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I’m a diehard fan of nail polish but I almost never wear it. The biggest reason? That gross nail polish remover that comes with it. My mom always taught me that no polish is better than chipped polish, and nothing gets rid of flaky tips quite like acetone polish remover.
So I stopped using polish altogether in order to avoid the fumes and chemicals that accompany traditional remover. But it turns out you don’t really need to go that far.
There are DIY nail polish remover alternatives—cheap, natural ones—that you probably already have on hand (pun totally intended). Here’s how to remove nail polish without nail polish remover.
What’s makes nail polish remover so toxic?
Before we dive in, let’s talk about traditional nail polish remover for a second.
What makes it so nasty? Well, it comes down to acetone and its cousins, butyl acetate, ethyl acetate and isopropyl acetate.
Acetone is most often used as a paint thinner – and that’s exactly what makes it so effective for removing nail polish. But it’s also super harsh, especially when it comes in contact with skin.
Sporadic use can cause skin to become red and irritated. But chronic exposure removes a lot of natural oils from your skin, leading to red, dry, cracked fingers and toes. The fumes are so strong that it’s also been shown to cause headaches, dizziness and eye and throat irritation when used in an enclosed space.
All in all, while occasional use is fine (think once or twice a year), you might want to switch to a gentler alternative if you paint your nails often.
How to remove nail polish without remover
Now, let’s just get something out there: natural alternatives will take longer than conventional methods. I mean you’re not chemically melting the paint off your fingertips, so it’s bound to take a bit of elbow grease. Personally, I’m fine with that if it means I get to skip the headache, dizziness and eye irritation that comes with sniffing paint thinner.
Here are some of my favorite ways to remove nail polish without nail polish remover.
1. Baking Soda
Is there anything baking soda can’t do? Because it’s slightly abrasive, baking soda can help break down and buff away nail polish.
Simply sprinkle on nails and use a damp dish towel or old toothbrush to massage it in. Baking soda is gentle and it takes time to wear away at the polish, so be patient!
Straight alcohol helps to break down the polish much like acetone, except without the harsh chemicals. Reach for either 80+ proof vodka or straight rubbing alcohol and a few cotton balls.
Then apply it to nails like you would regular remover. If needed, let it soak into nails for a few minutes to soften the polish, then scrub away.
Just note that alcohol can be incredibly drying as well. So use it sparingly and always follow up with a nourishing hand lotion to replenish moisture and keep cuticles from splitting.
3. White Vinegar + Lemon
An alternative to alcohol, the acid in vinegar is said to soften nail polish while the lemon juice boosts its effectiveness and gives it a fresh(er) scent. Pour some vinegar into a small bowl and add the juice of 1-2 lemons. Use a cotton ball to apply and gently scrub away at the polish. If needed, gently file off any remaining specks of paint.
A dollop of toothpaste is all you need to get rid of lingering polish. Simply dab a pea-size amount onto nails and buff in a circular motion using a paper towel. As you scrub, the paint will slowly wear away until you’re left with perfectly clean nails.
As a bonus, whitening toothpaste can actually lighten the discoloration caused by nail polish. So once the polish is gone, keep buffing for a few minutes to get rid of stains and brighten yellow tips.
5. Hydrogen Peroxide
In a small bowl, mix 1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide with ¼ cup hot water and soak for 10 minutes. Once the polish has softened slightly, gently scrape it off as best you can using your fingers, a cuticle stick or the back of a small spoon. Use a nail file or buff block to remove any stubborn bits.
If you’re specifically looking for natural alternatives, I’ll admit that this method may seem like cheating. But hairspray often contains chemicals that act like paint thinner, so it makes a great nail polish remover in a pinch.
Spray it directly on nails and let sit for 2-3 minutes before wiping off. If all goes to plan, your nail polish should wipe off along with it.
7. Peel it off
This isn’t the most mind-blowing of methods, but sometimes the easiest thing to do is just peel it off. Personally, I love this method because it’s even a little fun, if you’re into that sort of thing.
If your polish won’t peel off in large chunks, go ahead and add another coat of paint. The solvents in nail polish will soften the old coat, making it easier to peel or wipe away. You can also try using a hairdryer to soften the polish until it becomes perfectly peel-able.
Don’t want to DIY?
Try these natural alternatives!
Karma Organic Natural Nail Polish Remover Unscented is non-toxic, scent-free, and it strengthens your nails, too.
The Cutex Non-Acetone Nail Polish Remover is a non-acetone miracle, and an affordable one, too.
This post was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Haley, a board-certified dermatologist with extensive experience in medical, cosmetic and surgical dermatology. Learn more about Hello Glow’s medical reviewers here. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.