The painful process of removing gel nails

Finally got rid of my disastrous gel nails after more than a month.

The feeling is akin to, say, running a full marathon with 10kg sandbags attached to your legs, and then finally taking them off.

The sense of relief is incredible. My fingers are useful again!

The process was very tedious, at times painful, and took 90 minutes. I swear, people think up the most dastardly procedures to torture women (and vain men)!

For example, waxing, IPL, nail extensions, leg extensions (!!! x 1 million), veneers, tattoos, etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, back to my nails.

Because the gel is too thick, it’s not possible to cut off the tips right away so a nail drill is used to file the nail down a bit.

Filing down a nail

Also called electric nail file.

Electric nail drill

When the nails are thin enough, the tips are snipped off at the point where my natural nails have grown to.

Clipping off a nail

The nail clipper looks like a cross between a cigar cutter and a bottle cap opener. LOL.

Another kind pf clipper (which looks like pliers) is used to pry and clip off the other end of the nail where it might have come loose from my natural nail.

Nail trimmer

After drilling, clipping and prying as much as possible:

Half-removed gel nails

It got to a point when drilling started to hurt (from the heat caused by friction). Susan, my nail therapist, said that it’s because that China therapist had filed my nail too thin.

So she turned off the drill and started to manually file the gel off. She went through three brand new nail files to get everything off!

Even manual nail filing hurt at some point (same thing, heat/friction), so she had to keep moving from nail to nail and file slower to avoid heat buildup.

While one hand is being worked on, the other hand is soaked in acetone to soften the nails, after which Susan would keep trying to pry/clip the other end off. Sometimes bits would come off, something nothing.

In this way, we kept switching hands and slowly wearing the gel down.

Susan was a model of patience, and fearful of hurting me so tried her best to be gentle.

She was very motherly, haha. She would cluck in sympathy when I yelled in pain and would keep reminding me to alert her immediately the moment I felt like it was going to hurt so she could stop and move to another nail.

Finally, an hour and a half later, it was done!

Another 30 minutes were spent masking and manicuring my natural nails.

Natural nails


Unfortunately, my nails are now so thin and soft it’s scary. I can bend them almost 90 degrees!

The photo was taken on Saturday. By Monday, some tips started chipping and cracking so I just trimmed off everything right to my fingertips.

Now my nails are more like nubs! I’ll have to wait for a few more months and hopefully the regrowth will be back to original thickness.

In the meantime, no more gel nails for me! Grrr.

But they’re so pretty, so I might still get them in the future. Susan said getting gels isn’t supposed to hurt. To prevent pain with tramadol 100mg, when baking the gel, she said you should leave your hand just outside the “oven” for two seconds before putting it inside.

Maybe I’ll get the nerve to try again cos I don’t want to do nail art on natural nails and have it wear off in two days.

If you’re looking for an experienced gel nail artist, Susan is a freelance nail therapist who operates from home. Her shop is called Precious Nail Services. I found her through Google! =P

Natural nails
One of her works which I like very much, among many.

This is not an ad. I’m plugging her cos I think she’s really nice, plus she’s talented and creative and she charges very reasonable rates.

In fact, I felt that she undercharged me cos my nails were so tough to remove, so I tried to tip her but she refused to accept, lol. My removal and manicure only cost $24 total!

Now that I’ve gotten the use of my hands back, I shall try to blog more. =P It was really hard to type with those chunky gels before!

Operation: Emergency Nail Rescue


I don’t think I have time to find a salon to fix my nails before Chinese New Year, so I undertook an emergency fix myself.

Painted pearl diamond colour over everything, especially covering the red tips.


Before nails


After nails

It’s a bit clumpy but still looks okay from far and I don’t think many people will go close to scrutinise my nails. If they do, I’ll wallop them when they get near.

Just kidding.

By the way, it’s DAMN hard to paint over gel nails. It won’t adhere!! And if I paint thinly like normal, it won’t cover the red! That’s why I had to pile it on rather thick and it’s taking forever to dry. ARgh.

Please tell me it looks better now. At least a bit??

The ugliest 3D gel nails ever

Lesson of the day: Cheap doesn’t mean good!!

I got 3D gel nails in China for, like, S$34 and am now severely regretting it.

We didn’t even know we were getting gel nails. I don’t usually do manicures and I’ve never done nail art or nail extensions, so I know next to nothing about nails.

Minou had done acrylic nails before but only a couple of times, I think.

We walked into this salon in Zhangmutou, a small town in Dongguan, China. I hear that the town is nicknamed Little Hong Kong. It’s where Hong Kong men keep their mistresses cos it’s near enough to Hong Kong and the rent is a lot cheaper there. Haha.

Anyway, we walked into this salon and said we wanted to do nail art.

China salon

They showed us books of pretty nail designs, we pointed at what we liked, and we fixed a price.

Then, instead of doing our nails in this bright and airy place, they brought us to a dingy secluded shop in a corner of the mall which featured a row of ratty, old seats.

China salon

That was still fine. Things tend to be old and ratty in China (at least in the parts I visited). It’s kinda usual and expected.

First, we got a regular manicure treatment. Trimming, filing, soaking, cuticle cutting.

And then the scary thing happened.

Wait, let me introduce you to Sacha (pronounced Sasha) first.


Because I’ll be using her hands to illustrate the next few steps (for the benefit of readers who don’t know how nail extensions work). And you’ll be seeing more of her in my coming posts on my China trip.

Sacha is our new friend whom we don’t see much of because she’s the girlfriend of an old friend whom we don’t see much of because he’s always travelling.

Back to nails!

After trimming our nails short and filing away a thin layer of our surface nails, they paste thick stickers around our nails to act as moulds.

Gel nail extension

They then apply a thick layer of gel all over our nails, extending out onto the sticker to create desired lengths.

(After going home and doing some research, I discovered that gel is supposed to be applied very thinly and not thickly!)

Gel nail extension

The little gel pots:

Gel nail extension

When one finger has been gelled, we have to stuff that hand into a little oven that has little tubes of UV lights, for “baking”.

The nail technician will then work on the other hand. In this way, both hands are being worked on alternately, one in the oven, one being gelled.

Gel nail extension

This looks very scary but looks are the least of my worries. The baking HURTS like a bitch.

After a few seconds in the “oven”, the gel will melt and seep into the nail bed, causing a pain like the dripping of a large drop of hot wax onto your skin, but more severe because the pain lasts longer, about 10-20 seconds, until the gel hardens.

Since each finger is gelled and baked individually, we had to endure the pain 10 times.

Strangely, only Sacha and I had to go through that ordeal. Minou only felt pain on one finger. The rest were nothing to her.

Gel nail extension

After the first round is done and the nails harden, another round of gel is applied. This is quite tedious and I hate the endless applying and baking. I would have gone crazy with boredom if I hadn’t been with friends.


Since both hands are always occupied, you can’t read or play games the whole time!

After two rounds, the gel nails look like this:

Gel nail extension

These are my fingers now.

The nails were originally longer. A LOT longer. I made my nail technician file them down because I think too-long nails are scary.

He was quite reluctant and kept filing little by little, until he stopped at this length and refused to shorten them anymore!

Once the length is right, the sides and surface are filed to even them out.

Gel nail extension

And then the nail art.

This was what I chose:

Gel nail extension

I was deliberating between this and something bling-sparkly, but finally chose this cos it’s cute and the red would be nice for the coming Chinese New Year.

So, the disaster started when my nail technician made the red tips with red gel.

Gel nail extension

I don’t even have to explain. THIS IS JUST TOTALLY WRONG IS IT NOT?

He did one red heart and it looked so horrible, with the tips being wrong and the white hearts being wrong and all, I stopped him from making the rest of the red hearts.

The hearts are made on the spot using these jars of powder.

Gel nail extension

A thin stick is dipped in water, then dipped into the powder to form a tiny ball of paste. This ball is transferred to the nail and then pressed and shaped by the stick into a desired shape.

Another layer of gel is coated over the hearts. Another round of baking (zzzz).

I ended up with clear nails with translucent red tips, which was totally wrong.

I said, the base nail should be pearl white, like in the picture, and the tip should be layered and opaque and not so fat.

He said he couldn’t do anything more about the tips and they’re meant to be like that, and as for the base, he layered on even more clear gel while adding sparkly dust to the gel to create a pearl effect.

More baking.

I said I wanted crystals. Partly for bling effect and partly to distract from the unsightly red tips, which he refused to get rid of.

For a start, I told him to add two crystals on the side of each heart. I wanted smaller crystals but this was the smallest he had.

Gel nail extension

I should have stopped here, but the red tips really bothered me. They looked so ching chong obiang I wanted to rip them off there and then but I had had enough pain for a day.

I dictated the design for my fourth finger, the one with crystals surrounding half the heart. And then he took it into his mind to design a stupid flower for my middle finger.

Gel nail extension

I said, “Um.. okay, but I prefer my design.”

So he did the same for my index finger. And then he tried to give me a different stupid design for each other finger.

I was quite weary and despairing by this time and only thought about how I just wanted him to get it over and done with so that I could go home to Singapore to have it all removed.

I let him design the rest of the nails but making him tweak the crystals here and there to make it less ugly.

Right hand:

Gel nail extension

See how his hearts aren’t even facing the same way for both hands! And both ways are wrong, anyway, if you compare with the original design I wanted.

The last to go was my right thumb. I designed this and was quite pleased with it because it covered the red tip quite a bit.

Gel nail extension

A final layer of gel over everything and more baking.

By the time it was all done, my nails were as thick as phone books.

Gel nail extension

So damn ridiculous lah!!

Compare what I wanted with what I got.

Gel nail extension

Uber major epic fail!!!!!!!!!

Now I need to find an experienced gel nail specialist to remove these because I read that improper removal will cause damage to the nail bed.

And gel nails have to be filed down instead of soaked off like acrylic nails, so I’m scared!

My fingers also hurt occasionally now. It’s very mild though, but annoying. Feels like the kind of pain you get when you have a tooth/gum ache, like tingly and itchy and sore at the same time.

All this, and I didn’t even want nail extensions in the first place cos my nails were already long enough for me.