How to Remove Press-On Nails with Minimal Damage and Effort

No need to bust out the acetone. Here's how to take off press-on nails without destroying your natural ones (or breaking a sweat) in the process.

Photo: Getty Images

They say "fashion repeats itself," and that seems to be the case with press-on nails, which have seemingly surged in popularity since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And while you might still associate the drug-store staple with the ill-fitting, plastic manicures of the 80s and 90s, know that today's temporary tips are far chicer and longer-lasting than their predecessors — all while being just as easy (if not easier) to use. (

To apply, simply dab some glue or lay down a sticky tab onto your natural nail then press on the, err, press-on. Repeat for all ten fingers and, violá, you've scored a salon-quality manicure from the comfort of home. But just because they're convenient, easy, and cost a fraction of professional treatments, doesn't mean press-ons are too fragile or impractical for everyday use. The adhesives used today are far more advanced than those from yesteryear (read: a few decades ago) and can stand up to wear, provided you take the time to apply your press-on nails correctly, says nail expert Gina Chang, senior manager of Marketing Communications at Dashing Diva.

In general, however, self-adhesive nails — e.g. those with sticky tabs from ImPRESS (Buy It, $9, or Dashing Diva (Buy It, $9, — tend to be easier to apply and remove without damaging your nails vs. press-ons that call for glue, she says. What's more, glue-on tips can also take longer to remove. Still, whether you choose a sticker-like option or a glue variety, proper removal of your press-ons is essential for avoiding breaking and peeling your natural nails. In the case of reusable press-on nails (which tend to be of the glue-on variety), careful removal also allows you to preserve the press-ons if you wish to wear them again. The good news? Unlike other nail enhancements such as acrylics or gels, press-on nails do not require acetone to remove 'em. (Acetone, aka the chemical found in nail polish remover, can dry out your natural nails, leading to breakage and peeling.) (

Removing self-adhesive press-on nails is simple, according to celebrity nail artist andImPRESS spokesperson, Tom Bachik, whose work has graced the hands of Olivia Rodrigo, Selena Gomez, and Jennifer Lopez. Self-adhesive options often require cuticle oil to loosen and lift the nails gently, he says. If your press-on nails are lifting on the edges, go ahead and see if they'll easily loosen after rubbing cuticle oil around the perimeter of your nails, which can help break down the adhesive.

If you're dealing with glue-ons or particularly stubborn self-adhesive nails, try this DIY soak from Bachik to carefully and properly remove your temporary tips.

What You Need to Remove Press-On Nails

  • A glass bowl
  • Soap (either hand soap or dish soap will do the job)
  • A cuticle stick
  • 150 grit nail file or buffing block
  • Cuticle oil
  • Hand lotion

How to Remove Press-On Nails Easily

  1. Add a few squirts of soap to warm water in a glass bowl and soak your nails in the water for around 5-10 minutes for self-adhesives or 20 minutes for glue-ons.(If the water temperature cools during this time, feel free to refill the bowl with warmer H20.) When you're able to get rid of part of a press-on nail by gently applying pressure to the edge with a cuticle stick, it's time to stop soaking. If you're pressed for time, try adding a bit of cuticle oil or nail polish remover into the bowl to speed up the process without totally drying out your nails since you still aren't resorting to pure acetone. (

When you can, go a few days without temporary tips and use a nail strengthener to fortify your natural nails between press-on sets. Your nails don't need technically need to "breathe" as they get oxygen and nutrients naturally through your bloodstream. However, if your nails are prone to breakage or peeling, prolonged use of nail enhancements such as acrylics, gels, or press-ons can exacerbate that. It's also important to moisturize and treat them regularly, as this can help them grow longer and stronger. (See more: What It Means If You Have Peeling Nails (Plus, How to Fix Them))

Granted, once you've hopped on the press-on train you may feel reluctant to take regular breaks — and that should be okay as long as you're practicing healthy nail care and applying and removing press-on nails correctly.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles