The best gel nail polish remover

Amber Van Wort

Putting a little nail polish remover on your nail beds before painting them will help soak up your nails’ natural oils and help the polish stick and last longer.

The benefits of gel nail polish over standard nail lacquer are clear. Gel nail polish is super resistant to chipping, it thickens and strengthens your nails, and lasts for weeks, usually only needing a fresh application because the nails have grown out.

The downside to all of that is it can be quite difficult to remove. Many of us resort to picking and peeling the polish off, which can cause major nail damage. Instead, try using a quality gel nail polish remover and following the instructions for how to safely and easily remove it.

You'll find everything you need to know about gel nail polish removers in our guide below. We've also added some recommendations, including our personal favorite, Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Acetone Remover.

Considerations when choosing gel nail polish removers

Acetone or Acetone-Free

Gel nail polish removers that contain acetone are often stronger and faster-acting than those without. Essentially, acetone is a flammable paint stripper. The higher the percentage of acetone, the more effective it will be at stripping away tough gel and glitter polishes. On the downside, this liquid solvent has a strong scent and will cause your cuticles to dry out, increasing your chances for split skin and infections. Always keep your hands well moisturized when using acetone remover.

Acetone-free removers are gentler on your skin and often include essential oils which keep your hands hydrated and smelling nice. These removers might include a weaker solvent called propylene carbonate, which will require a little more soaking, scraping, and scrubbing than acetone removers.

Gel polish remover types


More often than not nail polish remover comes in a liquid-filled bottle. These bottles are usually the most affordable option and are easy to use. Simply pour a little liquid onto a cotton ball or tissue and rub it on your nail. For stubborn gel polish, though, you usually need to place the soaked piece of cotton on top of each nail and cover completely (with foil) for about 15 minutes to let the polish remover to its work without the need for harsh scraping.


You can also find pre-soaked cotton pads. Usually, these pads come in a pack of 10 and work just like the liquid method, but without the need to pour anything. While these pads are convenient to use, they are often more expensive than liquid removers.


This style of remover comes in a small container filled with a pre-soaked sponge. There is a hole in the middle of the sponge for you to place your finger. Sponge removers are less messy and less wasteful than the alternatives, but the price is often high and they won't last as long as liquid removers. Because you need to soak off gel for several minutes, these tend not to work as well or as quickly as other methods.

How to remove gel polish

As we know, removing nail polish can quickly dry out the skin around your nails and can even cause your nails to crack, peel, and break. Luckily, with just a few simple steps you can avoid any major nail damage. Never scrape the nails with too much force and do not apply gel polish or remover to damaged nails. If at any step in this process any pain or sensitivity results, remove everything from your nails and wash clean. You may need to get stubborn gel polish removed at a salon.

Hydrate: Apply cuticle oil or lotion to your cuticles and the skin surrounding your nails. This will help prevent your skin from drying and cracking.
File: Use a nail file to lightly file off the top, shiny layer of polish. You should be left with a dull finish.
Soak: Soak a cotton ball or paper towel in gel polish remover and place it on top of the nail, making sure you cover the entire area.
Foil: You can wrap a piece of foil around each finger and cotton ball to hold the soaked cotton securely in place.
Wait: Let your nails soak for 15 to 20 minutes. In some cases, you may need to wait slightly longer.
Rub: After soaking, apply pressure to the foil wrapped cotton and rub it back and forth across the nail bed. This process should remove the majority, if not all, of the gel polish.
Remove all the polish gently.
Clean the nails and hands with mild soap and water.
Re-hydrate: At this point, you may want to apply a second round of lotion or cuticle oil, however this step is optional.


A number of factors come into play when determining the price of these removers. Type, quantity, and quality will all affect the price, but generally speaking, you'll pay anywhere from $1 to $3 per ounce.


Q. How long does it take to soak off gel nail polish?

A. Generally speaking, removal should take 15 to 20 minutes. However, this time will vary depending on the method and type of remover you choose. Never be rough with the nails; if the polish won't come off easily, get it removed at a salon.

Q. What makes gel polish remover different than normal nail polish remover?

A. Unlike regular nail polish remover, gel polish removers tend to include helpful moisturizers and oils to protect your cuticles, skin, and nails. In some cases, a normal nail polish remover might work to remove some of the gel polish. However, it will likely strip away layers of your nail, causing more harm than good.

Gel nail polish removers we recommend

Best of the best: Sally Hansen Salon Gel Polish Acetone Remover

Our take: This powerful remover easily wipes away gel polish without completely drying out your hands.

What we like: Removes gel polish without scraping, doesn't dry out cuticles or nail beds. No overpowering acetone odor.

What we dislike: Slightly less effective than pure acetone.

Best bang for your buck: Onyx Professional Soak Off Gel & All Polish Remover

Our take: Spend a little, get a lot with this affordable and fast-acting gel polish remover.

What we like: Pleasant coconut scent, takes just minutes to soak off your gel polish, large bottle will last a long time.

What we dislike: Your fingers will feel quite cold while they're soaking.

Choice 3: Super Nail Pure Acetone

Our take: This simple acetone remover takes off gel, glitter, and regular polish with minimal effort.

What we like: Removes gel polish with little to no scraping, effectively removes glitter polish as well. Large bottle will last.

What we dislike: Formula can be quite drying.

Amber Van Wort is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. BestReviews and its newspaper partners may earn a commission if you purchase a product through one of our links.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.