In this article, we are going to look at how to remove acrylic nails without acetone. We will also look into the claims of acetone being a toxic substance, and whether or not it’s actually as bad for your health and nails as it’s being made out to be.
A Toxic World
In a world being taken over by millennials and zoomers touting wellness and an “all-natural” lifestyle, it seems like every time you turn around there’s something else that we’ve all been regularly using for a long time, that is now apparently toxic and going to kill you.
Granted there are a lot of questionable substances that have been used in the past for everyday use that only now are we recognizing the harm from. Things like asbestos in construction (and baby powder!), lead in paint, the heroin in cough suppressants, DDT in pesticides, Teflon in frying pans… the list goes on and on.
So it’s no wonder that when there’s something that we’ve been using all this time and it’s now being claimed to be toxic and dangerous, it’s easy to believe.
That said, we are living in a new age of Internet information seeking and social media influencers who may distort science to promote themselves.
It can be hard to determine whether a substance is truly dangerous, or if it’s just a group of social media people trying to draw attention to themselves for clicks.
Acetone is one of those products that has now come into focus.
Is it harmful?
What Is Acetone, And Is It Toxic?
Acetone, also known as propanone, is an organic compound. Acetone is the active ingredient in solvents such as in nail polish remover and paint thinner. Acetone nail polish remover works by breaking down nail polish and removing it from the nail plate surface.
It works the same way to remove acrylic nails by breaking down and softening the acrylic nail and adhesive used to apply the acrylics to the natural nail.
Acetone is the most effective product currently on the market to remove acrylic nails.
Is Acetone toxic?
If it’s used to strip paint, you’d think for sure, right? And it’s got a chemical-y sounding name!
You’ll probably be surprised to hear that acetone occurs naturally in the human body as a byproduct of metabolism. And it is normally present in both the blood and the urine.
So by definition, acetone is not considered a toxic substance.
Acetone isn’t considered toxic for external use, but it is dangerous when ingested. So you obviously can’t drink nail polish remover.
And if you breathe in too much, it can be harmful.
Although you are not ingesting it if you are just using it to remove acrylics, the fumes from acetone can also be potentially dangerous if they are inhaled.
Any side effect from inhalation would only occur in a non-ventilated environment inhaling acetone fumes for hours, which is unlikely.
Is Acetone Bad For Nails?
Taking off acrylic nails requires you to soak your fingertips in acetone for 15-20 minutes. The acetone can dehydrate the nail plate, cuticles, and the surrounding skin, making the nails dry and brittle, and the cuticles dry, flaky, red, and irritated.
It may also cause overall thinning and brittleness of the nails if used too often in this manner, potentially leading to breakage.
So the verdict is: acetone, while not considered toxic, is definitely not good for your nails.
But the question is, are acrylic nail removal methods without acetone better for your nails?
What Can I Use Instead Of Acetone?
If you prefer not to use acetone, there are several other things you can use to remove acrylic nails. Let’s have a look at what they are and what special considerations they each have. We’ll get into details of how to remove acrylic nails without acetone using these methods a little further down.
1. Non-acetone nail polish remover
You use non-acetone nail polish remover as you would remover with acetone – straight up, either in a bowl for soaking, or you can soak a cotton ball and place one on each nail. Then wrap each fingertip with the cotton balls in tin foil.
2. Vinegar & Lemon Juice
A couple of things to note about using vinegar – vinegar has the added benefit of being antifungal but can be drying to the skin.
It’s best to use white vinegar as colored vinegar can stain your nails if you’re soaking in it for an extended period of time. You will often see the suggestion to use apple cider vinegar, but white vinegar is just as effective and much less expensive.
Save the ACV for your salad dressing!
When using this method, mix equal parts vinegar and lemon juice in a bowl. It’s suggested to pre-soak your nails in warm water for 20 minutes for this method to work more effectively.
3. Warm Water & Soap
When hands are in water, the nail cells become saturated and swell. But unless they are coated with an occlusive moisturizer (something that seals in moisture), the water is quickly lost, leaving nails drier than they were before.
For this method, just add a few drops of dish soap or liquid soap to a bowl of warm water.
Note: You will see lots of blogs suggesting you use dental floss or a credit card to pry them off as an alternative to soaking them in some type of remover. Do NOT do this. You are guaranteed to damage your nails if you are not using anything to dissolve the adhesive bond between the acrylic and your natural nail.
How To Remove Acrylic Nails Without Acetone
Regardless of what type of remover you use, the prepping steps and the removal steps are essentially the same for all, and similar to removing dip powder nails without acetone:
Trim back your nails as short as possible.
Soak your nails in as warm water as your fingers can tolerate without discomfort for 10 minutes. Pat dry and then file the tops of your nails to remove as much of the shiny top coat as you can.
Then soak for 30 more minutes in vinegar.
3. Buff and File
Gently file and buff the tops of your nails to remove as much nail polish that was applied on top of your acrylics as you can.
4. Soak and Lift
Before soaking, try to use a pair of tweezers to gently lift the acrylic nail slightly around the edges. If you are removing your acrylics because you’ve had them on for 3 months and it’s time to take take a break, then this will be easier and they may already be loose.
If you got your acrylics a couple of weeks ago and you just wanted to change them up, they may not lift. If that’s the case, don’t force them. Proceed to the next step.
5. Soak Again
Soak your nails for 30 minutes in your non-acetone remover of choice. While you are soaking gently nudge your nails with your fingers to try to encourage them to move a bit to try to loosen the acrylic and get the remover under the acrylic nails.
5. Tweezer Time!
If the nail is being stubborn or you feel pain, stop and keep soaking for another 10 minutes and try again. Keep soaking until you are able to take the acrylics off without pain or excessive force.
6. Just a Little Patience
Most importantly – be patient! If you’ve removed acrylics with acetone before, don’t expect them to come off as quickly. It will take a lot longer.
Is Using An Acetone-Free Method Better For Removing Acrylic Nails?
Non-acetone nail polish removers, regardless of whether they call themselves all-natural or organic, also contain chemicals that are drying to both your nails and cuticles.
The key ingredient in non-acetone removers is usually a less aggressive, but also less effective solvent than acetone.
Commonly these ingredients are something like ethyl acetate (made from ethanol and acetic acid), isopropyl alcohol, or propylene carbonate.
Acetone-free nail polish remover does not work as well as remover with acetone. So instead of the 15- 20 minutes, you need to soak your nails with acetone, you often need to extend that time by 10 – 15 minutes longer.
This additional length negates any benefits of non-acetone remover being slightly less harsh than remover than acetone.
Using warm water or vinegar to remove acrylics takes longer to remove acrylics than using a remover with acetone. And although warm water and vinegar are less invasive, all acetone-free removal methods, (including acetone-free remover) will require more scrubbing, scraping, and filing to remove the residue.
This is far more harmful to the nail than the dehydration caused by acetone.
Don’t forget, if you use something that dries out your skin and nails, you can always re-hydrate them using a nail and cuticle oil or balm. But if you damage your nails from over scraping and filing, then all you can do is wait for them to heal before you can get new acrylics.
Putting acrylics on damaged nails will make problems worse.
At the end of the day, infections from unsanitary application and maintenance, and contact dermatitis are more concerning nail issues with acrylic nails, than dehydration from acetone nail polish remover.
The majority of nail damage from removing acrylics is not from the remover itself, but due to two different things:
- Not being patient enough, and trying to peel or pop off stubborn acrylic nails before the adhesive is dissolved enough
- Excessive scraping/filing of the nail to remove the residue
You can use any of the acetone-free methods above to remove acrylics, but acetone, although the most drying, is still the most effective and least traumatic way to remove acrylics as long as you properly condition and moisturize your nails and cuticles afterward.
A cuticle & nail oil or balm is a perfect way to do that.