The Ways of Removing Nail Polish

Nail polish remover is necessary unless you just let the polish chip off.

Photo: Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Nail polish is designed so it doesn't come off. That's why strong chemical nail polish removers are on the market. The only quick way to remove nail polish is with one of these products. Oil-based products marketed as combination polish remover and nail conditioner also are available, but while they may condition your nails, they don't work very well for removing polish. The only other way to remove nail polish is to let it chip away gradually over time.

Acetone-Based Polish Removers

Acetone-based nail polish removers are the most common and the most effective. However, they are harsh and they smell awful. These removers dry your nails and the surrounding skin, and the fumes can actually be toxic if you use the remover for a lengthy time. That's especially true in an enclosed area, as in your bathroom. Apply this type of nail polish remover outdoors if you can or at least in a well-ventilated area.

Acetone-Free Polish Removers

Acetone-free nail polish removers usually contain a fruit-derivative solvent such as ethyl acetate, which is less drying to your nails. Their fumes aren't as bad, but it takes longer to get the polish off, which can still lead to a toxic-fume buildup. As with acetone-based removers, apply this polish remover only in a well-ventilated area.


You can use a variety of materials to take off the nail polish with either type of remover. Cotton balls are a common recommendation. A folded paper towel also works, and some women use folded facial tissues. Synthetic nail polish-removal pads are available that already contain an acetone-based or acetone-free remover polish; you remove the polish and throw the pad away.


To apply nail polish remover with a paper towel, cotton ball or facial tissue, soak the material with the remover. Apply the cotton or the paper item to your nail and hold it there for 30 seconds, using firm pressure. That works better than scrubbing your nail with the polish remover. After 30 seconds, wipe the applicator away from the cuticle and off your nail. If some polish remains, repeat the process. You might want to use a cotton swab if polish only remains along a nail edge.

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