I Steamed My Gel Nails Off At Home & Surprisingly Didn't Hate It

Photographed by Dan McCoy.
I, like many individuals who dabble in the dark beauty arts, have a love/hate relationship with gel polish. On the one hand, it’s as durable as car paint and allows me to justify something as time-consuming and expensive as nail art. On the other, you’ll probably find me with a half peeled-off, grown-out mess of a manicure three weeks later because I was way too lazy to get to the salon.
I've long searched for an effective way to remove my own gel manicure at home without resorting to peeling off my polish in the back of an Uber. So the first time anyone ever steamed off my gels — at L.A.’s Base Coat salon — I immediately had the urge to run down the street with the miraculous device. I emailed Katie Carzorla, the founder of The Painted Nail, and it turns out that the mini steamer is actually available for purchase. She sent one over to the R29 office for me to try — and this is exactly how I fared without manicurist supervision.
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First Off, How Does It Work?
The machine consists of a small, round, plastic tub that plugs into the wall and gradually heats up. You add a small amount (about a tablespoon or two) of the brand's nail polish remover, pop on the top (which has five holes), and insert your fingers for about 10 minutes. (The brand says six minutes is average, but it took me 10.) But first, don't forget to break the seal of your gels by gently filing the flat surface of your nail just like they do in a salon.
"We launched the original Steam Off in 2015 for salons and had great success with it," Carzorla told me. "After hearing the demand from consumers for an easier and less damaging way to remove gel and acrylic nails, we scaled it down for easier at-home storage and clean-up."
Now, more and more salons are adding the service to the menu using various brands and types of steamers. Some say it's more eco-friendly (no foil or cotton), while others use it because it's gentle. I tried it because it looks damn easy when I've seen it done in the salon.
My Results
I was nervous to stick my hand in the mini acetone oven, that's for sure. ("Local beauty editor badly burned in office kitchen on Tuesday..."), but it was barely lukewarm after a few minutes warming up — not at all hot. In fact, it was actually pretty underwhelming: I simply checked on my nails every few minutes as the paint slowly began to lift away from my nail beds. It took about 10 minutes to fully steam off all the color, then I used an orange stick and metal tool to gently push off the rest, just like they do in the salon.
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The only con is that the thin layer of my clear base coat wouldn't fully budge, but I'm not totally sure if this was because it needed more time or I got too nervous to apply any kind of pressure. (I really didn't want scratch off the top layer of my natural nail.) Either way, the remnants of my base coat gradually wore down over the next few days and disappeared. A few weeks later, I still haven't gone in for a manicure and my nails are long, smooth, and healthy. Score!
The best part is that the steam didn't dry out my fingers too much; it was a significant improvement to soaking in pure acetone, that's for sure. The actual process is a little fussy, but there's no real clean-up after, so it's more about finding a plug, pulling out the machine, measuring, and scraping. The whole process took about 30 minutes, which to me is better than hauling my ass to the salon and shelling out $10 for removal every single time. All in all, I was pleased — and I'm sure my Uber driver will be, too.
The Painted Nail Mini Steam Off Gel And Acrylic Remover, $60, and Steam Off Pro Size Removal Liquid, $15, and available at The Painted Nail.
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