How to Get Nail Polish Off Your Skin—the Healthy Way

Photo: Stocksy/Studio Firma
Let’s be honest... painting your own nails is hard. So if your at-home manicure attempts generally leave you trying to figure out how to get nail polish off skin after swiping more on the surrounding area than your actual nails, you’re not alone. But before you grab the nail polish remover, hold up—while it’s great at removing polish from your nails, it isn't the best option for your skin.

"People get really frustrated when they think about how to get nail polish off of their skin," says Amy Ling Lin, owner of Sundays. "Acetone remover can dehydrate your skin, and a highly concentrated remover can even leave the skin so dry that it looks white. It's also often mixed with other ingredients, like alcohol, that can cause irritation or further dehydrate the skin."

Experts In This Article

Luckily, you can easily learn how to get nail polish off without acetone. There are plenty of natural nail polish remover options to choose from, most of which you already have on hand.

OTC vs. DIY removers: Which solution is best?

Acetone is the go-to over-the-counter (OTC) nail polish remover for good reason: It never fails to get the job done. While it works quickly and effectively, there are also some major downsides to buying acetone for your nails that may make you want to learn how to take off nail polish without remover. “Using acetone-based removers can leave skin very dry due to its chemical properties and, when used excessively, can sometimes burn the skin and damage the skin’s barrier, which holds in moisture for softness,” says Elaine Lee, a nail specialist training manager at Sundays.

Lee says opting for a natural nail polish remover may require a little more patience, but learning how to get nail polish off without acetone will ensure the job gets done damage-free. “DIY methods spare your skin from the potential harm associated with commercial removers,” she says.

How to get nail polish off skin: 8 tricks that work

Your manicure didn’t go as planned and instead looks like a colorful art project gone wrong. So how do you get nail polish off the skin around your nails? Lee says learning how to take off nail polish without remover is easy—especially since you can go about it using things you already have lying around your home.

Whether you have toothpaste on hand (yes, really), a lemon, or coconut oil, here’s all the tips and tricks you’ll need to remove nail polish from your skin the DIY way. (Psst—you’ll even get the details on how to get nail polish off in the shower. Talk about multitasking.)

1. Non-acetone nail polish remover

Acetone-free remover—which uses less aggressive solvents—can be a gentler alternative than acetone on nails and skin. "Soaking a cotton ball in non-acetone remover and applying it to the skin is the easiest way to get polish off of your skin," says Nadine Abramcyk, co-founder of Tenoverten.

2. Coconut oil

"A totally natural way to rid your skin of nail polish is to use pure coconut oil," says Abramcyk. "That typically does the trick." Of course—what can't coconut oil do?

3. Nail polish

It may sound weird—and it's not the most natural—but adding more nail polish to those areas you spilled over can rid your skin of the stain. "A simple and effective trick to remove dried nail polish is to apply more nail polish," says Monika Rodriguez, director of education at Londontown. "Simply apply nail polish onto the dried nail polish and quickly remove it with a paper towel." Just be sure to use one that's at least five-free.

4. Vitamin E oil

You already know that oil cleansers work wonders when it comes to dissolving makeup and debris off your skin. Well, turns out certain oils can work that same magic when it comes to removing nail polish. "Vitamin E oil or coconut oil are good, but most any type of oil is fine as long as you massage it in thoroughly," says Jin Soon Choi, founder of JINsoon.

5. Warm water

Even something as simple as warm water can help remove pesky nail polish from your skin. “Use a bowl with warm water and soak your skin for about five minutes until the bond between skin and polish softens, then gently scrape off with cotton or tissue,” says Lee.

If you prefer multitasking, you can also use this method to get nail polish off in the shower. After the warm water and steam helps soften up your polish, it’s easier to remove. Afterward, “be sure to moisturize and add oil to your cuticles to stay hydrated,” says Choi.

6. Lemon and vinegar

Lemon and vinegar aren’t just for your salad dressing. Together, these two pantry staples make for a great natural nail polish remover. "These are great home remedies for removing stains on your nails and skin," says Choi. "It's the most mild approach to correcting stains." Lee recommends soaking vinegar and lemon into a cotton ball then leaving it on the affected area for 15 minutes. At that point, the polish can be gently removed.

7. Toothpaste

Can toothpaste remove nail polish? According to Choi, you’ll want to save a bit when brushing your teeth because it can actually help with your nail polish mess. "Applying some toothpaste is good for stained nails as well as skin," she says. Who knew?

8. Perfume

Another way to take off nail polish without remover is by grabbing your trusty perfume. "Perfume has similar ingredients to an acetone remover and should only be used as a last resort," says Rodriguez. "Soak a cotton ball with it and gently rub off the polish from your skin." She notes to apply a moisturizer afterward to restore hydration.

How to remove gel polish naturally

While removing nail polish doesn’t take too much effort, figuring out how to remove gel polish can be trickier. Here’s how to soak off gel nails naturally: Fill a small bowl with warm water, then add a little dish soap and salt. Next, submerge your nails.

If you’re wondering how long to soak gel nails in acetone, that’s typically going to be around 10 minutes. Because of how harsh acetone is, it gets the job done quickly. When it comes to trying to remove a gel manicure naturally, however, Lee says you may need to practice patience. Aka put on your favorite podcast, sit, and wait it out—generally a minimum of 15 minutes, depending on how secure the gel is.

“Generally speaking, the longer you soak your hands in warm water, the more effective the removal of polish on your skin will be,” she says. “The longer time ensures that both your skin and the polish are soft enough to make removal easy.” After you remove your hands from the water, gently peel the nail polish off using a cotton ball or tissue.

Now that we've covered how to soak off gel nails like a pro, you may also be wondering how to get gel nail polish off clothes. If you find yourself in this unfortunate predicament, your best bet is to first lift off as much of the polish as you can while it's still wet with a piece of paper or thin piece of cardboard. That way, you’re not rubbing it in further.

If it’s a small amount of polish, you may be able to get away with working dish soap into the stain with a cotton swab to remove the rest. If you're dealing with a stubborn stain or the polish has already dried, grab some acetone nail polish remover. In this case, it may be your best bet at saving your clothing item.

Using acetone? Safety tips to keep in mind

Even though you know how to get nail polish off without acetone, there may be instances where it just isn’t budging the natural way. If that’s the case, Lee recommends avoiding the soaking method when using acetone for your nails and skin. Instead, use a trick that’s more gentle.

“Rather than soaking your nails, soak a cotton ball in acetone and rub it in a circular motion on the skin where you wish to remove polish,” she says. “Depending on the amount of nail polish on the skin, or whether the polish is wet or dry, this step may have to be repeated before everything is gone.”

Also avoid oversaturating the cotton ball with acetone. “This can cause it to drip on and damage other parts of your skin,” says Lee. Ensure you’re never breathing it in, either. “Fumes from some removers can be strong and have negative effects on the nose and eyes,” she adds.

Once you’re finished, remember to wash your hands: “Don’t leave acetone on your skin too long, because it will cause excessive dryness to the cuticles and surrounding skin,” says Lee.

Frequently asked questions about removing nail polish

Is it possible to learn how to remove gel polish naturally?

When deciding how to soak off gel nails, there's one expert-backed recommendation to start with that’s acetone-free and causes the least amount of damage. Lee recommends submerging your hands in warm water with dish soap and salt until the gel softens, which takes around 15 minutes. After the time is up, you should be able to gently peel off the polish using a tissue.

How do I get gel nail polish off clothes?

Getting gel nail polish off clothes isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Before beginning the removal process, lift away as much wet polish as possible before it dries into your clothing item. For minor stains, gently work in dish soap to remove the stain. For more stubborn stains, you may need to use acetone nail polish remover.

Does hot water get nail polish off your skin?

Yes, water can be the key in getting nail polish off your skin. But it doesn’t need to be hot! Submerge your nails in a bowl of warm water for about five minutes until the polish is easy to peel off and remove. If you don’t want to sit around and wait, you can also get nail polish off in the shower. Once you get out, the polish on your skin should become easy to remove thanks to the warm, steamy temp.

Does rubbing alcohol remove nail polish?

You can use this method if you're in a pinch by adding some rubbing alcohol to a cotton ball then using it to dissolve your polish. But just note that, like acetone, it can be incredibly drying. Because of that, try to utilize one of the gentler DIY options above instead.

The Wellness Intel You Need—Without the BS You Don't
Sign up today to have the latest (and greatest) well-being news and expert-approved tips delivered straight to your inbox.

Loading More Posts...