Nail Polish Hostage | The Healthy Beauty Project -by Todra Payne

Why can't I get this polish off?!

Nail Polish Hostage

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pedicureby Todra Payne & Keri Lehmann

For my birthday, my h♥ney bought me a gift certificate to a posh organic nail spa in Rittenhouse Square. The spa is modern and cheery with an intimate, laid-back vibe. The menu offerings are Colombian-themed hand and foot treatments made from pureed, seasonal fruit. I had a coconut exfoliator and a cucumber moisturizer – both mixed fresh to order. It was the ultimate in pampering.

After about five weeks, I wasn’t feeling very “mango” anymore. Hot pink was calling my name. But mango wasn’t done yet. And no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the polish to release its grip on my toe nails. Was there cement in this stuff!

When it came time to pick a nail color, the lovely nail tech escorted me to a shelf of water-based nail polish
- my first encounter with such a concept. Obviously, I was blissful. A non-toxic polish was just what I’d been looking for. But water-based, in my mind, meant that whichever beautiful polish I choose would probably chip within a few hours.

Thirty minutes later, staring down at my sparkling mango-colored toe nails, I decided this was the perfect birthday present. The salon gave me specific instructions on caring for my pedi, which I admit, I glossed over in my mind. It’s nail polish! How complicated could this be? I really should have listened.

A month later, my nail color was still going strong. Wow! This stuff is a godsend, I thought. I showed everyone my beautiful toes. Friends marveled at how dedicated this nail polish was. They didn’t know the half of it.

After about five weeks, I wasn’t feeling very “mango” anymore. Hot pink was calling my name. But mango wasn’t done yet. And no matter what I tried, I couldn’t get the polish to release its grip on my toe nails. Was there cement in this stuff?

Panicked, I went to the Internet. It seems I wasn’t suppose to keep my water-based polish on more than five days. Something about it adhering to multiple layers of my nail after that. Oh, crap. That was probably part of that pep talk they gave at the spa – the one I didn’t really listen to.

Long story slightly shorter – it took me several days to get most traces of the color off. I chipped it, soaked it and drowned it in acetate polish remover. Ultimately, I gave up and polished over the small splotches that still clung tightly.

If you’re thinking of giving water-based nail polish a go (considering how toxic regular nail color is, it’s a much better option) here are some things you need to know.

Keri Lehmann, a licensed cosmetologist, nail tech and the owner of Savvy Bohéme helps us get it right.

WATER-based nail polishes like Honeybee Gardens and Go Natural work differently than traditional polishes. And it’s important, for the health of your nails (and your sanity), to learn the techniques that work best with these polishes. Here’s a step-by-step guide.

  • Start your manicure with a clean, hydrated slate. File your nails, soak them in warm plant oils (like olive or grapeseed), then gently push back eponychium (skin surrounding the nail plate that most mistake for the cuticle).
  • Gently scrape cuticle (dead skin attached to nail plate, but removed from eponychium) away from your nail plate and massage the oils into your nails. Let absorb for 10 min.
  • Remove the oil from the surface of your nail plate using grain alcohol or polish remover (It’s best to use the same brand as your polish).
  • I always, ALWAYS, always use a base coat. Water-based polish companies say it isn’t necessary, but as a nail technician, it goes against everything I know about natural nail care. Base coats provide a good foundation for the polish to rest upon, just like primer on a wall. Honeybee Gardens sells a clear polish
    that works as a base coat, and Go Natural has a prime coat that they recommend for use, as well.
  • After applying a VERY THIN layer of clear polish or primer, put your nails under a dryer, in front of a fan, or hit them with a hair dryer for a sec to allow the coat to cure quicker.
  • Apply a VERY THIN coat of nail color. Hit it with dry air again.
  • Apply a second VERY THIN coat of color. Air blast again.
  • If color is even and without streaks, move on to topcoat; if a third coat of color is needed, follow previous step.
  • Apply clear topcoat. Apply air.
  • Allow 4-6 hours cure time. Polish will be dry to touch in 40 min or so, but the layers need time to bind together.

To keep your nails looking their best, always wear gloves when hands are in water. It helps keep the polish from chipping. The nail expands when it absorbs water, and then shrinks when it dries out- any polish on top of that ride has a hard time hanging on.  Be sure to apply plant oils to your cuticles, at least twice daily if your nails are dry, and once daily if not. It helps with hydration, and keeps the polish from becoming brittle. Oddly enough, this also makes it easier to remove later. Oils keep these polishes from adhering so tightly.

lovely shades from Honeybee Gardens

Steps for Removing Water-based Nail Polish:

Some companies advise soaking your polish in water and peeling it off. I never recommend peeling off polish. It invariably takes a few layers of nails with it. Use the solvent method of removal with either grain alcohol or nail polish remover that’s sold with your polish, and apply it to either a wool swatch or terry cloth swatch- something that has texture. Rub the cloth back and forth till your nails are polish-free.


Just know that these types of polishes are a pain to get off the toes, unless you change the polish weekly. Also, same deal with the nails: remove the polish after about 5-6 days, even if it still looks good. Otherwise, it’ll be much harder to remove.

After removal, apply cuticle oil , let absorb, and start over or let nails rest. Your call.

Keri LehmannWritten by:

About Keri

Keri Lehmann is a licensed cosmetologist who used her knowledge of skin care to create a line of body care products made with REAL ingredients that the body recognizes and knows what to do with…Savvy Bohème: Welcome to the Most Authentic Moisturizing Event of Your Day.

7 Responses to “Nail Polish Hostage”

  1. Heidi says:

    Thanks for the entertaining and informative post! I only use water based polishes, and I do find that they are more difficult to remove than regular polish. These tips should help.

    • H_BeautyProject says:

      Glad you enjoyed the article, Heidi. I use water-based polishes most of the time, but man the removal can be brutal if I don't do it in time. I hear brands are working on some water-based ones that aren't as complicated. Once they're out, we'll write about them. Thanks for visiting our site :)

      • Jack says:

        Hi, Keri
        Yes, as you point out water-based nail polishes are quite different from regular polishes. For some, the extra prep work and the difficult removal are more than compensated for by the lack of odor and harsh chemicals. I know that formulators are hard at work attempting to design a chip-resistant water-based polish that is easy to remove. Unfortunately, the false claims that many regular polishes are making about their "non-toxic" ity are also creating bias against water-based polishes, so even with formula improvements, the road to wide acceptance will be steep. Fortunately, on the other hand, there seems to be an advocate for the water-based nail polish "industry" in the form of It's a new blog that is standing up to the onslaught of bad publicity. And then there is, a website that focuses solely on water-based polishes.
        I will be happy to alert you when a new easy-to-remove polish is on the market.

  2. Heidi says:

    For removing water based nail polishes it helps to start by soaking your nails in warm water for five minutes. Then use a soy based remover that is meant for use with water based polish. Let the remover soak into your nails for a minute or so before trying to wipe off the polish. Soy based removers seem to work much better than the plant or water based ones.

  3. admin says:

    Hi Diana,
    Isn’t knowledge powerful? :) After my experience with the polish, I really wanted to provide an article so others would know what was going on with their nail polish. I hope you aren’t turned off to using a natural polish. But now that you know how to make it work for you, you’ll have a better experience with it.

  4. Diana says:

    At last someone has explained to me why it is so tough to remove water-based polish. I have tried several varieties and given up. I am a 3 pedis per summer person. I like them to last, but not forever.
    THanks for the insight.

  5. Jamberry, the safe easy to apply alternative to nail polish. The company just released several FABULOUS new Designs.

    If you want a sample let me know.


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