We love gel manicures for their durability and long-lasting shine. But what do you do when it's finally time for them to come off and you can't make it to the salon? No, scratching them off yourself—and wrecking your nails in the process—is not the answer! Picking at a gel manicure can be especially bad because there is often no base coat, so peeling off the polish can mean also peeling a layer of your nails. We went to Skyy Hadley, celebrity manicurist and owner of As U Wish Nail Spa, to get to details on safely removing gel at home.

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Buff

Before you can even remove the actual polish, first you have to break through the shiny gel seal on top. Using a nail file, very lightly buff the top of each nail just enough to remove the shine so you're left with a powdery matte finish. Be careful not to go overboard; if you start to see your natural nail, you've gone too far.

Soak

Next, rip off a piece of cotton ball roughly the size of your nail and saturate it in a 100% acetone polish remover like Ulta Maximum Strength 100% Pure Acetone Nail Polish Remover ($3, ulta.com). Place the acetone-soaked cotton on a nail and wrap your fingertip in aluminum foil or masking tape to hold it in place. Be sure to wrap the cotton tightly enough to apply some pressure so that the nail will soak up the acetone (but not so much that it cuts off your circulation). Repeat this step for each finger. Leave your nails wrapped up for to 15 minutes to fully loosen the gel.

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Remove

Slip off the cotton pieces and use a wooden cuticle stick like Birchwood Manicure Sticks ($8, sallybeauty.com) to gently push the leftover gel polish off the nail. If the gel doesn't move easily, don't force it! Scraping or digging at your nails will just damage them. Instead, re-wrap the nail in acetone and cotton and wait an additional five to seven minutes before trying again.

Moisturize

After all the gel polish has been removed, wash your hands and apply a moisturizing cuticle oil like Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil ($20, sephora.com) to the entire nail and cuticle. Acetone sucks out moisture; this step will keep your nails healthy and strong between polishes.

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