionally satisfying, but it causes major damage. “A single peel will remove at least six [of 50] layers of your nail,” says Colley. “It’s the worst thing you can do for your nails.” Frequent peeling weakens nails and over time it leaves them brittle, cracked and left with ridges.

We asked Colley to explain how to remove gel polish at home—which she promises in most cases can be completed in under 30 minutes. This translates to half an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race