Regular Nail Polish Meets UV Light: Will it Dry?

UV light dries gel polish in seconds. But does UV light dry regular nail polish?

I tried drying my regular nail polish under a UV lamp to see if it helped the polish to dry any faster.

In this post, we’ll go over the results of my little experiment and take a look at the most efficient ways to dry your nail polish.

Ready to get started?

Let’s do this.

Does UV light dry regular nail polish?

No UV light does not dry regular nail polish. Regular nail polish is a mixture of nitrocellulose and a chemical solvent called ethyl acetate. When you paint your nails, the solvent evaporates and the polish dries. This evaporation process can not be sped up by using a UV lamp.

So, there you have it. Unfortunately UV light doesn’t have any effect on regular nail polish.

The reason UV light works so well on gel polish is that gel polishes contain reactive molecules called photoinitiators that are activated by UV light.

Basically, when the chemicals in gel polish are exposed to UV light, the molecules react to form a hard plastic.

This only takes around 30 seconds.

30 seconds

Regular nail polish doesn’t contain these reactive molecules, so UV lamps are pretty much useless for drying normal nail polish.

Regular nail polish dries when the solvents in the formula evaporate, leaving behind nitrocellulose which dries in a solid film on the nail.

So if you can’t use a nail lamp to speed up the drying process, is there something else that works?

Let’s find out.

What is the best way to dry regular nail polish?

The best way to dry regular nail polish fast is to use a nail fan or a hairdryer on a cool setting. The cool air will help to evaporate the solvents in your polish so that the nitrocellulose can set more quickly. Quick-drying topcoats or nail sprays also work.

Nail fans like this one work because they increase the airflow around your nails.

This makes the solvents dry faster so that your nails will set quicker.

If you don’t have a nail fan, you can use a hairdryer set to cool.

Don’t use a hot hairdryer as this will just melt the polish.

If you are using a hairdryer, you’ll need to hold it far enough away from your nails so that you don’t cause ripples or bubbles.

Another good way to speed up the drying time of regular nail polish is to use either a quick-drying nail spray (the link is to my favorite one) or a fast-drying top coat like this Seche Vite one.

You may have heard people talking about using ice baths, cooking oil, or sticking their hands in the freezer to speed things up.

I’ve tried all of the above.

Do ice baths help nail polish dry faster?

Ice baths are a complete waste of time. They don’t work and they actually slow down the evaporation process.

Does cooking oil work?

Cooking oil sprays can work, but only if the aerosol spray contains a propellant. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with moisturized hands.

Can putting your hands in the freezer dry your nails?

Putting your hands in the freezer does help to thicken up the polish a little, but it doesn’t make a huge difference to the overall drying time.

Can you dry regular nail polish with an LED light?

No, you can’t use an LED light or nail lamp to dry regular nail polish. This is because regular nail polish dries when the solvents in the formula evaporate in the air. Unlike gel polish, regular nail polish does not contain any molecules that react to LED light.

Unfortunately, neither UV nor LED light works on regular nail polish.

LED light only works on gel polishes because they contain photo inhibitors (molecules that react to LED light).

So when you expose the gel polish to LED light, the molecules harden and become like plastic.

This process doesn’t work with regular nail polish because normal nail polish doesn’t contain any photo inhibitors.

Instead, regular polishes contain solvents that evaporate in the air.

Once all the liquid solvents in regular nail polish have evaporated, a firm film of nitrocellulose is left behind.

Can you cure regular nail polish?

No, you can not cure regular nail polish. Curing is what happens when photo inhibitor molecules react to UV or LED light. Gel nail polish contains these reactive molecules, regular polish does not. So it’s impossible to cure regular nail polish. You can only dry it by evaporating the solvents.

So, curing is a chemical process that occurs when a certain type of molecule in nail polish is exposed to UV or LED light.

These molecules are called photo inhibitors. When they are exposed to LED or UV light they harden and become like plastic.

The problem is those photo inhibitors are only found in gel nail polishes.

Regular nail polish dries and hardens by evaporation, not a chemical reaction.

You paint regular polish on, then you need to wait for the liquid solvents in the polish to evaporate (or dry).

LED and UV lamps are designed to cure, not speed up the evaporation process.

So they don’t work on regular nail polish.

Remember – nail polish dries, and gel nail polish cures.

Does a UV light dry gel nail polish?

If your gel nail polish says UV or “soak-off” on the bottle, then you can use a UV light to dry (or cure) it. However, there are some non-UV gel polishes you can buy that are designed to dry in the air. UV light won’t work on this second type.

If you’re not sure whether your gel polish needs UV light to cure or not, check the wording on the bottle.

There are basically 2 types of gel polish.

One is true gel polish that needs UV or LED light to cure.

The second is regular nail polish marketed as gel because it has a shiny finish.

If it says “gel finish”, “gel-like” or “gel nail color” but doesn’t say UV on the packaging, then a UV light will not work to dry it.

If it says UV gel or soak-off gel polish then you need a UV light to cure it.

You can dry true gel nail polish in 30 seconds with a UV lamp.

Other non-UV gel polishes need to be treated like regular nail polish.

This means that you need to wait for them to dry in the air.

How long does it take for regular nail polish to dry?

In my experience, each coat of regular nail polish takes 20 minutes to dry. This means that the total drying time for 2 coats of color is around 40 minutes. Add to that 5 minutes for base coat to dry and 20 minutes for the topcoat to dry and you need to wait just over an hour.

I like to apply a base coat and wait for at least 5 minutes (sometimes 10).

Base coats dry pretty fast, so after 5 minutes I usually apply my first thin coat of color and wait 20 minutes.

You may be able to get away with 15 minutes but I usually give it the full 20 just to be sure all the solvents have fully evaporated.

After 20 minutes, I apply a second coat and leave that to dry for 20 minutes.

Then I apply a top coat and wait a further 20 minutes before I use my hands.

This smudge-proof method has never let me down.

Does cold air dry nail polish faster?

Yes, cold air can help to dry your nail polish faster. Nail polish dries when the solvents in the polish evaporate and cold air does help to speed up this process. For the best results use a nail fan or a hairdryer (make sure it’s set to cool).

Cold air works because it helps the liquid solvents in the nail polish to evaporate faster.

You need to be careful not to blow the polish too hard though because this can cause bubbles.

A nail fan is ideal, but a hairdryer on cool works pretty well as long as you hold it far enough away (about 6 inches distance between your hand and the nozzle is ideal).

Nail dryer for regular polish

To cut down on drying time, you can invest in a nail dryer.

Basically, this is a portable fan that’s shaped like a nail lamp.

Alternatively, you can buy a UV or LED nail lamp that also has a fan function.

These gadgets are very handy for drying regular nail polish and they are much easier to use than a hairdryer.

They work by increasing the airflow around the nails, which makes the solvents in the nail polish evaporate faster.

It’s important to note that cool air works best.

Warm air equals mushy nails!

Do led nail dryers work on regular polish?

No, LED nail dryers don’t work on regular polish. A LED nail dryer is designed to work with gel nail polishes. For LED dryers to work, the nail polish has to contain photo inhibitor molecules, and these are only found in gel nail polish. Regular polish works by evaporation and cannot be dried using LED dryers.

No amount of LED exposure can make regular nail polish dry.

LED dryers are only good for curing UV gel nail polish or soak-off gels.

The best way to dry regular nail polish faster is to use a nail fan, fast-drying spray, or quick-dry top coat.

Final thoughts and tips for how to make regular nail polish dry faster

So, let’s have a quick recap shall we?

For those of you who are always in a hurry, here’s how to dry regular nail polish quickly:

  1. Apply thin coats. The thinner the coats, the faster they dry.
  2. Use cool air. Nail polish dries when the solvents evaporate. Cool air speeds up this process.
  3. Try fast-drying nail spray. These actually work!
  4. Use a quick-drying topcoat. I like Seche Vite’s top coat. It dries super quick and gives a nice shiny finish.

Follow these golden rules and you’ll do great!

Whatever you do, don’t try to dry your nails using a UV or an LED lamp.

They don’t work on regular polish and are a complete waste of time.

I hope that you enjoyed my does UV light dry regular nail polish post.

Happy painting!

Amazon associate’s disclaimer

As an amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases


  • Phoebe Meadows

    Phoebe Meadows is a self-proclaimed nail addict, always on the lookout for the latest trends and techniques. When she's not creating stunning nail designs, you can find her researching the latest nail care products or experimenting with new techniques.