How to remove shellac and gel nail polish at home

Can’t get to the salon? Tricks and products to help you look good, even in a lockdown

Reader, I turned to Instagram. The current time we live in is new to most of us – it is certainly unprecedented within my lifetime. I worried that recommending nice beauty products during this time might seem in poor taste, or inappropriate, or maybe even insensitive. Reader response when I asked this question on Instagram was a resounding "Don't be such an eejit – we need escapism for goodness sake."

The requests took two general routes – the first was for problem-solving tricks and products that help those of us who might usually visit a salon for nails, hair or other treatments, and now no longer can. The second was just a general appetite for “nice things”, because we have sufficient unpleasantness to cope with.

You'll need acetone nail polish remover – nothing else
will do the job

With all this in mind, we’ll start with the practicalities. If you are living with a pair of hands festooned by “two-week” gel polish which has been there far longer than two weeks and the regrowth is starting to grind your gears, you can remove it yourself.

You'll need acetone nail polish remover – nothing else will do the job. You'll also need a good nail file with a rough side, some kitchen foil and some cotton pads. If you're feeling fancy, Glossier Cotton Rounds (€4 for 60 at are embossed and what you might call an "elevated beauty basic". I like them for nail work because they don't leave fibres on your fingernails and tips. You'll also need a wooden cuticle pusher. You may well have all these things at home already, but you can find acetone nail polish remover online very cheaply.


To prepare and prevent waste of materials, I like to cut my cotton rounds into four. You’ll end up with four neat little fingernail-sized triangles. You’ll need one for each nail. Then, tear a long, thinnish strip of foil and divide into little rectangles – you’ll need them to be large enough to wrap over the cotton and your whole fingernail, so it can fold over and stay on the finger without your having to hold it there.

Start the process by taking the rough file and buffing away the top, shiny layer of your shellac or two-week gel nail polish. Next, soak your cotton triangle generously in acetone polish remover, then pop it on your nail before wrapping the whole lot in foil. After five or 10 minutes, it will be soft enough to gently push off the nail, which may then need some gentle buffing with a nail buffer (if you have one).

If root regrowth is driving you spare and you don't want to dye your own hair at home, opt for an at-home toner or gloss to buy you significant time. Josh Wood Shade Shot Gloss (€19.99 at will restore the desired tone to washed-out looking colour, debrassing cool blonde and restoring warm brown. It's the most professional quality "home" product I have ever used. Roots are an annoyance in themselves and we'll look at what to do about them here next week, but they're easier to bear when the rest of your hair looks "on purpose" rather than "on lockdown".