A nail polish remover is an organic solvent that is used to remove previously applied nail polish from nails. There are many different types of removers on the market and different brands may have different chemical compositions. The principle ingredients in most, however, are acetone, ethyl acetate or butyl acetate, and alcohol.
These chemicals are known to dehydrate the skin, cause irritation to eyes, and make nails dry and brittle. They also have a distinct chemical smell and are highly flammable. To counter the dehydration and brittleness effects, many removers also contain conditioning ingredients like castor oil, cetyl palmitate, or lanolin.
Some removers are acetone-free, but this does not necessarily mean that the product is without side effects, so shoppers should screen the ingredients list carefully. Instead of acetone, the nail polish remover may contain the more toxic methanol. Consumers looking for safer and less-toxic options can opt for water-based products.
Nail polish remover is available as individual felt pads saturated with remover, in foam and remover containers, and in bottled liquid form. The saturated pads are pressed on to the nail to remove the polish. A foam and removal container has a hole on top through which fingers are pushed into the foam inside to remove the polish.
With liquid removers, the remover is taken on a cotton ball or tissue and wiped over the nail to strip away the fingernail polish on it. Depending on the type of polish, the number of applied coats, and the type of remover, one application may be enough. Several applications may be necessary for dark or thick polish.
To understand how nail polish remover works, it is necessary to know that fingernail polish and the remover both contain similar organic solvents; the nail polish also contains drying agents, thickeners, hardening agents, and coloring agents. The organic solvent in a nail polish is what keeps it in a liquid state. A solvent in the remover is what dissolves the hardened polish and returns it back into its liquid form. When the remover is applied to the nail polish, the molecules interrupt, loosen, and break the polymer chains of the polish. This dissolves the hardened polish and transforms it back into its original liquid form so that it can then be wiped off the nail.