Acrylic nails are cute and fun until it comes time to remove them. I learned this the hard way during the pandemic when one of my acrylics broke and Kellie (my nail tech) was miles away.
I didn’t have acetone at home, so Kellie suggested that I use rubbing alcohol instead, and it worked like a charm.
So, I will show you how to remove acrylic nails with rubbing alcohol as directed by my favorite nail technician.
- Remove all embellishments on the nails and cut them to a manageable length.
- Buff the nail surface with a coarse nail buffer to remove gel polish or any other coating on the acrylics.
- Apply petroleum jelly on your fingers and dip your nails in rubbing alcohol for 10-15 minutes. Alternatively, you can soak cotton balls in rubbing alcohol and secure them onto the nails using aluminum foil.
- Once the acrylic softens, use a metal cuticle pusher to scrape it off your natural nails.
- Use a fine nail buffer to remove acrylic remnants and wash your hands. Finally, apply cuticle oil to rehydrate your nails.
Rubbing Alcohol vs. Isopropyl Alcohol: Which One Should you Use?
Many assume that rubbing alcohol and isopropyl alcohol are the same product because they have similar properties. That’s wrong!
Both liquids have antibacterial properties and are used as disinfectants, but their chemical composition differs. Therefore, you cannot use them interchangeably. Let me explain.
Isopropyl alcohol is 100% alcohol, but not the type you find in alcoholic beverages. It is more potent and can have hazardous effects when misused.
On the other hand, rubbing alcohol is a mixture of isopropyl alcohol and water. Most brands contain 70% isopropyl alcohol, but you can find more potent products with up to 90% alcohol.
So, which one should you use to remove acrylic nails?
70% rubbing alcohol should be your go-to product for acrylic removal. It has just enough alcohol and water to dissolve the nails effectively. Don’t get me wrong.
A product with a higher alcohol percentage will work faster. However, the excessive alcohol will dry out your natural nails and cause them to break.
How to Remove Acrylic Nails with Rubbing Alcohol
Step 1: Cut Off the Acrylic Nail Tips
Trimming the acrylic nails to a more manageable length will make the rest of the process easier. If you want to maintain your natural nail length, cut right above where your natural nails end.
If you are okay with losing length, you can trim the acrylics together with the natural nails. However, cut at least two centimeters above your nail bed for safety.
- Use acrylic nail cutters because they provide enough strength to cut the hard acrylics. Large toenail clippers will work fine if you don’t have those.
- Alternatively, you can use the coarse side of your nail file to file down the acrylics. This method works but is messier and will take longer than clipping.
Step 2: Remove the Coating on the Acrylic Nails
If you have regular nail polish or gel polish on the acrylics, remove it using the coarse side of your nail file.
- Run the nail file along the length of the nail in long strokes and keep filing until all the coating comes off. Be careful not to file with too much pressure; you’ll file through the acrylics and injure your natural nails.
Step 3: Soak the Nails in Rubbing Alcohol
There are two ways to soak your acrylics. One involves using cotton balls and tin foil or nail polish remover clips. The other is soaking the nails directly in rubbing alcohol. Here’s how to execute both.
Method 1: Soaking with cotton balls and tin foil:
- Fill the glass bowl halfway with rubbing alcohol, then drop ten cotton balls into the liquid.
- While the pieces of cotton soak, cut out ten squares of foil large enough to wrap entirely around your finger and a cotton ball. The squares don’t have to be neat.
- Rub some petroleum jelly on your fingertips and cuticles. Just ensure you don’t apply the jelly to the nails themselves, as it will hinder the removal. You can even reach the first knuckle if you feel extra cautious.
- Place a cotton piece in the center of a square of tin foil and then place the two together on a nail. Wrap the foil around your nail to secure the cotton, then repeat on all nails.
- Allow the acrylic nails to soften for 10-15 minutes.
Note: You can skip the whole tin foil thing if you have polish remover clips.
Method 2: Soaking the acrylics directly
- To avoid the mess and hassle of using cotton balls, put your nails directly into the rubbing alcohol. Ensure you’ve applied enough petroleum jelly to protect your skin, and then soak the nails for 10-15 minutes.
- While the nails are submerged, use your thumb to rub the other four fingers – it helps break down the acrylics faster.
Step 4: Push the Acrylics Off your Nails
- After soaking for some time, the acrylics melt and become flaky or gooey. That’s your cue.
- Take the metal cuticle pusher or orangewood stick and gently scrape the acrylic off your nails. Start around the cuticle area to free the edge and work down to the nail tip.
- At this point, the acrylic should come off quickly without putting too much pressure on your nail bed. If it doesn’t quickly come off, repeat step three and then try again.
Step 5: File, Shape, and Buff Your Nails
- After you’ve removed all the acrylic, buff the top of your nails to smoothen them while removing acrylic residue. Afterward, thoroughly wash your hands and nails and hydrate with hand lotion.
Does Rubbing Alcohol Damage Skin?
If you use rubbing alcohol continuously for long durations, it will damage your skin. And as we know, dry skin only leads to fine lines and cracks, peeling, and itchiness in severe cases.
The level of skin damage caused largely depends on the percentage of isopropyl alcohol in the rubbing alcohol. 70% rubbing alcohol is mild and rarely causes skin damage unless you’re exposed to it for long durations. Its mildness is why manicurists prefer it as an acetone substitute for nail removal.
Rubbing alcohol with an alcohol content that’s 90% or higher causes more damage – even if you’re exposed to it for a short time. Fortunately, there is a simple way to protect your skin from damage when you use rubbing alcohol.
How to Prevent Skin Damage when Removing Acrylics with Rubbing Alcohol
You must dilute any rubbing alcohol that’s 90% and above to make it less dehydrating. Add water to balance the water-alcohol proportions, and you’re good to go.
If you don’t want to dilute the solvent, apply petroleum jelly on your fingers before you dip them into rubbing alcohol. The jelly will encase your skin and be a barrier that prevents the rubbing alcohol from damaging it.
Even if you apply petroleum jelly, there’s still a slight chance that some parts of your skin will be exposed to the chemical.
So, rinse your hands as soon as you remove your acrylics. This way, the rubbing alcohol won’t have enough time to dehydrate and damage your skin.
Alternative Methods for Removing Acrylic Nails
If you don’t have rubbing alcohol, there are a few other methods that you can use to remove your acrylic nails. However, I must warn you that most of these methods are manual and can be painful if you execute them wrongly.
They can also damage your natural nails severely; therefore, only use them when you have no other option.
1. Acetone-Free Nail Polish Remover
Acetone is often a key ingredient in nail polish removers, but some gentler removers don’t contain acetone. Instead, they include solvents such as isopropyl alcohol, ethyl acetate, and propylene carbonate.
While these three are still chemical solvents, like acetone, they are milder and, therefore, less harsh on your nails. However, the mild potency means you must work harder to remove acrylics.
How to remove acrylics with acetone-free nail polish remover
- Clip off your acrylics and then file gently to remove the shiny coating.
- Soak your nails in acetone-free polish remover for at least 20 minutes. The duration could be longer, so be patient while the solvent does its job.
- Use a metal pusher to scrape the acrylics off your nails, then buff lightly to remove any residue.
- Buff your nails again to smoothen them, and then wash your hands with hand soap.
- Finally, moisturize your hands with hand lotion.
2. Electric Nail File
Using an electric nail filer does not require solvents to dissolve the acrylics. It works faster, but you must be careful because you can easily hurt your nails.
If you don’t know how to use an electric filer properly, use a hand filer instead. It will take more time and energy, but you will better control the process.
How to remove acrylics with electric nail file
- Cut off the acrylic nails close to your natural nails as possible.
- Set your electric filer to about 12,000 rpm (rotations per minute), then lower it carefully to the area just below the cuticle.
- Glide the filer across the nail and follow the natural contour of the nail as you sand away the acrylic. Ensure you only move the filer towards you instead of moving it back and forth across the nail.
- Continue removing the acrylics in swift, gentle strokes until you see your natural nail showing beneath. When that happens, reduce the filer’s rpm to around 7000 and continue until very little acrylic is left.
- Use a manual filer to remove the acrylic residuals until your nail is exposed. Afterward, moisturize your hands with argan oil or hand lotion.
3. Dental Floss Pick
A dental floss pick has a short string attached to a plastic handle. The manual method requires more patience because you risk hurting yourself if you hurry.
If you don’t have a dental floss pick, you can use regular dental floss, but you’ll need a friend to help you.
How to remove acrylics with dental floss
- Use the sharp end of the floss pick to pry up the bottom edge of the acrylic nail. Insert the pick gently between the acrylic nail and your natural nail, and then loosen as much acrylic as possible.
- Next, slide the floss end off the pick under the loosened nail edge and move it slowly back and forth in a sawing motion. Apply slight pressure to guide the floss under the acrylic nail.
- As you work, use another finger to hold the base of the acrylic nail, so it doesn’t wiggle. Continue working the floss until the acrylic nail pops out, and repeat for the rest of the nails.
- Finally, buff your nails, wash them, and hydrate them with argan oil.
How to Care for your Nails after Removing Acrylic Nails
Hydrate your Nails
After removing acrylic nails, your natural nails will feel very dry and brittle; therefore, you must rehydrate them to keep them healthy.
After washing and drying your hands, apply cuticle oil to your cuticles and spread it towards the free edge of your nail bed. I like using Drunk elephant’s marula oil or Ordinary’s “B” oil for this step, but you can use any cuticle oil.
Give your Nails Time to Repair and Regain Strength
Once your acrylics are off, give your nails a few weeks break before doing a full manicure. Avoid more acrylics, gel extensions, press-on nails, or even regular nail polish to allow your natural nails some time to breathe.
Some clear signs that show your nails need a sabbatical to include dry cuticles, ridges and splits on the nail, discoloration, and peeling. You may also notice keratin granulation – white patches and rough spots that sometimes appear on the nail surface.
During the manicure break, I recommend applying a coating containing ingredients that repair and strengthen weak nails. I love OPI’s Nail envy, a simple nail-strengthening polish that you can use regularly.
Apply Oil and Hand Cream Daily
In the days after removing your acrylic nails, never let your hands dry out for even a second. This is the only way to get back to applying your acrylics as soon as possible.
Apply Argan oil and hand cream whenever you touch water or notice your hands are ashy. This way, your hands, nails, and cuticles will remain constantly hydrated, and your nails will be restored in no time.
Rubbing alcohol is the perfect alternative for removing acrylic nails if you don’t have acetone handy. 70% rubbing alcohol is ideal for this job because it is gentle on the skin and natural nails.
Soak your hands in the rubbing alcohol to soften the acrylic nails, and then scrape them off with a cuticle pusher. Afterward, wash your hands and rehydrate your nails with cuticle oil and hand cream.