What Is Nail Polish Remover?

The first step in knowing how nail polish remover works is to actually know what nail polish remover is. Acetone is usually the main ingredient in nail polish remover. Acetone is a chemical that is produced through bacterial fermentation. Ethyl acetate is another solvent that is often used in nail polish remover, as well. Acetone is such a powerful component that it has the capability of dissolving some plastics and is used as a cleaning agent, a super-glue remover and fiberglass-tool cleaner, in addition to fiberglass-resin thinner. Some nail polish removers boast that they are acetone-free. These removers contain acetate, instead.

How it Works

There are three main ingredients in nail polish. There are thickeners and hardening agents; solvents and drying agents; and coloring agents. One might think there is a chemical reaction that allows nail polish remover to work, but that's not true. The polish remover is actually a solvent. All nail polishes contain a small degree of this solvent, which helps the polish stay in its liquid form. Without the solvent, it would thicken and harden and polishing nails would be impossible.

Returning to its First Form

When nail polish remover is applied to a polished nail, the remover breaks down the polish and liquefies it, bringing it back to the state it was in before it was applied to the nail and dried. It then dissolves the polish from the nail, hence removing it. Basically, the solvent's molecules (which may be acetone or acetate), get in between the chains of the polymer (the polish) and separate them, making it easy to wipe the polish off with a ball of cotton.