How to Remove Shellac Nail Polish?

A Shellac overlay is one of the better things you can spend money on. But, when it gets time to remove it, should you go to a salon, or can you attempt it yourself?

Suppose you can do it yourself, the question is how to remove Shellac nail polish the right way that won’t ruin your nails?

Let’s find out!

How To Remove Shellac Nail Polish?

Shellac nail polish can easily be removed at home if the wearer is willing to spend extra time to perfect it. Acetone, cotton balls, a buff nail file, and streaks of foil are some of the things needed to remove the Shellac nail polish safely at home.

Shellac nails can last three to four weeks before it needs removal, depending on numerous factors. After that, you must decide whether to fill and continue with that set, remove it at a salon, or do it yourself. If the latter is the way you want to go, you must ensure you are confident in removing them.

a freshly done full set of shellac manicure

Do You Have To Remove Shellac At A Salon?

Shellac nail polish is not a lacquer you apply and air dry. It needs UV lights to cure; thus, no one can remove it with regular nail polish remover. Luckily, it is not necessary to remove it at a salon. The ingredients for removal are easy to get from any store.

Eliminating the salon’s removal can save you time and money. Although a salon removal is a little faster than your at-home Shellac removal, you can do it on your own time, in front of the tv with your pajamas on.

Steps To Remove Shellac Nail Polish

Removing Shellac nail polish at home is relatively easy. If you have done a few salon removals, you will be able to do a home removal. However, every step is essential, and your nails’ condition and safety should always be put first.

Step #1: Gather Your Supplies

The worst thing that can happen is when you are ready to remove your Shellac or in the middle of the step and find out you forgot about something. To prevent this from happening, here is a list of supplies you need:

  • Cotton balls
  • Acetone
  • Cuticle pusher
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Masking tape
  • Soft file
  • Nail buffer
  • Cuticle oil

Ensure you are settled somewhere where you can spend some time without needing your hands. Let everyone know that you are having “me time” and won’t be doing anything for 20 to 30 minutes.

Step #2: File The Top Layer Off

a nail technician using a electric nail file to remove gel polish from acrylic nails

The best way to start and ensure the process works faster is to remove the top coat with a file. This way, you break the seal, and the acetone can remove the Shellac.

Use a soft file and gently file the edges from top to bottom and along the sides of the fingernail. Also, file the tip of the nail to release any top coat the tech applied.

You can do one hand’s nails and finish the removal before moving to the other. If you plan on doing the entire removal in one go, you can file both hands’ nails simultaneously.

Step #3: Add The Cotton Balls With Acetone

using acetone with cotton balls

Use your preferred cotton balls and break them into smaller pieces that will cover the entire nail. Then, add your acetone to a bowl, or if you have a unique pump action acetone dispenser, you will have to pump a few times until the cotton is soaked.

Add the acetone-soaked cotton pieces on each nail and press it a little to cover the entire nail and the edges.

Step #4: Wrap With Foil And Tape

fingernails are wrapped in foil for an acetone soak

After the cotton pieces are on the nail, you can take a foil piece and wrap it tightly around the cotton and the finger. I usually keep the shiny side inside. As experts once said, this keeps more heat inside when baking, and it is the same with removing Shellac.

Another pro tip would be to secure the aluminum foil with masking tape to keep it intact and ensure it doesn’t loosen its grip on the cotton.

Step #5: Wait Out The Soak

You can now relax for 10 to 15 minutes to give the soak combination time to do its work. The acetone, aluminum foil and Shellac react to loosen the bond on the nail and any stickiness from the base coat.

Please give the acetone time to get through all the coats. Thus, keep to the dedicated time and don’t be too eager to remove the foil before 10 minutes.

Step #6: Test The First Finger

Steadily open the fingernail you covered with foil first. The nails are finished with the soak if the Shellac has lifted and looks like it can quickly scrap off. If not, keep everything on for five more minutes.

The time of a soak will depend on the brand of acetone you use and how much you put on the nails. The more you do removals, the better you will know how long your product needs to remove Shellac nail polish.

Step #7: Remove Shellac With Cuticle Pusher

removing gel polish with a cuticle pusher

Suppose you tested the first fingernail and saw the Shellac edges lifted. In that case, you can gently use the cuticle pusher to scrape off the remainder of the nail polish. If you need to force it off, the soak is not finished, and you must redo the cotton ball, acetone, and foil.

When starting with this step, keep the other fingers closed. This way, they can continue the “baking and removal” act while you are busy with one finger. If there is a thin, tiny piece of base coat left, leave it be, you will deal with that in the next step.

Step #8: Apply a Strengthener

After removing the shellac polish layers, your natural nails may feel rough and don’t look shiny due to being filed during the gel manicure prep. It’s time to apply a strengthener coat, which is clear and protective. It helps protect your natural nails and gives them a shinier look.

Tip: If you don’t know the difference between shellac vs. gel nails, you should read my other article, which explains this in more detail. It takes 5 mins to read by the way, so don’t worry!

Step #9: Moisturize And Protect

Acetone’s drying effect on the skin might leave your cuticles and fingers dull and dry. Instead, add your favorite cuticle oil and massage it into the cuticles and around your fingernails. Next, get a moisturizing hand lotion and apply it throughout the day.

Things That Can Go Wrong When Removing Shellac Nails

Removing Shellac is a crucial component regarding the health of your nails and how long your next set will last. Removing shellac may ruin your nails since they are so close to the natural nails.

There are a few things that can go wrong:

  • Use the wrong remover – some removers don’t have enough acetone; thus, the soak will take up more time, or it will be a struggle to remove the Shellac.
  • Using too small foil strips – ensure the foil strips are an inch wide and the length of your finger. This way, it will cover the entire nail and keep it snug and warm for the solution to work.
  • Waiting too long for the soak – if you wait too long, the acetone can burn the nailbed and the skin around your nails.
  • Buffing too much – The buffing starts after the removal. Thus, your nails will be tender and soft from the acetone. Overbuffing can damage the nail bed significantly.

When To Stop Removal And Go To A Professional?

When your finger is inflamed, burned, or bleeding, you might have had an adverse reaction to the remover or filed the nail too much, and the nail will be damaged. Stop where you are, and see a professional instead as soon as possible.


Keep in mind the risk when removing Shellac, and be cautious. However, it isn’t rocket science, and you will get the hang of it. The most challenging part is to remove the dominant hand’s Shellac with your non-dominant hand.