Peeling off your nail polish with your fingers is like wiping off heavy make-up with your bare hands. No one ever thinks “I can’t wait to get to the part where I remove my nail polish” but if you don’t do it properly, you risk damaging your nails. This can happen if you don’t use the right nail polish remover.
Whether you’re at an important job meeting, a date, or a simple outing with family members, the cleanliness and health of your nails will say a lot about you. Formulas are now healthier and the process of removing nail polish doesn’t have to be a burden if you do it right. So let’s discuss what makes a good nail polish remover and how it can affect your nails.
- What You Need to Know About Nail Polish Removers
- Top 10 Best Nail Polish Removers 2021
- 1. Best Overall Nail Polish Remover: Zoya 3-in-1 Remove Plus
- 2. Best Budget Nail Polish Remover: Cutex Ultra-Powerful Nail Polish Remover
- 3. Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish Remover: Ella+Mila Soy Nail Polish Remover
- 4. Most Affordable Salon-Experience: O.P.I. Expert Touch Lacquer Remover
- 5. Best Premium Nail Polish Remover: Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover
- 6. Best Remover Wipes: Karma Naturals Organic Nail Polish Remover Wipes
- 7. Best Value Nail Polish Remover: Sally Hansen Nail Polish Remover
- 8. Best Remover Pads: Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover Pads
- 9. Best High-End Nail Polish Remover: LondonTown Kur Strengthening Lacquer Remover
- 10. Most Trendy Nail Polish Remover: Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish Remover
- A Guide to Buying the Best Nail Polish Remover
- Best Nail Polish Remover F.A.Q.
- Find the Best Nail Polish Remover for You
What You Need to Know About Nail Polish Removers
Before we dive into the best nail polish removers available, there are a few important things to be aware of to help you choose the right one for you.
Should You Choose a Nail Polish Remover With Acetone?
There are two main types of nail polish removers: those that use acetone and those that don’t.
Acetone Nail Polish Removers
If you’re on a tight budget and just want the nail polish removed as fast as possible, this is the most common option. Nail polish removers with acetone use it to strip away the old nail polish quickly and thoroughly. It is excellent for removing acrylic nails, dark polish, or glitter polish.
The problem is that it dries the nails out, removing their natural oils. While effective, if you plan on using nail polish removers often, avoid using an acetone remover as frequently; twice a month should be fine. Like with any chemical that is used often, it can cause damage, and in this case it means rendering your nails brittle, even causing them to peel or split.
Look for acetone nail polish removers that have hydrating formulas, which keep your nails well-nourished. For more straight-forward acetone removers, make sure to keep your hands moisturized so they won’t dry out during the process. This can be easily done by using cuticle oil and vitamin E.
Acetone-Free Nail Polish Removers
There are typically no harsh ingredients in this type of nail polish remover. Acetone-free removers are perfect for removing nail polish off of acrylic nails, or any other false nails. Of course, it also works on natural nails since it doesn’t dry out the skin.
It uses some of the compounds used in acetone removers but it contains oils that keep the nails nourished. However, removing nail colors can take much longer than it does with an acetone-based remover.
Nail Polish Remover Type
You will encounter five main types of nail polish removers on our list.
This is most common way in which you will commonly see nail polish removers sold in stores. You can choose acetone or acetone-free bottled nail polish removers. Some of these liquids can be soaked into cotton pads or cotton balls, which you then apply to your nails.
These are individual pads that come pre-soaked in acetone or acetone-free formulas. They can remove two coats of nail polish in no time and they are easy to carry around.
Similar to pads, these sponges are pre-soaked with acetone or acetone-free formulas. All you have to do is insert your fingers or toes and twist them around on the sponge until there is no more nail polish.
Much like using a corrector pen when writing, these thin companions are easy to transport and elegant to use, especially if you often apply nail polish. They are ideal for removing excess nail polish that deposits on your cuticles.
Instant Nail Remover Pot
This is another type of remover that works fast and is travel-friendly. They work like a magician’s hat trick: you put in a finger with nail polish and you take it out without!
Since this removing ritual is a necessity in your beauty process, we scoured the internet to find the best nail polish removers that you can spoil your nails with. These are all reliable removers that will cause minimal damage to your nails, if used correctly.
Top 10 Best Nail Polish Removers 2021
1. Best Overall Nail Polish Remover: Zoya 3-in-1 Remove Plus
Best Used for Removing: Stubborn glitter, surface oils from clean nails
This Best of Beauty Award-winning nail polish remover does not use acetone. However, due to its formulation with glycerin, it acts as a very effective remover. Its non-drying formula will leave your hands nourished and it will make your next nail polish application last longer. While removing the nail polish, this remover won’t leave any staining or streaking behind.
The Zoya 3-in-1 by Remove Plus comes as a bottled nail polish remover. But it doesn’t stop at that. It also preps and conditions your nails, so you won’t need any other beauty appliances when removing nail polish. It manages to moisturize, nourish, and fortify your nail plate so you can already prepare your nails for the next manicure as you are removing your current one.
Size and Packaging
This nail polish remover comes as an 8-ounce bottle, which means it is portable, though not to bring in your carry-on luggage. The TSA prevents containers bigger than 3.4 ounces to be brought with you on a plane.
The bottle is completely spill-proof. Not only is this quality provided by the twist lock, but its flipper pump just requires you to push the cotton pad on the dispenser. This operation only requires one-hand, so the whole process is effortless.
Because it doesn’t use acetone, the smell shouldn’t have been a worry in the first place. The company even went a step further and infused a lavender-like smell. Not only does it take a minimal amount of effort to apply this remover, but it also smells pretty during the process.
This nail polish remover is priced fairly, especially for what it offers. Since it is also a conditioner and a nail prepper, these are products that you would’ve paid for separately. The spill-proof bottle alone is worth the money.
- Spill-proof bottle
- Easy to use with one hand
- Acetone-free yet very effective
- Lavender scent smell
- A bit pricey, especially for the quantity
- Harsher than other acetone-free removers
2. Best Budget Nail Polish Remover: Cutex Ultra-Powerful Nail Polish Remover
Best Used for Removing: Regular, dark, and glitter nail polish, including gel
The formula of the Cutext Ultra-Powerful Nail Polish Remover is mostly based on acetone. It also contains apricot seed oil which is good for moisturizing the nails. Although it’s tough on the nails, it doesn’t leave that thin chalky layer on your fingers that many removers do after you use them.
This nail polish remover comes sold in a bottle. You won’t have to use more than 2 cotton pads to remove the polish off all 10 nails.
Size and Packaging
The size of this nail polish remover bottle is 6.7 ounces. The shape of the bottle is cute, like a teardrop with a lid. Make sure you don’t tip the bottle over if it’s open, as the mouth of the bottle is wide enough to spill much of the product.
The scent of this remover is a big draw. Not only does it not smell like acetone in the slightest bit, but it has a refreshing cucumber fragrance to make the experience pleasant.
This is the cheapest nail polish remover on our list. It is priced well under the $5 mark and the size of the bottle is pretty impressive for this value.
- Works fast
- Removes all kinds of nail polish
- Smells great
- Tough on the nails
- Takes more effort to work on gel polish
3. Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish Remover: Ella+Mila Soy Nail Polish Remover
Best Used for Removing: All conventional nail polishes
This nail polish remover contains absolutely no trace of acetone or any harsh acetates. It is made up of soy and lavender essential oil, and contains plenty of A, C, and E vitamins to keep your nails super nourished and healthy. The formula is safe around children and pregnant women, as it doesn’t contain acetone, formaldehyde, toluene, and other harmful chemicals that polish removers usually contain. We can’t stress enough on how non-toxic this remover is, but it is worth also mentioning that it’s PETA-certified.
It comes sold in a bottle, and it is easy and quick to use. Just go over all 10 nails at once, leaving the formula to absorb the polish for around 20 seconds. This way, the polish easily comes off without you having to scrub your nail beds.
Size and Packaging
The bottle only weighs 4 ounces. While the packaging is a cute pink color, it doesn’t come with a dispenser pump. Since the formula is somewhat oily, make sure your fingers and nails are not wet when holding the bottle.
Since the formula also contains lavender oils, the odor is also lavender-scented. It has no trace of chemical smell whatsoever.
This remover is relatively modestly-priced. Although the container is pretty small, for a vegan product, the price is more than fair.
- 100% non-toxic and vegan
- Animal cruelty-free
- Contains vitamins A, C, and E
- Made in the USA
- Not suitable for gel polish
- Small quantity
4. Most Affordable Salon-Experience: O.P.I. Expert Touch Lacquer Remover
Best Used for Removing: Darkest shades and glitter polish
This nail polish remover uses acetone, though it is also available as an acetone-free remover. Even though it is strong, the formula is moisturizing enough to leave your cuticles soft and smooth. This is thanks to the aloe, grape seed oil, and kelp which are included in the formula.
The OPI Expert Touch is sold in bottle. You only have to apply a little liquid on a cotton pad, swipe it on your nails, and the polish comes off in a few seconds.
Size and Packaging
The remover is sold in bottles of different quantities. You can also opt for acetone-free versions, which also come in different quantities. You can choose from the petite and travel-friendly 1 ounce bottle, the not-quite TSA-approved 3.7 bottle, and the bigger 15 ounce bottle. The packaging doesn’t stand out, but the color of the remover itself is nice.
As expected, this remover does have a slight acetone scent, but it isn’t as pungent as other removers. In fact it almost has a hint of fruity freshness.
The price is one of the main draws of this nail polish remover. Paying virtually nothing for a respectable salon brand product is quite the bargain. Each quantity version is priced accordingly, and it is effective enough to not require using too much per application.
- Available in 3 different quantities, including the TSA-approved 1 ounce bottle
- Works quick and efficiently
- Available in both acetone and non-acetone versions
- Aloe, grape seed oil, and kelp leave your nails hydrated
- Has that specific acetone smell
- Gel polish requires soaking
- A bit harsh on the nails
Best Used for Removing: Regular nail polish and even dark shades of polish
This is an acetone-free nail polish remover. Aside from acetone, it also doesn’t use paraben, gluten, phthalate, formaldehyde, or talc. One important ingredient is the plant-based moisturizer that softens and adds shine to your nails.
The Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover comes in the form of a bottle. It doesn’t come with a pump dispenser so be careful not to use too much, because unless it’s by accident, you won’t have to. If your favorite deep plum shade normally requires 2 cotton balls to remove, you will only need one when using this remover. However, removing heavy glitter polishes will require a bit more effort.
Size and Packaging
The sole size of the bottle is 6 ounces. The base of the bottle is not very wide, so keep the plastic container out of the heat.
One of the main attractions of the Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover is its fragrance. The company went for a fruity mango, to add freshness to your nostrils while you’re scrubbing away.
While this product is a bit higher-priced than some other nail polish options, the cruelty-free, great-smelling, and acetone-free formula is more than worth it.
- Smells like mango
- Animal cruelty-free
- No gluten
- Can make your hands feel greasy, due to the moisturizer
- Glitter will require some extra work
- Mango scent may not be for everyone
- Higher price
6. Best Remover Wipes: Karma Naturals Organic Nail Polish Remover Wipes
Best Used for Removing: Regular and dark nail polish
This product is 100% acetone-free and also contains vitamin E, soybean oil, and lavender oil. These are optimal if you have brittle nails and sensitive skin.
Although Karma Naturals has different nail polish removers, each offering something slightly different, we like the ease of the wipe format. You won’t need cotton pads when you have these pre-soaked wipes, which will leave no mess regardless of where you use them.
Size and Packaging
With your purchase, you will get 10 wipes from Karma Naturals. Each wipe is individually packed in a cute pink packaging, and they are ready to use once you rip the wrapper. The wipe will feel dry at first, but once you start applying it on your nails, it will neatly remove the polish. You only need one wipe for all 10 fingernails or toenails.
These nail polish remover pads have a pleasant lavender smell. If you’ll smell them up closely, they even have a hint of mint and rosemary.
The Karma Naturals Organic Nail Polish Remover Wipes come at a great value. What you get is 10 removing sessions, each for just over a dollar. In addition to that, the ingredients found in the wipes also condition your nails, so you get a bit more than just a nail polish remover.
- Contains oils that replenish your nails
- Pleasant lavender smell
- Not suitable for gel nail polish or acrylics
7. Best Value Nail Polish Remover: Sally Hansen Nail Polish Remover
Best Used for Removing: Regular, dark, and glitter polishes
This nail polish remover uses acetone in its formula. Its blend of wheat protein and vitamins is combined with a nail strengthening gelatin that softens your cuticles and fortifies your nails without drying them.
The Sally Hansen Nail Polish Remover comes sold in a bottle. The content is very effective and will last you a long time, so you don’t have to use too much product at once.
Size and Packaging
The 8-ounce bottle is large enough for you not to worry about how soon you’ll have to purchase a nail polish remover again. The shape of the bottle is pretty cute, but the mouth is pretty large so be careful not to tip the bottle over and spill all of its contents.
Although it is an acetone nail polish remover, it does not have that specific chemical scent. In fact it has a mild Camay soap fragrance.
Perhaps a bigger draw than the effectiveness of this remover is its super affordable price. Not only is it under $5, but the bottle size exceeds that of most other bottles on our list.
- Removes nail polish quickly
- Strengthens weak and brittle nails
- Contains vitamins and protein
- No tingling or burning sensation.
- Wide-open mouth causes wastage of product
- Might require using moisturizing cream, due to acetone concentration
8. Best Remover Pads: Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover Pads
Best Used for Removing: Regular polish on-the-go, including on fake nails
Acetone is used in the Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover pads. Mixed with oils like apricot seed, flax seed and parrilla, your nails won’t dry out and won’t feel stripped.
As the name suggests, this nail polish remover is sold in the form of pads. This makes it very convenient to use anywhere from waiting at a stoplight to walking your dog in the park. You don’t need to use cotton balls or worry about spilling a remover bottle, although the Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover is also sold in the form of a bottle, if that’s your preference.
Size and Packaging
Each container comes with 3 individually wrapped pads. You only need one pad for all 10 nails, as their felt material is thick and they are soaked with enough remover solution for a session. Still, 3 pads is a very small amount, meaning this product only works for 3 nail polish removal sessions.
You don’t have to worry about a strong smell, as not much is released from the Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover pads. It does have a hint of acetone but nowhere near an amount that can make it unbearable, and you’d have to be really close to the pad to smell it.
For 3 pads, this might not be a viable budget solution if you are looking to buy something to last you the whole year. They work great, so if they offer you more comfort than using a bottle remover, it’s worth the money. You pay for the on-the-go comfort, but after three sessions, you’ll need to repurchase.
- One pad removes nail polish from all 10 fingers or toes
- Formula strengthens nails during use
- Won’t spill
- Pricey for only 3 pads
- Be quick when using since the pads dry out fast
9. Best High-End Nail Polish Remover: LondonTown Kur Strengthening Lacquer Remover
Best Used for Removing: Regular and dark nail polish
This product does not use acetone or gluten. It is non-toxic, and even vegan. It features vitamins and mineral extracts that hydrate and strengthen your nails and cuticles after usage.
The Londontown Kur Strengthening Lacquer Remover is sold as a bottle. Normally, it is part of a 5-step nail treatment set, but it is also sold separately.
Size and Packaging
This elegant and classy-looking bottle only weighs 4 ounces, but it doesn’t take much to remove nail polish. You can even finish the job with 6 cotton balls in total!
This product is free from that poison-like acetone smell, but it does have a faint odor that may not be for everyone. It’s not unpleasant, but you shouldn’t expose your nostrils to it more than you have to.
Although it is effective, this is quite an investment for a bottle of only 4 ounces. But you will feel the difference between other polish removers, so you are also paying for comfort and peace of mind.
- Vegan, non-toxic
- No gluten
- Animal cruelty-free
- Very effective and not rough on the nails
- Small bottle
10. Most Trendy Nail Polish Remover: Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish Remover
Best Used for Removing: Light, dark, and glitter nail polish on-the-go
The Stripper uses acetone in its formula. But it doesn’t leave your hands dry and cracked like many acetone-based removers do. The formula also includes aloe vera, glycerin, lavender essential oil, and other botanicals to revitalize and condition the nails and cuticles.
This nail polish remover by celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann comes in bottle-form. Once you soak a cotton pad with the remover and leave it on your finger for 5 seconds, the polish can be gently and completely removed from your nail. This remover can also be purchased in the form of finger mitts, which have the same formula and effect.
Size and Packaging
The Stripper comes in a 4 ounce bottle, or as 10 small mitts which you can carry in your purse anywhere you go. The bottle is just a little over the TSA limit for liquids you can carry on board but it is very convenient to use. It has a dispenser pump on top, which only releases how much liquid you need per application.
Due to the lavender oil within the formula, this nail polish remover has a lavender smell, resembling that of a laundry detergent. Acetone-based removers usually have a strong chemical smell, so it is a big plus that this one actually has a pleasant one.
This is a high-end product and it is priced accordingly. The results it offers are also high-end, as it is merciless on polish residue yet doesn’t leave your fingers stripped. It is one of the fastest-working removers, so you also pay for the time you save by using it.
- Pleasant smell, despite containing acetone
- Aloe vera prevents dryness
- Works fast on any type of polish
- Pump dispenser is a bit faulty
- Small quantity
A Guide to Buying the Best Nail Polish Remover
Now you have a grasp on what differentiates good nail polish removers from inferior ones. Let’s delve into more detail about what sets the good ones apart from the rest, as well as from each other.
What Is Nail Polish Remover and How Is It Made?
There are labs filled with scientists whose sole activity is developing nail polish removers that work for you. A remover dissolves the hard nail polish coating off your nails into a liquid that can be easily wiped off. Since this process can leave your nails brittle or cause them to split, beauty scientists mix different amounts of certain solvents to find the right mix, so that the removing process won’t seem like such a chore anymore.
The perfect mix contains just enough chemical solvents to be time- and effort-effective, and enough healthy ingredients to restore the nails’ health. Smell is also a factor that beauty product brands take into consideration. The more acetone a nail polish remover uses, the more it will smell like there was an accident in Dexter’s lab.
Acetone vs. Acetone-Free Nail Polish Removers
It can be difficult to decide between a nail polish remover that contains acetone and one that steers clear of this harsh-yet-effective ingredient. Luckily, we help make the decision as simple as possible by telling you everything you need to know.
Most powerful and fast-acting nail polish removers use acetone. The way acetone works is by breaking the nail varnish apart. The polish is stripped from the nail plate surface so it comes off completely.
Because of its effectiveness, it is harsh on the nails because it strips them from the natural oils of the skin. Using too much acetone can lead to your skin looking pale or white, because it has dried out. Make sure you use a nail polish remover that also includes other ingredients meant to revitalize your nails and cuticles, like all the ones on our list.
If you love dark nail polish or glittery models, you will spend much less time removing them if you use an acetone-based remover. In fact, acetone is even used as a house or car cleaning item. Some of the popular uses for acetone include:
- Removing window tint, paint, and glue
- Cleaning tools
- Dissolving superglue
- Cleaning stains off dishes
- Removing ink stains or permanent marker
- Removing stubborn stickers from metal or glass
- Sanitizing your keyboard, phone, or other surfaces that are prone to gather bacteria
Bearing these additional acetone uses in mind, women that already have dry or splitting nails should opt for non-acetone removers, even if the process will last even longer. For women that have no problem using it, it is important to always moisturize the hands after using an acetone-based nail polish remover.
There are good nail polish removers on the market that don’t use acetone in their formula. Some removers try to make up in effectiveness, like the Zoya 3-in-1 by Remove Plus, which uses glycerin. Others have non-toxic formulas like the Ella+Mila Soy Nail Polish Remover which is even vegan.
The downside to acetone-free removers is that it takes much longer to dissolve the nail polish, especially if you have dark or glittery polish. Since it takes a longer time to remove the polish, the skin and cuticles are exposed to these solvents for a longer time, which affects them.
You won’t have to worry about the acetone smell, though. Some non-acetone removers like the Mineral Fusion Nail Polish Remover have distinct pleasant fragrances, such as mango.
What Other Ingredients Are Often Included in a Nail Polish Remover?
The best nail polish removers also rely on other ingredients that moisturize, prep, or condition the nails so that they stay hydrated and don’t dry out. The most popular other ingredients used are oils and vitamins.
You can find lavender, apricot seed, grape seed, flax seed, and parrilla oils in both acetone and acetone-free nail polish removers. These help the nails recover the natural oils they lose during the removing process.
Commonly used vitamins are A, C, and E, which help to revitalize the nails and not make them feel stripped. If you use nail polish removers that don’t contain any vitamins, consider purchasing separate moisturizers or nail conditioners to keep them nourished.
Different Types of Nail Polish Remover
Not all nail polish removers are sold in bottles. You can find dependable pads such as the Cutex Advanced Revival Nail Polish Remover Pads or wipes, like the Karma Naturals Organic Nail Polish Remover Wipes. These dry removers are travel-friendly and you usually only need one to remove the polish off all 10 fingernails or toenails. Also, they usually don’t stink up the room, because you have to press them on the nail to extract the remover liquid, so they’ll only smell a bit after the solution is on.
Other formats nail polish removers come in are pots, like the Nails Inc. Express Nail Polish Remover Pot, or sponges, like the Pretty Nails Regular Nail Polish Remover. Although they contain acetone, these are less effective because they don’t require scrubbing or wiping. This means that there will still be some nail polish residue left around the cuticles, which will imply purchasing a nail corrector pen. Added up, this will be a longer and more expensive process.
Size and Packaging of Nail Polish Removers
The size of containers is important based on the circumstances you will use the nail polish remover in. If you know you’ll only be doing this ritual at home, you can go for larger sizes, like the 15 ounce bottle that OPI Expert Touch Lacquer Remover offers as an option. You can get the same remover from OPI as a small TSA-approved 1 ounce bottle if you just need it for a few days while you’re traveling away from home.
Pear-shaped containers that have a larger base are better for not tipping over. Some containers, like Zoya 3-in-1 by Remove Plus, even come with a pump dispenser that makes it spill-proof.
Nail Polish Remover’s Smell
Another disadvantage of using acetone on anything is the chemical smell. Some companies developed removers that use acetone but don’t smell like it, such as the The Stripper by Deborah Lippmann or Sally Hansen’s Nail Polish Remover, which smell like soap or lavender (due to the use of the hydrating lavender oil). Although it is not pleasant to use, scientists say it isn’t hazardous. The most that can happen if you accidentally inhale too much is getting a cough or a sore throat.
Best Nail Polish Remover F.A.Q.
What Is the Difference Between Using Pure Acetone and a Nail Polish Remover?
Acetone is only one of the ingredients used in some types of nail polish removers. The best ones have a formula that also includes other ingredients that make up for the damage the acetone causes the nail. Some nail polish removers don’t use acetone, but instead they have other milder solvents that aren’t as harsh on the nails. Some of these solvents are propylene carbonate, isopropyl alcohol, and ethyl acetate.
How Damaging Is Nail Polish Remover to Your Nails?
Acetone-based nail polish remover can dry your nails out, which eventually causes splitting, peeling, and even nail breakage. Watch out for nail polish removers designed specifically for gel nails, as they usually contain acetone exclusively, due to how strong the gel is. To further help your nails regenerate their natural oils and vitamins, opt for removers that use these ingredients in their formula, or consider purchasing separate nail moisturizers and conditioners.
How Do You Use Nail Polish Remover From a Bottle?
First, use a cotton ball and dab a little remover over each nail. Use another cotton ball to wipe the nails clean, and more remover if needed.
If you use gel nail polish, you have to soak each nail in pure acetone individually. You can place foil wraps or clips over your fingers and let the acetone do its trick while they’re on. If you use pads or wipes, you only have to press one wipe (or more if they dry out too fast) over each nail, and rub away until the polish starts to come off. For a more detailed look into how to use nail polish removers, let this video be of further guidance.
Find the Best Nail Polish Remover for You
Which nail polish is best comes down to what works for you, depending on the type of nail polish you use, how comfortable you are with harsh chemicals, and the health of your nails. Carefully consider all the information in this guide, and use it to find the one that will work best for you and your needs.
The right polish can make removing nail polish almost as enjoyable as applying it. After all, when you have clean, strong, healthy nails, it means you’re ready for your next stylish manicure!