Can A Nail Steamer Remove Gel Polish At Home? I Tried It

The big downside of wearing gel nail polish is trying to take it off. Most of the time my salon manicures look damn near perfect for around four weeks. This is great, but once the new growth is egregious, I'm obligated to book an appointment for new nails after the required removal, which runs me an extra 20 minutes — and $15.
In the new year, I want to be more mindful of my spending and circumvent traps, like the gel manicure cycle. To start, I'm going to learn how to remove my gel nail polish at home. I know a lot of people use acetone-soaked gauze and aluminum foil, but that's a little messy for my liking. Instead, I'm trying a nail steamer.

What is a nail steamer?

Even as a longtime gel manicure devotee, I had never tried a nail steamer. Through preliminary research, I learned that the machines work by warming acetone to create a steam that breaks down artificial nail enhancements, from soft gels and dip powder to acrylics. You just place your fingers inside the finger holes of the steamer and give it a few minutes to melt off the gels. There are a handful of different models on the internet. The one I tried is the BASK LA Steam Pro which retails for $99.95 (and is currently on sale for $59.95).

How does a nail steamer work?

The Steam Pro arrived exactly when I needed it. My 'lipgloss manicure' (a hard gel) was more than a month old. Unpacking the Steam Pro, I found it to be pretty small, about the size of a mini waffle iron. I was disappointed to find out the acetone was not included, so I had to run to CVS to grab a bottle as this thing won't work without it.
Now, there are a few steps here. The first is filing off the top layer of gel polish which, according to the BASK LA instructions, “breaks the seal” for the acetone steam to penetrate faster. I used a file to scratch off the shine from my chrome-dusted nails.
Next, I poured the acetone into the holding dish inside the Steam Pro (like how you pour water into a clothing steamer). I powered it on and then stuck my left hand in the five finger holes. My hand rested inside the steamer and my fingers dipped into the warm acetone for about 7 minutes while I watched a YouTube video. It's actually quite pleasant, not unlike a warm hand soak.
When I pulled my hand out, the formerly hard (now-soft) gel started to peel off of my natural nails. I used the scraper (it comes included in the Steam Pro) to gently scratch the softened polish all the way off. Then I repeated the same process — file, soak and scape — on my other hand.

Do steamers work to remove gel nail polish?

In my first experience, the steamer did exactly what I wanted it to do: removed my gel nail polish without wrecking my nails or creating a mess. My time spent was roughly 20 minutes in total. Afterwards, I clipped, reshaped and repainted my nails. I'm not a professional, so they're not perfect, but hey, we're saving money here.
Living in a tiny apartment, I have to admit the nail steamer takes up some counter space, which is a con for me, but it's not cumbersome and I found an easily-accessible home for it (and the acetone) in my hallway closet, right beside my actual steamer. Of course, a Stream Pro is a frontend investment. However, I see it as a saving over time. Now I don't need to book a salon appointment just to have my gels removed, thus breaking the cycle of dependency. Plus, I feel empowered to improve my at-home manicure skills in general.
If you have a good DIY gel-removal routine, don't be shy to drop it in the comments.

Do experts recommend at-home gel removal devices, like nail steamers?

This is a new technology, so many nail professionals haven't tried these steamers yet. However, Julie K, a celebrity nail artist based in New York City, says she's excited about the innovation. "The technology makes sense — warmed up acetone works faster than room-temp acetone," she explains.
Does she think it's safe? "I think as long as [your nails] don’t soak much longer than necessary, they will totally be fine," Julie says. "Just make sure to follow up with a heavy moisturizer," she recommends Weleda Skin Food or Maxus, "and or cuticle oil to replace the oils lost with the acetone. Also, [it's] important to push the loosened gel off with the grain of the nail — as it grows, not back towards the cuticle — after it’s been soaking."
This story has been updated.
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