Is Acetone Bad for Your Nails?

Anyone who has been into nail art for a while has had plenty of time with acetone.

We know that it’s pungent, powerful and removes our polish, but is it bad for our nails? Based on the smell, we imagine not, but it’s worth a deeper look.

Today we’re investigating the substance we know as acetone, learning more about how it works, and seeing how it affects our nail health.

Maybe we’ll even find some less abrasive alternatives for the future! Let’s get into it.

What is Acetone?

The name is pretty serious, and we’ve seen the effects up close, so what is this stuff, anyway?

According to HuffPost, acetone is a chemical solvent used to remove nail polish, paint, or glue. That’s right, it’s the same stuff as paint stripper, which explains a lot!

The majority of polish removers contain this ingredient because it works fast and effectively. 

Acetone molecules have a stronger pull on the nail polish polymers than the compounds in the polish itself, causing them to break down at a rapid rate.

The chemical reaction that occurs returns the hardened polish to its liquid form, making it easy to wipe away and fully remove.

That same reaction takes place between acetone and any organic soluble material, which is why you can also use nail polish remover to get out tough stains, buff your leather shoes, and sanitize razor blades. It’s science!

Beyond its many household uses, acetone is found in many places throughout the natural world, according to WebMD.

The chemical is found in burning organic material like bonfires, tobacco smoke, and car exhaust. Fitness nuts will also know acetone as the main chemical produced by the liver when the body goes into a state of ketosis, a popular health trend known as the keto lifestyle. 

Who would have thought that acetone does so much cool stuff?

How Does it Affect Our Nails?

Now that we have a clear idea of how acetone works, let’s talk about its impact on our nails.

To put it bluntly, acetone does not have the healthiest effect for our skin and nails, especially if we use it regularly.

Board-certified dermatologist and nail care expert Dana Stern told HuffPost that acetone can cause major dehydration to the cells of the nail, and it’s worse for us than many of the products we use to beautify.

If your nails are already dry and brittle, acetone is only going to amplify that condition.

Although it may seem fine for a few treatments here and there, the long-term effects can include splitting, peeling, and breaking, with irreparable damage being a real possibility.

For those folks who experience nail lifting (separation from the nail bed), acetone is going to be a no-go. The solvent will only serve to worsen the degree of separation and prevent healing.

Finally, acetone can contribute to hangnails by dehydrating and damaging the cuticles. Make sure to use a dedicated cuticle oil if you undergo some serious acetone soaking.

As it turns out, the damage we see from our nails after removing polish, gel, and acrylic is not from those treatments, but rather the high volumes of acetone we use to get them off.

Stern explains that in many cases, our favorite polishes and gels can serve to protect our nails, given we exercise caution in the removal process.

That’s right, even your favorite press-on nails can benefit you in the long run. You just have to do your part to remove them safely and not overdo it on the acetone.

Alternatives that Work

In her discussion with HuffPost, expert Dana Stern suggested that we check out some of the great non-acetone nail polish removers that have come onto the market in recent years.

With ingredients like wheat protein, vitamin E, tea tree oil, and aloe vera, these products do a fine job of removing nail polish and nail glue fairly quickly. 

No, they won’t work their magic as fast as acetone-based solutions, but a few extra minutes of soaking and dabbing is worth it to protect the longevity of your skin and nails.

According to an article from WikiHow, some other acetone alternatives can work great for removing polish, glue, and other nail treatments.

First on the list is alcohol-based solutions like isopropyl, also known as rubbing alcohol. While it may be somewhat abrasive to the skin, it is considered less damaging to nails than acetone.

If you don’t have pure isopropyl on hand, there are other household items you can use to get the job done, such as spray-on deodorant, hair spray, and hand sanitizer.

These are not the most cost-effective solutions out there, since they contain a lot of other active ingredients for their primary purposes, but they can be effective in a pinch.

Sometimes, you want to take a more natural approach to nail polish remover, and a mix of white vinegar and lemon juice can yield some good results.

Creating this mixture is as easy as it sounds, just make sure to include more vinegar than lemon. Follow the same protocol you usually do to remove the coating on your nails, either by soaking for 10-15 minutes or gently dabbing with cotton swabs.

When using this homemade concoction, try to avoid picking and scraping as much as possible, and wait until the solution takes full effect before agitating the nail.

If you have hydrogen peroxide lying around, you have another legit alternative to acetone for removing your polish, gel, or glue.

To make this work, mix two cups of the hydrogen peroxide with the hottest water you can manage, then soak your hands for about ten minutes. Add some more hot water to the mix if it starts to cool down. Just don’t burn your fingers!

After you’ve soaked for some time, lightly rubbing the nails in the water,  the coating will be loosened up and you can proceed to file off the outer layer.

We suggest you test out these various alternatives to see if they help to remove your chosen nail products. You may be surprised at how well they work!

More Natural Press-On Nails

As we’ve discovered, the less acetone we use to remove our nail treatments, the healthier we’ll be inside and out.

Even if you find a healthier alternative as we talked about earlier, you still need to spend a lot of time soaking, rubbing, peeling, and filing to get your desired results.

It ends up being a big investment of your time, money, and energy.

That’s why you may want to reconsider those weekly get and acrylic manicures that require a long chemical soak at each visit.

Since the polymers and powders used in these treatments are especially tough to break down, you need a lot of acetone to make it happen, and our natural nails take a beating over time.

Need an alternative in the meantime? Press-on nails may be exactly what you’re looking for.

These products are made of the same material that nail techs use to create gel or acrylic layers at the salon, so you don’t have to give up your favorite looks.

Glossy, glitter, matte, and pastels are all on the table if you shop with the most forward-thinking press-on nail brands, and you can enjoy all those great shapes and lengths as well.

If your most recent press-on nail memory was over a decade ago, you’ll be surprised to see how far we’ve come. The styles are on-point, the application process is a breeze, and you don’t have to take a bath in acetone to take the nails off when it’s time for a change.

Plus, you can even reuse your favorite press-on sets if you take good care of them, and it’s a blast to build up a collection!

Even if you’re just giving your fingers a short break from the intensity of acetone or rubbing alcohol, these nails will impress you and everyone you meet.


All of our fingers have probably spent a bit too much time in acetone over the years. 

While it’s no big deal to use these solutions now and then, it’s not wise to be dunking every week, according to the medical community.

We’ve offered you a wide array of acetone alternatives to help remove your nail products more naturally and comfortably, and you should try them all to see what works best.

On top of that, if you want to give your nails a rest from the hard stuff, press-on nails are a great way to rock bold styles without those intense gel or acrylic treatments that require acetone removal.

If you are interested in learning about the latest press-on nail products and need some social media inspiration, be sure to follow us on all the major platforms and subscribe to our email newsletter!



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