How to Remove Nail Glue from Your Skin (And Not Wreck Your Hands in the Process)

Without a doubt, 2020 taught us how to become more self-sufficient with our beauty routines. And though we’d be happy to never have to cut our own hair again, there are certain things—like doing our own nails—that we’ve come to really enjoy.

It certainly helps that we have so many more options at our (ahem) fingertips now. From gel polish strips to press on nails in Insta-ready designs, there’s no shortage of ways to get a quality mani from the comforts of your own living room.

And hey, if you happen to get nail glue on your skin while applying press ons (speaking from personal experience here), we’ll help you with that, too.

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Mckenzie Cordell for PureWow

1. Use An Acetone-based Nail Polish Remover

Makes sense, right? Hands down, an acetone-based nail polish remover is the most efficient method of removing glue from your skin.

What you’ll need:

  • Cotton swabs
  • Acetone-based nail polish remover
  • A toothbrush

Dip a cotton swab in acetone remover so it’s completely saturated. Then, press the swab over the glue until you see it start to dissolve. Once the glue starts to break apart, use the toothbrush to gently scrub away any residue.

Note: Acetone can be very drying to your skin, which is why we recommend using a cotton swab instead of a cotton ball or round. By concentrating exactly where you apply the acetone, you’ll minimize the amount of skin that’s exposed to it.

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Mckenzie Cordell for PureWow

2. Massage With Vaseline Or Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly is surprisingly effective at removing nail glue from your skin—not to mention, it’s far less drying. That said, it won’t work as quickly as using an acetone-based remover, so if you’re in a time crunch, you might want to go that route instead.

What you’ll need:

  • Vaseline or another petroleum jelly
  • Soap
  • Water

Scoop a generous amount of petroleum jelly over the area and massage it into your skin in small, circular motions. Continue massaging the area until the glue starts to loosen up. After it fully loosens, wash your hands with soapy water to get any remaining goop off.

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Mckenzie Cordell for PureWow

3. Soak Your Hands In Warm, Soapy Water.

This is definitely the gentlest option of the bunch, but there are two caveats to using it effectively: 1) It works best on fresh glue, meaning act quickly. As soon as you get glue on your skin, get to soaking. 2) It will take the longest, so be patient.

What you’ll need:

  • A small bowl
  • Soap
  • Warm water

Fill a bowl with warm, soapy water. Soak your hands (or fingers) in it for as long as it takes for the glue to soften and dissolve. From our experience, this can take anywhere from a few minutes to a half-hour or more, depending on the glue that was used and how quickly you began soaking it off. Just keep an eye on things and when you start to see the glue lifting, gently rub the remaining adhesive off.

Regardless of which method you use, after-care is crucial.

Whether you use an acetone-based remover or simply soak your hands in soapy water, you’ll want to treat your hands to some TLC afterwards. We recommend coating them in a heavy-duty moisturizer with ceramides (we’re loving Goop’s Goopgenes Nourishing Hand Cream and Tenoverten’s The Heroine Hand Cream at the moment). Oh, and don’t forget your cuticles! Swipe some cuticle oil or serum over them before applying your hand cream and reapply throughout the day.

Some parting tips...

Despite the urge, don’t try to forcefully peel the glue off your skin. You could end up taking off some skin with the glue by accident. And the next time you apply press ons, use less glue to avoid getting it onto the sides of your nails and skin. Better yet, use a brush-on nail glue for an even neater application.

Jenny Jin Headshot Vertical 2023

Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...