Everyone who's had acrylic nails has been guilty of removing them incorrectly, whether it's purposely prying them from your natural nails or mindlessly biting them off while absorbed in a Black Mirror binge-watching session. But removing acrylics forcefully means removing some of the many layers of your natural nail plate, too, according to , a professional nail artist at in New York City,
"Usually this results in thin, flimsy, damaged nails, which last for months until they grow out," Walker says. And that's the best possible scenario! Here's how you can return to natural nails without damaging them, in three easy steps:
1. File them down.
Instead of filing your nails in the usual way (along the top edge of the nail), you'll need to thin out the entire area the acrylic covers. "Using a course grit, file off as much product as possible," Walker says. "You need a really good file for this. An emery board would be useless." Look for a 100-grit nail file, like the Diamond Cosmetics Black File ($1, ), which is coarse enough to file down the surface of the acrylics.
Pro safety tip: "Be careful not to cut the skin around the nails with the edges of the file," Walker advises. "Always 'season' a new file by using another file over the edges to soften them."
2. Soak off the remaining material.
Once the acrylic has been filed down much as possible, Walker recommends soaking the nails in 100% acetone ($5, ) for as long as it takes to dissolve the product.
There are two ways to do this. One way, Walker says, is by soaking your fingers in a bowl of the acetone, which is the simpler option, but not necessarily the best. "The bowl technique is very harsh on your skin and takes longer," Walker says.
The other way: Wrap each fingertip in foil with an acetone-soaked piece of cotton. "This is the superior technique," she says.
3. Gently scrape off or buff what's left.
"When using the foil technique, remove the wraps one by one every 20 minutes or so to scrape off the softened product using a cuticle pusher, repeating this process until all the product has been dissolved," Walker says. There may be a few small areas that refuse to go, but don't get rough with them! "If there are any little bits of acrylic that won't budge, a soft foam buffer can be used to buff those little stubborn bits smooth," she says.
You can always go to an experienced and trusted nail technician to remove your acrylics, but they will likely follow the same steps; the only difference is that they might use a nail drill instead of a file.
Keep in mind, even if you follow these steps, you may be left with somewhat compromised natural nails depending on how the technician applied them in the first place and how carefully you execute the removal. However, Walker says, "If the acrylic process is done patiently, it can be virtually damage-free."