DIY Gel manicures without a UV light? It’s not Possible!

Sometimes the internet is full of bad advice. If you’ve typed in the question “how to cure gel nails without a UV light” you’ve probably come across several “miracle” methods like ice baths, cooking spray, and even air drying.

So, let’s set the record straight right now.

None of these methods work on (proper) gel polish. Not one of them.

drying gel nails with a hair dryer

That’s right. Whether you blast your nails with a hairdryer, (wave them in the air like you just don’t care) or sit for hours like a statue, your gel polish will never, ever cure.

The truth is that there are only 2 ways to cure gel nail polish. You can either use a UV lamp or an LED lamp. That’s it.

Now, I’m guessing you’ve seen people using these methods on youtube and claiming they work.

So what’s going on?

Well, you may have noticed that I used the word “proper” to refer to gel polish above.

That’s because (thanks to some clever marketing by the nail industry) there are now basically 2 types of “gel” nail polish.

The first kind of gel polish is the proper kind.

True legit gel polish lasts for up to 2 weeks without chipping and needs to be cured with LED or UV light.

actual gel polish

You also need to soak it off.

The second type of gel polish isn’t really gel polish at all.

It’s a regular nail polish that is marketed as “gel”, non UV gel, or “gel-like” nail polish.

non gel gel polish

This is the stuff that you can use ice baths and cooking spray on, but you really don’t need to because it’s basically just normal nail polish that dries in the air.

So now that we’ve cleared up that confusion, let’s answer some of your gel polish curing questions.

How to cure gel nails without a UV light

Before we get into how to cure gel nails without a UV light, you need to know what type of gel polish you are using.

This is super important as most of the non-UV removal methods won’t work on soak-off gel polish.

As we’ve learned from reading the intro, there are 2 main types of “gel polish”.

If you are using true, bonafide soak-off gel nail polish, you only have 1 option to cure it without using UV light.

And that’s to use an LED nail lamp.

Here’s how.

How to cure gel nail polish using LED light

LED nail lamps are great because they cure much quicker than UV nail lamps.

With an LED light, you can cure a single layer of gel polish in 30 seconds.

For this method, you will need:

  • an LED nail lamp
  • fingerless gloves or sunscreen (optional)
  • Gel base, colored polish, and topcoat
  • Rubbing alcohol (or isopropyl alcohol)
  • Cotton balls or lint-free wipes/pads

Steps for curing gel nail polish with an LED lamp

  1. Apply sunscreen or put on fingerless gloves. This step is optional but it will help to protect your hands. Be careful not to get any sunscreen on your nails as your gel polish won’t stick. You can wipe the nails over with a cotton pad soaked in alcohol to remove oil from the nail plates.
  1. Apply a gel basecoat. I like to do both my thumbs and then the fingers from each hand separately.
  1. Cure under the LED lamp for 30 seconds.
  1. Apply a thin even layer of gel nail polish in your chosen color. Try not to get any gel polish on your cuticles or skin. If you do, wipe it off with a cotton bud dipped in water.
  1. Cure for 30 seconds in the LED lamp.
  1. Apply a second coat of color, being careful to wipe the brush so that you can keep the coat thin and even with no clumps.
  1. Paint on a gel top coat, don’t forget to cap the free edge to lock in that color!
  1. Cure for 60 seconds under the LED lamp.
  2. Wipe off the sticky layer using a cotton ball or pad soaked in rubbing or isopropyl alcohol. This sticky layer is known as the inhibition layer. You don’t need to press down hard to remove it.
  1. Enjoy your new gel mani!

How to cure non-UV gel nail polish

If you are using a nail polish that says gel on the bottle but doesn’t require UV light to cure, then you can basically just go ahead and let it air dry.

No lamp of any kind is needed.

You can expect your “gel” nails to air dry naturally in around 20 minutes.

You could also try using a quick-drying nail spray or a fast-drying topcoat to speed things up a little.

The icebath method

I tried this after using a non-UV gel nail polish and it didn’t work for me.

If anything, the water slowed down the drying process.

I don’t recommend using the ice bath method, but if you wanna give it a try, here’s how to do it.

  1. Fill a bowl with water and ice
  2. Paint your nails (apply the base, 2 coats of color, and topcoat)
  3. Wait for 2 minutes
  4. Dunk your nails into the ice bath
  5. Wait for them to dry

I found this method to be tricky (how are you supposed to dry your hands?) and pointless.

So what about the cooking spray method for curing gel polish?

Does that work?

Let’s find out.

The cooking spray method

spray nails

This method involves spraying your nails with an aresol-based cooking spray like Pam.

This method works better than the ice bath method, but I’d still recommend that you use a quick-drying nail spray or top coat for the best results.

Say goodbye to waiting for your gel nail polish to dry! Using an oil spray can help speed up the process by harnessing the power of propellants to evaporate the polish faster.

And in addition, oil also moisturizes your cuticles.

So what are the steps for the cooking oil method?

  1. Apply base coat, 2 coats of your favorite polish and a top coat.
  1. Take the cooking oil and spray the nails (keep a distance of 6 inches)
  1. Wait for 2 minutes
  1. Test your nails. Touch your pinky nail gently in a corner (this will be least noticeable if it idents or smudges). They should be dry (but not fully hardened).
  1. Wash off the oil with dish soap and use cold water.

While using an oil spray to dry your gel nail polish may seem like a good idea, it can actually be quite messy and tricky to use.

Instead, I’d recommend opting for a quick-drying top coat for a more efficient and less frustrating solution.

The sunlight method

The final method that’s all over the net for drying gel nail polish is the sunlight method.

This method does make sense since the sun gives off UV light and that’s what gel polish needs to cure.

But the sun is very far away and you’re not going to get the intensity of light that you need to fully cure your gel nails.

I tried this method on a very sunny and hot day and it did not work at all.

I was left with smudgy smooshy nails and had to start all over.

If you wanna try it out for yourself, simply paint your nails and then sit in the sun for hours and hours and hours…

Substitute for UV light for nails

The best and only substitute for UV light when it comes to curing true gel nail polish is an LED nail lamp.

If you are using a polish that says “gel” on the bottle but doesn’t require UV light to cure, you don’t need a substitute because this type of polish will dry naturally in the air.

You can treat these “gel” polishes as regular polishes, which means that you can use a fast-drying spray or a quick-drying top coat to speed up the drying process.

Do you need UV light for nail polish?

You need a UV light to dry gel nail polish, but only if it is a proper, soak-off gel polish.

True gel nail polish can also be dried using an LED nail lamp.

You don’t need UV light to dry regular nail polish or gel nail polish that is non-UV.

Check the bottle. If your nail polish requires UV light to cure it will say it on the label.

Can gel polish air dry?

This is a tricky question because marketers have jumped on the gel bandwagon.

The result is that they advertise normal shiny finish nail polishes as gel polish.

So whether or not it will air dry depends on whether you are using a UV soak-off gel polish or a regular gel polish.

UV soak-off gel polishes will never air dry no matter how long you wait.

But there are some nail polishes on the market that say “gel” or “gel-like” finish on the bottle.

They may also say non-UV gel polish.

All of these “gel” polishes will air dry in around 20 minutes.

What happens if you don’t cure gel polish?

If you don’t cure your gel polish, it will stay tacky and wet.

Like forever!

I know this because a while ago I tried painting the tops of my gel nail polish bottles so I could see the colors.

Big mistake.

It stayed wet and soft, even after a week!

So if you don’t cure your gel nails they will be soft, smooshy, and gloopy for ages and will smudge and come off easily.

Quick recap:

Let’s go over what we’ve learned.

There are 2 types of gel nail polish. Proper and normal. Proper or true gel polish needs a UV or an LED lamp to cure. Normal gel nail polish is basically just regular nail polish plus fancy marketing.

If you want to cure your soak-off gel nail polish without UV light, an LED lamp is the only way that works well.

With the regular kind, try the cooking oil method (but be prepared for it to be messy), the sunlight method (which is unlikely to work well), or just air dry. If your polish doesn’t require UV light to cure, you can use a fast-drying spray or top coat.

And finally, if you don’t cure your nails they will stay soft, smooshy, and gloopy for ages!

I hope that you found this post on how to cure gel nails without a UV light helpful and that I could clear up some of the gel-based confusion for you!

Thanks for reading and happy gelling.


  • 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.