Leading The Good Life

The Un-Manicure (aka How to Remove Shellac)

Right before Christmas I treated myself to my very first shellac manicure. Well, to be honest, I had a gift certificate. But, still, I got in a little "me time" before all the celebrating began.

In case you're not familiar with shellac manicures, I really won't be of much technical help. But it's some crazy system of base coats, top coats, and UV lights that makes the polish stay unsmudged, shiny, and chip free for up to 2 weeks. And it's pretty awesome!


My manicure was still going strong 2 weeks later...

(That's 13 days with no touch-ups or anything.)

...I just couldn't stand how long my nails had gotten! And all of the growth could be seen at the base of my nails. Almost like some sort of weird reverse French manicure.

However, the trouble with the fancy shellac manicures is that you can't use regular ol' nail polish remover to take it off. And I was warned to NOT peel it off, because it will take the top layer of your nail right along with it. I suppose this is how they get away with charging an additional $10 to remove your nail polish for you. No thanks.

With a little research (and some tips from the girl who did my nails), I discovered how to remove a shellac manicure at home. And you really only need 2 things, both of which can be purchased at your local drugstore (for much less than $10.)

  • 100% pure acetone
  • a manicure stick

The trick is to soak your nails in the pure acetone for 10 minutes then scrape the polish off with the stick. You will see the polish start to curl and peel away before the 10 minutes is up, but wait it out. It will come off much easier and cleaner.

I read that acetone can dry out your skin, so I wasn't about to just dunk my whole hand in it. Instead, I poured a shallow pool of it in a dish, curled my fingers under, and dipped just my nails in.

Here's what they looked like after 5 minutes.

And here's what they looked like after 10.

At this point it scraped off easily into flakes.

I was worried that the skin that was in the acetone would be super dry (see my knuckles 3 pictures up), but they looked just fine after washing with warm water and soap.

(This picture was taken before putting on lotion!)

I have also been told that you can avoid dipping your fingers in acetone by, instead, soaking cotton balls in the acetone, placing them directly on each nail, and then wrapping them in aluminum foil. After 10 minutes, remove the foil & cotton and scrape off the polish. To me it sounds a bit neater but a lot more fuss.

So, there you have it! An easy way to remove your shellac manicure at home!

Comments (75) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Thanx so much! I got the shellac done for the first time 2 weeks ago and my nails are about 5 times longer than yours. I was dreading having to go pay to get it removed

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad it lasted 2 weeks, but the growth was killing me. Can’t even imagine with longer nails!

      • I had my first shellac manicure 16 days ago and whilst the polish is absolutely perfect, I agree that the growth is killing me too! I had a voucher so was happy to pay $20, but even though the polish is perfect, no one would really want to keep it on much longer for reasons such as regrowth. Plus I just love changing polish colour every few days! Thanks for this great removal advice!

    • This is great info I never learned at cosmetology school I bought the pure acetone and sat on my deck just used coooton balls and q-tips it did not work. I HAVE HAD IT ON SIX WEEKS AND THOUGHT ITVWAS TODRIED OUT THANKS AND WILL NEVER. GET PRO NAILS AGAIN BEACAUSE WAS CUT IN CRUISE BY NAIL NIPPPERS SO WORIED GOTV AIDES OR HEP AND I was military. Med tech and PHBOTOMIST Drew blood! Un professional need to used orange wood stick\!!! Know is als!

    • Thank you so much for posting this! Love the clear and concise directions and the step-by-step photos! I did the same thing–a spontaneous splurge–and am going to remove it today using your method. THANK YOU!

  2. Here’s an easier way to remove the shellac polish:
    (1) get regular household foil and cut it into small squares
    (2) get a piece of cottonball and drench it in the acetone
    (3) place the edge of your finger in the tin foil square, then the drenched cottonball on the nail
    (4) wrap the entire fingertip with the foil and secure the wet cottonball to the nail
    (5) after just minutes unwrap the foil and the shellac lifts up easily. No peeling, just use that manicure stick to help it along.
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  3. This was so helpful and to the point.
    Thanks a lot for the info

  4. I just found that the NutraNail gel removal pads will work. Just follow the directions and hold for 5 to 10 minutes. Worked like a charm! But reading this blog helped me to discover that! Thanks!

  5. glad to have found your website ! I will head out tomorrow to get buy some acetone ;)

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  6. this info helped so much !! thank you :) we used the exact same color btw

  7. This information was great and much appreciated! I do not like the file that was used for my removal. That is why I stopped having acrylics! Thanks again for your help.

  8. Thank you so much for this! I have an interview tomorrow morning and was freaking out about my shellac peeling and not looking professional anymore! This post was a life saver!

  9. Thank you so much! I was wondering how I was going to get this off my nails. I did shellac for the first time while on vacation and they are starting to look awful with the growth and a couple of them have chipped. I will try this tonight.

  10. Many thanks for this wonderful tip, job complete in 15mins.
    Shame about the Shellac manicure, my thumb nail blistered
    in 48hours!

  11. These tips are great. I’ve decided to hold off on getting another shellac manicure because my nails keep breaking. I want to wait until my nails are stronger. No sense on paying for the manicure if they are just going to break.

    • Instead of waiting you can ask for an extra top coat. After doing Gel Nails once it completly wore down my nails. I am addicted to shellac and I am not girly girly enough to use regular nail polish. I told the girl that does my nails and she suggested the extra coat on top. Totally helped and she didn’t charge me!

  12. Worked for me using Pure acetone from Sally. Instead of squares, I cut strips. First tear about a 3 inch strip of foil which you cut into the 10 pieces just wide enough to cover the cotton pad. This way the strip stops before the first finger joint and you can wrap around the finger to hold. Shellac dissolved as I hoped. I had French manicure and found the tips a bit stubborn, but thumbnail scraping finished the job.

  13. I was warming a tortilla wrap and that’s when I discovered use a little heat and the shellac comes off your nail and it cost nothing try a hair dryer

  14. First, get a polar block or a soft buffer and buff away as much of the gel polish as possible without actually filing into the natural nail. There can be as many as at least 4, if not, 5 coats of cured gel polish for each manicure. Filing helps you not have to a. either stick your hands in acetone forever, and b. scrape as much off.

    Soak your hands in acetone up to 10 minutes to remove the rest. Also, as soon as you lift your hands out of the acetone, the remaining gel will begin to harden up as soon as it hits air. It will harden more then before. If you must use an orange wood stick be gentle and only scrape off what comes off easily. Don’t force it.

    The biggest thing is, you need to break off the polish WHILE it is dipped in acetone, use the orange wood throughout the soaking. This means you have to do it one hand at a time.

  15. Thank you!
    It worked great!

  16. Thank you!!!!!

  17. Thank you for these helpful tips!

  18. Thank you. This sounds just like what the last salon I went to did to remove a previous shellac that I had outgrown (having it for over a month, my nails were definitely showing bare)… I will stop at the drugstore and find the 100% Acetone and nail stick and follow your advice!

  19. Shellac will come off by soaking or wrapping nails gelish is more stubborn. To remove gelish first use a file and take the shine (top coat) off each nail, this will help it come off much quicker.
    You can do this with shellac too to reduce acetone soaking time x

  20. Great tips, thank you so much…will surely try it out..

  21. thank you for this info – my nails were getting really long and I just didn’t feel up to going in to get my nails done. I did have to soak longer, I pretty much had to scrape all the old polish off and my fingers were totally white when I was done. But in about an hour I had all the polish off. I still have to buff them down and had to do lotion immediately since my hands dried out so much but I did get the polish off.

  22. Great posting! I’m a licensed nail tech and do Shellac all the time. I find the cottonball/tin foil method too cumbersome. So I warm a shallow bowl up, pour in 100% acetone and soak the nails. The warmer acetone makes removal faster. Do not warm the acetone, just the bowl. Once warm, add acetone. Even better: for faster removal and less drying use Creative’s shellac remover. For thin nails with a tendency to peel, this is a lifesaver.

    • Thanks for the tip! Such a simple trick. :)

    • Where do you buy creatives shellac remover?
      I soaked my nails in pure acetone, it took forever and my nails were quite week after, i did not know about using the stick, maybe that would make it easier, i will buy some for next time. I could not wait to put the shellac on again to make them feel stronger.

  23. I followed your instructionsans soaked my nails for 10 mins however, my salon use a bowl of acetone in a bowl of hot water (i used just off the boil) to remove acrylics/gels so I tried it with shellac. You do need to put a towel over your hands as it’s very strong smelling when it’s warm It worked so well I really only had to wipe the remnants off. Chuffed to bits saved me £10 at the salon – thank you

  24. Thats how my nail tech removes mine. It really works will try and do it my self.

  25. After about 3 weeks, mine started chipping toward the base, and I could feel the scruffiness, so some of it just peeled off. Then, I just peeled them off from another four fingers, and they looked fine. I couldn’t understand why I should dry my nails with acetone when peeling them from the base when the nails have started to grow would do the trick for removal. Does the top layer of my nail really come off by peeling? All I needed was my other hand to peel it off.

    • A friend of mine peels hers, too, but I still worry about the top layer of the nail…mainly because 2 people at the salon warned me about it.

      • Glad to know I am not alone doing it that way! :)
        But I just couldn’t tolerate the scruffy feeling and wanted to remove it from one of my hands while it is still on my other hand. But if I went to the salon, I would have to get it removed from both my hands. Plus, I could not help the ones that peeled off on their own. I think moisturizing after peeling and washing them with water does the trick, but I am not even sure if I’ll go with Shellac again…was a little too concerned about the UV radiation when I got it done the first time, and now concerned about the drying effects of pure acetone.

  26. Thanks. I’ve had my nails done twice and called this morning for another appointment but was told my manicurist is out of town for a week and I can’t stand my nail grow out any longer. You’re a life saver.

  27. Thanks, great tip!!! saved a trip to a nail studio

  28. Hey! What my girl does to take it off, is dip pieces of cotton in the acetone, placed them directly on the nail and wrap each finger tip in foil! To fuss, no skin contact!

  29. Thank you! I tried the foil wrap and it worked wonders!

  30. thank you so much! big help :)

  31. This also works with normal nail polish remover! It just takes a bit longer :)

  32. i just got my 3rd shellac manicure yesterday. the first one was awesome, lasted 2 weeks like she said. second one was great as well, but didn’t quite make it to the 3 weeks as promised. this time i noticed most of my nails have one to several white spots (like nail “bruises”). my gal uses the foil method for removal but uses a metal cuticle pusher to scrape it off, plus some fine-grit filing to smooth the surface. i’m worried that the top layer of nail is coming off in places, maybe because she is rushing the removal? i may try taking it off myself next time.

    also, for gals that like to change polish color, i always get transparent pink because i like a natural look, and my manicurist does the same on her nails but uses regular polish on top to do different colors. you can remove the color easily without disturbing the shellac manicure — i watched her do it on her own nails.

    thanks for the tip, lizz!

    • I never knew you could change the color that way without damaging the shellac – so cool!

    • Wow, I love the idea of painting over a transparent pink shellac! Thanks so much for sharing that, karla. If I try shellac again in the future I might go with that approach.

      Regarding your concerns about the top layer of your nails: I’ve heard that repeatedly getting a shellac manicure can put some wear-and-tear damage on your nails, so it’s good to take a break and let your nails grow out again every once in a while. When I asked my manicurist if shellac would damage my nails, she asked to see my hands, studied the nails, and told me, “You’ll be okay, just don’t get shellac every time.” Take that as the colloquial story it is, of course – as I mentioned in a comment below, I’ve only tried shellac once – but it makes sense in my head, anyway.

  33. Thank you, this was super helpful!

  34. using the acetone with foil and soaked cotton balls works the best I have a kit a home and do my nails myself every two weeks saving me a ton of money and time..

  35. Hi,
    Does this method of removing Shellac colour, damage the acrylic nails underneath (if you have acrylic nails) ?
    I would like to remove the shellac from my acrylic nails and repaint in y own colour.

    • Oh, I’m not sure! I’ve only had shellac on my natural nails. Anyone else know?

      • Yes it will do as acetone is also used to remove acrylics/extensions. I’ve had clients who wanted Gellux (same as Shellac, just a different brand) and we’ve waited until their extensions have been close to need reapplication – that way she has the whole lot off at the same time :)

  36. your directions were easy to follow and VERY thorough. i appreciate your helpful hints, along with superb grammar and easy to follow instructions. thank you.

  37. Good to know for finger, but I will NEVER shellac my toes again. Its way too much of a pain in the butt! I am goig to try the foil idea for my toes but the dipping sounds easier for fingers.

  38. Thank you – you’ve saved me £10 that’s what the beautician charges each time to remove the shellac polish x

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  40. When you take it off does it make your nail really rough? If so what is something good to put over it so it is not?

  41. Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have truly enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again very soon!

  42. I just removed my first (and last) shellac manicure using the acetone in warm waterbath .method. The outgrowth after 1 week was making me nuts. I kept is for 21 days. At about 16 days the manicure began deteriorating. I’m happy to use regular polish and a good topcoat. Soaking any part of .y body in acetone is not an option.
    Just a new type of arctic nail to keep you salon dependent.

  43. Thankk you so much – your tip is going to save me £s!!!!!! :)

  44. Thank you so much for posting this! Love the clear and concise directions and the step-by-step photos! I did the same thing–a spontaneous splurge–and am going to remove it today using your method. THANK YOU!

  45. Oh god, thank you! I splurged with shellac too, and I cannot stand the outgrowth. I called the salon, but the person that did it was busy till next Tuesday (4 days from now), and I am NOT waiting any longer. I will never do shellac again, because I cannot be dependent on someone or some long process to get off. I’m so bummed! Now I am off to Target to get supplies……I want it OFF!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  46. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Like many others, I recently got my first shellac manicure and now I can’t seem to be rid of it! Except I’ve had to trim a few nails, and accidentally chipped one with my razor (it turns out this is also a good way to remove shellac, but not one I recommend!), so now I have nine manicured nails and one that doesn’t match. Clearly, it’s time for the shellac to be gone. I’ll be visiting the drug store this afternoon.

    I got a French shellac manicure, and it seems to have some advantages with regard to a paint job you’re stuck with for two weeks. My nails have grown out past the manicure, but with only the tips painted white, it’s much harder to see the growth. The nail’s natural color patterns mask the line where ‘shiny painted nail’ gives way to ‘normal unpainted nail,’ so the only annoyance is that *I* know it’s not smooth and even anymore.

  47. I found non-acetone remover used with the foil technique worked for me as well. I had the french tip shellac nails and my two weeks was up! The shellac had cracked and there were dirty lines in the whites. I had already put my girls to bed and couldn’t run out to get pure acetone so I thought I’d give it a try with what I had. I’m thrilled that it worked!

  48. I used an acetone nail polish remover and just soaked my nails. The shellac just dissolved. No peeling or scraping required!

  49. Im sooo ready to have the stuff removed from MY nails.
    I love the look but after 3.5 week, it’s looking unkept and tacky!! Lol.
    Don’t want to pay to hav removed and can’t wait til pay day.
    I’ll try the ‘foil’ method.
    Wish me luck!!

  50. Hi, maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I tried the acetone on cotton wool, wrapped in foil method for 15 minutes and still had some shellac on my nails. Then I tried the soak in a bowl method for 10 minutes. Some of it is still there. I should add that each time I scraped off as much as I could. My nails are still lumpy and ugly. I don’t want to try a 3rd time as I’m worried about the acetone and the scraping damaging my nails Help!!!

    • Oh no!! Mine has always scraped/flaked off so easily after soaking. Are you using 100% acetone (as opposed to regular nail polish remover which is diluted)? Maybe you just got a stronger manicure. I’m sorry & good luck!

  51. Thank you so much this worked a treat but I only used normal remover 80% acetone , it came off so easily from now on I will just use a normal gel polish colour (“,)

  52. Hi, my daughter bought me a gift voucher to have my nails done but little did I know that the removal was not going to be easy. I read the comments by others to my husband and he suggested we but some paint stripper and give that a go instead of messing around with cotton balls and foil!
    AMAZING results in 5 mins.
    So here is what you do. Put a small blob of stripper gel onto the nail covering the polish. Do one hand at a time. Wait 5 mins, in which time it will start to bubble slightly. Now with a wooden cuticle stick scrap the polish off. Excellent result. Now do the other hand. When complete wash hands/ nails thoroughly and then moisturise. Never to use shellac again :)

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