Natural, Healthy Nails: How To Remove Gel, Dip, Or Acrylic Nails For Good 

Contributing writer By Alexa Erickson
Contributing writer
Alexa Erickson is a California-based writer who specializes in travel, beauty, wellness, and lifestyle. She received a degree in journalism and creative writing from the University of Tampa, and her work has appeared in Reader's Digest, Shape, and more.
Filing Nails

Acrylics, dips, and gels. They make your nails look long and thick, but underneath their facade are natural nails begging you to let them breathe. For some clean-curious beauty fans, breaking up with fake nails may seem like an impossible task, but with a few easy tips and tricks, you can get your nails to look glorious, naturally. 

Why you should consider going off fake nails. 

Not everyone is going to have a perfectly clean beauty routine—and that's OK. However, one way that you can improve your overall beauty habits is by moving toward natural nails. 

"Not only are acrylic and dip powder nails full of potentially nail-harming ingredients, but the process and wear can be very damaging to your nail beds, and if done improperly can even lead to infection," advises organic manicurist Eunice Montes-Hamaguchi. "To get the acrylic to stick, your natural nails must be filed down, causing damage and making them weaker. They also aren't flexible like your natural nails, and if you were to break one, you're more likely to crack and rip at the nail bed." 

Naturopathic doctor Tess Marshall, N.D., suggests going cold turkey. "Fake nails, specifically acrylic nails, are made up of ingredients like resin and formaldehyde. These not only can damage your nails directly but are harmful when the fumes are inhaled, especially for the technician, which is why most wear masks." 

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Recommended removal option: Visit a nail salon.

"Go to the nail salon and have them removed and opt for a moisturizing manicure afterward," recommends Marshall. "This can be uncomfortable at first since the nails underneath will be short, weak, and sometimes even frayed depending on the length fake nails were adhered." But by giving your nails a break, you'll be better off in the long run. Just remind yourself that it's a temporary stage.

Montes-Hamaguchi agrees: "We always recommend seeing a professional to remove them." But if you can't get to a salon, she says, there are ways to safely make the switch at home. 

At-home removal guide.

As much as you want to, ripping off your faux tips will only harm your natural nails more. That's why Montes-Hamaguchi has a step-by-step approach to DIY-ing removal, so you can start your switch the healthy way:

  1. Choose a heavy, 100-grit nail file to buff and break the top layer, carefully filing until the shine is gone.
  2. Carefully clip off the acrylic length. 
  3. Soak a cotton ball in pure acetone and wrap nails with aluminum foil. It may seem counterintuitive to use acetone now that you're trying to support nail strength—acetone can weaken nails—but remember this is the last time you'll be using it (hopefully), and it's much better than forcefully removing the nails. 
  4. Wrap your hands in warm towels to help speed up the process (10 to 15 minutes). 
  5. Use a cuticle pusher to remove the acrylic from your nails.
  6. Buff off any excess with a nail buffer.
  7. Wash your hands and add a cuticle oil. You can use organic coconut oil or any natural oil you have.

Once you remove your fake nails, there are important steps you'll need to take to ensure your nails get and remain healthy and strong.  

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Use topical oils for the cuticles, nails, and hands.

"Topically, oils like coconut, vitamin E, and jojoba can help with the way the nails look and protect from further damage," notes Marshal, who recommends using olive and grape seed oils for hydration, tea tree, and cypress oils as antibacterials and vitamin E and carrot seed for strengthening. 

Take care of your cuticles.

Cuticles serve the important purpose of preventing bacteria from getting under your skin. But once they begin growing over your nail, it's time to do some damage control: All you need to do is use a wood cuticle stick to gently push back the cuticle. 

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Trim your nails, at first.

Your nails may be pretty soft after you remove your acrylics, gel, or dip powder, so for the first few weeks, stick to trimming your nails to create clean edges. As they get stronger and longer, you can do touch-ups with a file to keep ragged edges at bay. 

Use clean nail polish.

After all that hard work of rehabbing your nails, why go back to the dark side? Seek out an organic, nontoxic nail salon in your area to keep your nails well manicured. Alternatively, you can DIY at home. Just make sure you use polish without harmful ingredients such as formaldehyde, toluene, DBP, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, and xylene. Look for polishes labeled 7-free or higher. Begin with a base coat, then paint two coats of polish, drying in between coats. Finish with a top coat. 

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Follow up with supplements.*

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"The best thing to do is support faster and stronger nail growth," says Marshall. "People can supplement with collagen peptides, B vitamins, and silica—horsetail is a great botanical that has high levels of silica, naturally—which all support nail health, helping them to grow out stronger and quicker."* Collagen, in particular, has been shown to support nail strength.* One study found that when patients took collagen daily for 24 weeks, it helped support their nail health, including better growth rates, reduced breakage, and improved appearance.* 

Stay hydrated and eat well.

It seems all good things come from proper hydration and nutrient-rich food, right? Well, the same can be said for maintaining healthy nails once you make the switch from fake nails. Be sure to drink enough water since without adequate moisture, nails can become brittle and break and peel easily. To lubricate and moisturize your nails, eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin C is essential for producing collagen, which strengthens your nails. Eating enough protein through your diet increases keratin production to support strong nails.

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The bottom line.

If you're looking to clean up your beauty routine, nails are a great place to start. Or if you're already into clean beauty but still use fake nails as a crutch, consider letting your natural nails shine through. Not only will your nails be healthier overall, but you'll limit your exposure to some questionable ingredients that are often found in standard nail products. And from there, it only takes a few steps to get your nails growing long and strong.

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