How to Apply Nail Polish Without Bubbles

Got bubble trouble?

I feel ya.

Here’s how it usually goes down.

You’ve finished up a manicure, then just at the point when you sit back to admire your handiwork, you spot them.

Those tiny little pockets of air mocking you with their bumpiness.

“That’s it”, you think to yourself, “my mani’s ruined and I have to start all over again”.

It’s super frustrating.

And it’s got to stop.

So, right now we’re gonna learn some bubble-fu so that you can fight back and beat those pesky annoying little bubbles.

Before we dive right on in, here’s the nutshell version of what to do to avoid bubbles – in case you’re short on time:

To avoid getting bubbles in your nail polish, don’t shake the bottle and clean your nails thoroughly before you start. Paint nails in a cool and non-humid room, apply thin coats and allow them to dry fully. Store polish correctly away from heat and moisture. Use a base coat and stick to the same brand.

Ok, so let’s look at how to apply nail polish without getting bubbles in a little more detail.

We’ll jump straight in.

What causes bubbles in gel nail polish?

Whether its gel polish or regular polish, the reasons why bubbles occur are basically the same.

Bubbles in gel nail polish are caused by either moisture, oil or air.

In this section, we’ll go through the 9 main reasons why bubbles in nail polish happen.

If you’re getting bubbles, it’s most likely because you are doing one or more of the things in this list:

1.     You are shaking your polish (or your hands).

There are some websites and YouTubers out there that recommend that you shake your polish before using it.

This is terrible advice and you should not follow it!

Shaking your polish causes hundreds of air bubbles to form within the polish, and guess what?

Those bubbles are going to transfer directly onto your nails.

So why are people giving out this bad advice?

Well, it’s because it is important to keep the nail polish formula well mixed for good results.

But, what some people don’t realize is that you don’t need to shake the bottle vigorously to achieve this.

All you need to do to keep the formula in tip-top condition is gently rotate the bottle around in your hands a few times before each application.

This technique is known as agitating the polish, and it works well to improve the overall finish.

You should also avoid shaking your hands or waving them around too much while your polish is wet as this can also cause bubbles to form.

2.     Your polish is too hot or you’re painting your nails in a hot environment.

Did you know that heat can cause bubbles in your polish?

Well, it most certainly can.

Too much heat causes the solvents in the polish to evaporate too quickly, causing bubbles to form.

This is why people get way more bubbles in their nails during the summer.

If you are painting your nails in a hot room or outdoors, particularly in direct sunlight, this could be the reason that you’re getting too many bubbles in your mani.

3.     You’re putting on the coats too thick.

It’s super important, especially with gel polish, that you apply several thin coats.

You can check out a full guide on how to apply gel nail polish the right way here.

It’s far better to do four very thin coats of the color rather than 2 thicker ones.

If you put the coats on too thick, the light from the lamp will not fully penetrate the gel polish and your nails won’t dry properly.

This leads to bubbles and/or smudges, too.

4.     You are not drying/curing each coat thoroughly.

If you’re impatient like me, then you might be getting bubbles because you aren’t leaving enough time for your nails to fully cure or dry in between coats.

If you are doing gel nails, and your coats are thin enough, then you might not be putting your nails in the lamp for long enough.

And if you are using regular polish you need to allow enough time for your nails to fully and completely air-dry (remember- no wafting those hands around!)

5.     You’re storing your polish incorrectly.

Bubbles in nail polish can be the result of a formula that has gone bad because it has not been correctly stored.

There are lots of do’s and don’ts with nail polish storage, some of which might surprise you.

I’ve written a whole article on nail polish storage which you can see here if you want to learn more.

But the bottom line is, if your nail polish been exposed to extreme temperatures, a moist environment, or air then that could be the reason behind your bubble problem.

Too much air can get to your polish if you leave the bottle open for too long while you’re using it, or if you haven’t screwed the caps back on properly in between manicures.

Also, if you keep your nail polish in the fridge or store it in a warm place that is exposed to direct sunlight, this can affect the formula causing it to thicken and/or dry out, again resulting in unwanted bubbles.

If the area where you are storing your polishes is too humid, this can also wreck your polish.

This is why you should not store your polishes in the bathroom.

The bad news is, that if your polish has been exposed to too much air, or to extreme changes in temperature, you’ll probably have to throw it away.

6.     You’re using products that clash.

If you are doing everything right and still getting bubbles on your nails, then it could be because the products that you are using just aren’t compatible.

Nail polish formulas are carefully put together by scientists, and they are often designed to work well with products from the same range.

If you like to mix and match the nail products that you use, then this could be why you’re having problems.

7.     You’re not cleaning your nails before you start.

If your nails are not properly clean and free of dust, particles, and oils, then your manicure may be doomed before you begin.

This has happened to me loads of times.

I file my nails, wash my hands, but forget to wipe them over with an alcohol or acetone wipe and lo and behold, tiny little bits of nail filing residue show up under my polish.

It’s impossible to fix, so you have no choice but to live with those bumpy suckers or start afresh.

8.     You’re not using a base coat.

Skipping the basecoat can be tempting…

But it’s a bad idea if you’re trying to beat the bubbles.

It’s important to lay a proper foundation if you want a flawless finish, and that starts with the very first layer.

9.     You are using an old polish.

Those with large polish collections beware!

When you have so many to choose from, it may be awhile before you get back around to using your polish again.

Polishes tend to thicken and lose their effectiveness over time, so if you’ve had that polish for a while, that could well be what’s causing your bubble troubles.

So, now that you know all the possible causes of bubbles in nail polish, let’s take a look at what you can do to ban the bubbles for good.

How to fix bubbles in gel nail polish.

Wanna know how you can beat the bubbles?

Here are my top tips and tricks for a bubble-free manicure:

1.     Agitate your polishes regularly.

Nail polish formulas can become stagnant and separate, which can affect the final results of your mani.

As we’ve already talked about, many people’s solution to this is to give that polish bottle a good ol’ shake.

Bad idea.

Shaking the bottle is going to create bubbles within the formula, which will transfer straight onto your nails when you paint them!

So, what should you do?

To keep nail polish formulas in the best possible condition and avoid bubbles, gently roll the bottle of polish around in your hands for a minute or two, or until you’re satisfied that the mix looks even.

Ideally, you should do this for each of your polish bottles once or twice a week!

Don’t worry if you don’t have time, just agitate the polishes you want to use before you start your mani without shaking and you should be fine.

2.     Apply polish in a cool temperature-controlled environment.

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, you should totally paint your nails in the garden, right?


Direct sunlight or too much heat will ruin your manicure faster than you can yell “sunscreen”.

If you want a bubble-free finish, try painting your nails indoors in a nice cool area.

You should also consider closing the windows and switching off any fans because moving air is your enemy!

3.     Apply very thin coats.

This is particularly important if you’re using gel polishes.

Thick layers are a bad idea for 2 reasons.

Firstly, if the polish goes on too thick, any bubbles will take longer to surface, and you might not notice them until it’s too late.

Secondly, the thicker the layer, the more likely it is that your polish will not fully cure or dry, meaning bubbles are more likely to surface.

4.     Double dry.

Here’s a little tip I use.

I call it the double dry.

Between each coat (but especially after the first coat of color), dry your gel nails under the lamp in the usual way, but then give them a second dry.

Depending on the lamp you are using, you may only need to do a quick 15 second blast on your second dry.

But that can be enough to fully dry and cure so that there’s no air still trapped in there.

5.     Practice good storage.

You probably know this already, but the best place to store your nail polish collection is anywhere that is cool, dark and dry.

You need to keep your polishes away from direct sunlight, heat, and moisture if you want them to stay in good condition.

Don’t store polishes in the bathroom, as moisture can easily get to them, plus, bathrooms can get pretty hot when you’re taking a shower which can also wreck you polishes.

Don’t store polishes in the fridge, as this is too extreme a temperature and can cause the formula to thicken, making it harder to apply properly and more likely to bubble.

Drawers and cupboards make great storage options.

And if you must have your polishes out on display, make sure that the room isn’t too hot or humid and they aren’t exposed to the sunlight.

Also, if you want to avoid bubbles in your manicure caused by air getting into the bottles:

  • Make sure that you keep the lids free from gunk.
  • Screw the caps back on tightly after every use,
  • And don’t store your polishes upside down!

6.     Be brand consistent.

There’s a whole lotta complex scientific reasons why your polish could be bubbling.

We’re not going to go deep into that now.

Suffice to say that clashes in formulas could be what’s causing your bubble troubles.

Products from the same brand are designed to work well together, so it’s always a good idea to stick to one brand.

That means using a top, basecoat and colour made by the same company.

The same applies to gel lamps, which are designed to cure the exact formulas that the company sells.

So, if you’re using OPI for example, you’ll get the best cure by using the OPI gel lamp.

When it comes to combining both polishes and lamps, the best option is always the one that matches the brand.

7.     Clean and prep your nails well first.

Cleaning the nails is an important first step that a lot of people skip.

But it’s crucial, because great finishes start with great foundations.

If your nails are not clean, then not only will you be more likely to get bubbles, but your gel nail polish might not even stay on.

If there is any type of dirt or debris on your nails, it’s going to spoil your finished look.

For example. Let’s say you file your nails before you start to paint them.

You don’t wipe them down before you start painting.

Guess what’s going to happen?

All those tiny little particles are going to appear on your nails looking just like bubbles.

And no-one wants to rock that bumpy look.

So, here’s what you need to do.

  • Wash your hands and nails with clean soapy water.

This will remove any lotion, oils or debris from your fingernails.

Clean under the nails at the back, too.

  • Make sure you let them dry completely before you start your manicure.

Your nails swell and take on moisture when you wash them, kind of like a sponge, so you wanna make sure that they have shrunk back down fully otherwise you’ll get chipping.

Let them dry fully for 15 minutes or so (or blast them with a hairdryer and let them cool).

  • Push those cuticles back.

This stops the air from getting in under the surface of the polish, which can cause it to bubble.

Plus, little bits of cuticle can look like bubbles if they get trapped under the polish.

8.     Always use a basecoat.

Base coats are designed to create the perfect even foundation for the nail polish to stick.

If there are any imperfections in your nails, like minor bumps or ridges for example, the base coat should smooth those out making the finish look better and appear more even.

Base coats also protect your natural nails from nasty staining.

9.     Throw away old polishes.

Nail polish that’s at its best should be thin and glossy and should glide over the nail smoothly.

If yours is thick, clumpy or creamy, it could be time to say sayonara.

But before you do, try adding a couple of drops of thinner to see if that loosens things up.

Be careful though, too much thinner will wreck your polish!

Final thoughts and a little trick to try.

So, now you know all about what causes bubbles in your nail polish and how to prevent them.

A question I’m often asked is “is there anything I can do to get rid of bubbles?”.

Well, it doesn’t always work but there is one little trick you can try.

If you notice a bubble or 2, dip your finger in nail polish remover and gently smooth over the bubbled areas.

This should even out the polish.

Then apply a coat of your favorite topcoat to add shine and draw attention away from any imperfections.

If that doesn’t work, I’m afraid your only option is to remove the polish and start again from scratch!

But now you know how to avoid bubbles, so you’ll get it right next time!

Have fun and happy painting.