Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Removing Fake Nails

Ok folks-- most of us in the nail biz cringe at the words "fake nails." I'm not entirely sure why, other than it's a term that doesn't exactly denote a very sincere appreciation for the effort that goes into creating a good set of them.

Nevertheless, this post's title is exactly the term I often see in my tracking services of what people are searching the Internet for, which tells me that a lot of people want to know how to get the product off their nails. So that's what I'm going to discuss:

First off, you need to understand that there are a LOT of different products out there, and on top of that, there are a lot of different formulas of each product, getting stuff off your nails is not a one-size-fits-all process.

  • Obviously, removing traditional polish is easy enough. You use polish remover. But it may be of interest to you to know that you do NOT have to use "non-acetone" remover, even if you have acrylics on. In fact, straight acetone is my #1 choice for polish remover. It works. It doesn't smear. And it evaporates fast enough that unless you soak your nails in it, it won't harm your extension/overlay products.

There's also much information that attests that acetone is actually the safest of the solvents used in polish removers.

How-To Soak Off (most) Nail Products: 

  • If you are going to soak off your acrylic at home, the easiest way is to start your favorite movie, sit down, pour some 100% pure acetone (found at the hardware store-- or the beauty supply) into a ceramic, metal, or glass bowl (not plastic, acetone will melt plastic-- just like it's gonna melt your acrylic nails,) slather some Vaseline on your fingers-- this will protect your skin, acetone is extremely drying to skin-- and then put your fingers in the acetone in the bowl, and then put a towel over your hands in the bowl. The towel will slow down the evaporation process of the acetone, and also keep the smell down-- it's not the most pleasant smell.

  • DO NOT take your fingers out of the acetone! As soon as you do, the acetone will evaporate off your nails and the acrylic will start to re-harden. Just leave them in there until it's all melted off. If you can't completely wipe your nail clean after an hour in the acetone-- start thinking MMA, or ask yourself if you remembered to file off the gel sealer.

  • When the acrylic slides off (it should get "fluffy" and flake or slide off easily) then you'll need to wash your hands, slather them in olive oil, gently buff the nail plate to make sure all the product is off and the nails are smooth, file, slather on more olive oil, then lotion. Acetone dries out your skin and it's going to feel icky-- olive oil is great for rehydrating your skin, be prepared to go through a lot of lotion too.

  • Your newly naked nails are going to feel weird too. They're going to be brittle from dehydration so hydrating with good oil (olive, not baby!) is important. With luck, the person/people who've been doing your nails haven't over-filed them and the only thing wrong with them will be the dehydration and the fact that you aren't used to how easily natural nails break. Most people report about 2 days for nails to feel "normal" again.

  • With traditional acrylics you want to soak them in straight acetone. Depending on the product used and the thickness of it, it can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour to completely remove a set.

There are a lot of techs in the industry who swear that it only take 20 minutes to remove acrylics. I have personally soaked off a LOT of acrylics, sets done by myself as well as sets done by other techs at other salons-- I have never managed to get a set off in 20 minutes without still having to do some filing. I'm not saying that some techs don't do nails that soak off in less than half an hour, I'm saying I've never come across one.

Silk or Fiberglass Wraps and "Dip" type products can also be soaked off in acetone--
the resin used in these nails breaks down much faster than acrylic, so it won't take as long!

Things That Can Slow You Down:
  • The MMA dilemma:

Some techs use acrylic monomer (the liquid) that is made with Methyl Methacrylate, MMA is not safe for use in nail products! Nail techs use it for a variety of reasons: it's hella cheap-- like, $20-$30 for a gallon sometimes (compared to $180-$250/gallon for high quality, professional, cosmetic grade monomer.)

It sticks to your nail better than you nail sticks to your finger; clients don't care about things like physics, they just don't want their acrylics to lift. So using MMA keeps you from hearing complaints... you know, until the natural nail gets ripped off the nail bed.

Not every nail tech knows jack-*#&@! about their product chemistry-- this is largely a problem with our technical training in beauty schools-- please write your state congress or assembly person and tell them that this is unacceptable. But it means that sometimes nail techs use crappy products because they are cheap and they have no idea that the stuff should only be used to glue tile to cement floors.

     What does MMA mean to you if you're trying to get it off your nails? Mostly it means that it can take 2 or 3 hours to soak it off with straight acetone. And it's a gummy mess that has to be soaked, filed, soaked, filed, soaked, filed... etc. And don't expect your nails to be in good shape when you finally do get the stuff off-- because MMA sticks best to a jacked up nail, so most people who use it rely on aggressive "prep" by over-filing that natural nail.

  •  Gel Topcoat obstacles: 

If you have regular acrylic nails but they're sealed with a gel topcoat, it's VERY IMPORTANT to file off the gel topcoat before you soak your nails! Many gel topcoats are solvent-resistant and if you don't file it off first, your nails will look exactly like they did before you put them in the acetone, even an hour later!

  • Removing Gel Nails:

There are a lot of different gel formulas out there these days, so removing gel gets complicated.

Traditional gels are solvent-resistant. They can't be soaked off-- at least, not in anything that is safe to soak your nails in! So you have to file them off.

There's nothing wrong with filing product off your nails, but it's important that it be done carefully. You (or the person doing it) have to be careful to STOP at the product and not file into the natural nail. Fortunately, this is pretty easy to do with gels.

Gels are much softer than acrylic and filing through them takes relatively little time and effort.

Soak-off Gels, kinda obviously, can be soaked off in acetone like acrylics. Soakable gels usually don't take as long as acrylic to soak off either...but some "soakable" gels are quite stubborn and it can be easier to just file them off.

Gel Polish. This stuff is awesome! And it's super easy to soak off. Not quite as easy as removing traditional polish; you'll still have to soak it, but only for a few minutes. Most formulas slide off easily after 5-10 minutes.

The preferred method of soaking off product in the salon? The "foil wrap" method: Each nail is covered with a cotton pad that has been thoroughly dowsed in acetone, then the fingers are individually wrapped with foil. Most of us then like to place the hands in plastic liner bags and wrap with warm mitts or towels.

This method works faster, saves acetone, and is far less drying to your skin!
 But it's difficult to manage on yourself, which is why I gave instructions for the bowl method.

  • Removing Rockstar Toenails:
Most rockstar toes are done with traditional gel products-- you'll have to file them off.

Naturally, I recommend you have any product removed professionally, in a salon, by a nail technician who knows what they're doing and cares about preserving the health and integrity of your nails.

If you have your product removed in a salon and the so-called "professional" rips, clips, or pries the product off your nails, or files past the product into your natural nail-- get up and RUN out the door! If you want your nails jacked up, you could bite them off at home yourself! 


  1. Excellent blogs! As prior posts have said you have a great talent for finding the detail and making it understandable . I greatly appreciate the insights and information.

  2. First intellengent and comprehensive blog that I have read on any of these "nail" sights. Wish I had read it earlier. Thank you very much.

  3. thank you so much for the info you provided here! I came across it when I was looking for ways to dampen the fumes from the pure acetone. I'll be using a fan and 2 cloths tonight!