Acetone vs Nail Polish Remover, What’s the Difference?

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When it comes to acetone vs nail polish remover, there’s a lot of confusion out there. It doesn’t help when the terms ‘acetone’ and ‘nail polish remover’ are often used interchangeably, because they are not the same.

In this article, we are going to compare acetone and nail polish remover to find out how they differ, as well as answer a few frequently asked questions about removing different types of manicures with acetone vs removing them with nail polish remover.


What is Acetone?

Acetone is a potent chemical compound that is used as a solvent in the manufacturing of plastics and industrial products and used for things like stripping paint and as a cleaning agent.

It’s also used in the salon industry for removing different types of nail manicures, like acrylics, dip powder nails, glitter nails, gel nails, and shellac polishes.

Acetone is the most popular solvent used in nail polish remover because it works the best at removing nail polish. Simple as that.

What is Nail Polish Remover?

A nail polish remover is a substance used for, as you may have guessed by the name, removing nail polish. Nail polish removers are made up of a solvent and a fatty material like lanolin or caster oil. They may also include other additives like fragrance and color.

Acetone is the most popular solvent used in nail polish remover because it works the best at removing nail polish. Simple as that.

Acetone-free nail polish removers may use ethyl acetate or methyl ethyl keytone as the solvent, instead of acetone.

Acetone vs Nail Polish Remover, What’s the Difference?

Acetone is a chemical solvent.

Nail polish remover is a solution of different ingredients, including a solvent (like acetone) and other additives, like color, oils, and fragrances.

Can I Use Nail Polish Remover Instead Of Acetone To Remove Acrylic Nails?

While using regular nail polish remover is okay for removing regular nail polish, acrylic nails are much more difficult to remove.

Using undiluted pure acetone is much more effective than using nail polish remover for removing acrylic nails. The better your remover works, the less scraping and filing you will need to do. And the less damage you will do to your nails!

Can You Use Nail Polish Remover To Take Off Dip Nails?

If you value the health of your nails, do not attempt to remove dip powder nails with nail polish remover. If you want to remove your dip powder nails at home, you need acetone.

Nail polish remover is not strong enough to remove SNS nails properly so they will require filing and scraping to fully remove. This is where the damage will be done.

Do your nails a favor and use only pure acetone.

How Do Salons Remove Dip Powder Nails?

Nail salons use acetone to remove dip powder nails.

We all know that anything that’s also used as a paint stripper can’t possibly be good for you, so why is acetone the nail salon professional’s go-to for removal in the first place?

Acetone is the most effective method to remove gel, acrylic, shellac, and dip powder nails. Period. It’s as simple as that. It is the best at getting the job done the fastest, and this is why:

Acetone molecules have a stronger pull on the nail polish polymers, causing them to break down at a rapid rate. It’s the chemical reaction that occurs that reverts the hardened polish to its liquid form, making it easy to wipe away and fully remove.

Acetone is the most effective method to remove gel, acrylic, shellac, and dip powder nails.

There is nothing on the market that removes gel, acrylic, shellac, glitter, and dip powder nails faster, more completely and with less damage to the nails…. which is why it’s the salon industry standard for removing dip powder, as well as acrylic, shellac, and gel nails.

Is Soaking Your Nails In Acetone Safe?

It seems like acetone has become public enemy number one when it comes to nails. In this day and age where people are becoming more health-conscious, they want to know what’s in the things that they’re putting in and on their bodies… and on their nails!

Now take acetone, for example: it’s used as an industrial solvent for stripping paint and as a heavy-duty cleaning agent. That does not sound like something that could possibly be good for your nails, much less your overall health.

The truth is, acetone is not toxic, but it is very drying for your nails, cuticles, and surrounding skin. So it’s no wonder that people are seeking acetone-free alternatives to remove their acrylic, shellac, dip powder, and gel nails.

An acetone-free alternative should be better for your nails, right?

If you are removing regular nail polish, then an acetone-free nail polish remover or DIY Internet hack using things like rubbing alcohol or vinegar or even toothpaste and baking soda will do the trick.

But when it comes to the much harder-to-remove nail manicure treatments, like dip powder nails and acrylics, acetone is the most effective and surprisingly, the healthiest option for your nails to remove these types of manicures.


Although nail polish remover is not as harsh, (because the acetone in nail polish is diluted) as pure acetone, or a salon-grade remover which can be 70% to 90% acetone, regular nail polish remover is also less effective.

Acetone-free nail polish removers and all the DIY salon nail removal hacks are even less effective than regular nail polish removers with acetone.

If the solvent is less effective, you’re going to have to expose your nails, surrounding skin, and cuticles to a drying substance for a much longer period of time. And you will still have to scrape and file the polish off!

Don’t be fooled by thinking that just because it doesn’t have acetone, it’s not drying to your nails.

Plus the nail damage sustained by scraping and filing the nail plate is far worse than the drying effects of acetone can be easily remedied by using a nail and cuticle conditioning oil or simply by rubbing Vaseline or castor oil on your nails and cuticles once a day to keep them hydrated.

Take Away

Acetone is a solvent that breaks down and reverts the hardened polish to its liquid form, making it easy to wipe away. Nail polish remover is a solution that contains a diluted solvent, like acetone, as its active ingredient, along with other additives like fragrances, oils, and color.

Nail polish remover, whether it contains acetone  or is acetone-free , works perfectly well to remove regular nail polish, but does not have a high enough concentration of solvent to properly remove acrylics, dip powder, shellac and gel nails. For these types of manicures, you need acetone.

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Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).