Gel Polish Won’t Stay On? Here’s How to Fix It.

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Isn’t it frustrating when you do a gorgeous gel manicure, only to have the polish peel off hours later? If you’re wondering, why won’t my gel nail polish stay on? 

Then you’re in the right place!

We’re going to go over the 11 reasons why gel nail polish peels and give you an easy fix for each common problem.

Sound good?

Let’s get started and answer the question of why won’t my gel nail polish stay on?

No time to read the whole post?

Here’s the fast answer to the question “Why won’t my gel nail polish stay on?”:

The most common causes of gel polish peeling are either too much moisture in your nails, or your nails are too oily. If the nails and cuticles aren’t properly prepped or the polish is applied too thickly, this can also cause gel nail polish to peel. Skipping the basecoat and/or topcoat could also be an issue, or you may have failed to cap the free edges correctly.

Alright. Now that you have some idea of what might be going wrong, let’s go over each of the 11 gel polish problems in detail and how to fix them.

So, why won’t my gel nail polish stay on?

Your cuticles were not prepped well enough

The first reason that your nail polish might be peeling, could be because you haven’t pushed the cuticle back fully and correctly.

If your gel polish is peeling and or lifting near the cuticle area, that’s a telltale sign that your cuticles were not prepped well enough before application.

This is an easy mistake to make.

It can be very difficult to tell when you have properly pushed back all of the layers of the cuticle.

The almost invisible thin layers of cuticle skin that can get left on the nail plate are highly water absorbent.

What this means is that any bits of cuticle left underneath the nail polish will take on water and expand, causing the polish to lift or peel.

Try paying extra attention to this task next time you are prepping your nails and see if it makes any difference for you.

How to fix this problem

There are many layers of cuticle that need to be removed.

To avoid peeling at the cuticles, be vigilant with removing your cuticles fully before you start painting your nails.

To properly prep, start by pushing back the cuticles using either an orangewood stick or a metal cuticle pusher.

Make sure that you get around all the edges and remove any dead skin.

If your cuticles are hard, you can use a cuticle softener to make removal easier.

You should trim off any excess cuticle with a cuticle nipping tool.

Next, use a gentle scrub to remove any dead skin cells around the nail plate.

Finally, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water to remove any oils that may be on your skin.

You forgot to file the free edges

The second reason your nails could be peeling is that you are not filing the free edge.

This is understandable if you are trying to grow your nails and keep them as long as possible.

But don’t expect your gel polish to stay on for long if you don’t file the free edge!

The reason for this is that oils can accumulate on the free edge of the nail, so the edges need to be filed and cleaned before you begin your gel manicure.

If you don’t do this, then moisture and oil can get underneath the nails and this can lead to peeling.

What’s the fix?

Gently file the free edges (even if you’re growing your nails) and clean any nail dust away before you start painting on gel base coat.

You didn’t prep the nail plates properly

I know that a lot of people are tempted to skip this step.

Either to save time or to preserve the health of their natural nails.

But the truth is that not properly filing or at least buffing your nail plates often leads to chipping.

How to fix this problem

Gel polish and base coats need an abrasive surface to help them to stick.

To create an abrasive surface, you should gently file your nail plates using a 180 medium grit file.

Now let’s look at one of the best answers to the question why won’t my gel nail polish stay on?

There’s too much moisture in your nails

This is one of the most common causes of chipping.

If your nails have too much moisture in them, your gel nail polish is going to chip.

You could try a Nail Prep Dehydrate and Xtra Bond Primer like this one (click to check the price on Amazon)

To apply gel nail polish successfully, so that it stays on, your natural nails need to be quite dry.

Your nails are a bit like a sponge, they can take on water, and this causes them to expand.

If you paint your nails too soon after having a bath or shower or immersing your nails in water by swimming or washing up, for example, you are probably painting them while they are still expanded.

What happens is your nails expand, you paint them, then they dry out and shrink back to their original size.

This shrinkage could be what is causing your gel polish to slide or peel off.

What’s the solution?

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Don’t do your gel manicure shortly after a bath or shower.

Make sure that your nails are completely dry.

You could use a hairdryer for this, but if you do, make sure you let your nails cool down fully before you begin your manicure as heat can also expand your nails.

Another way to dry out your nails is to apply acetone to them after you have wiped them down with rubbing alcohol, this should dry them out a little.

Now it’s time to check out another key answer to why won’t my gel nail polish stay on?

Your nails are too oily

The reason your gel polish isn’t staying on could be due to the fact that you have too much oil in your nails.

If your nails are naturally very oily then you may have problems getting gel nail polishes to stick.

But don’t worry, there are some simple things you can do to deal with this issue and help get your gel nail polish to stick.

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How to fix the problem of oily nails

Preparation is so important when applying gel nail polish.

Before you begin a gel manicure, you should wipe your nails down with either a nail prep wipe solution or rubbing alcohol.

This will remove any oily residue from the surface of your nails.

Also, you should avoid touching your nails with your fingers once you have wiped them with the rubbing alcohol.

This is because there are oils on your fingertips that will transfer onto your nail.

If rubbing alcohol isn’t working for you, you can actually buy a product called a nail dehydrator.

Nail dehydrators come in a little nail polish style bottle, and you apply them in the same way that you would apply nail polish.

You can also get gel nail primers which should also help with chipping.

Before you apply your gel base coat, you can apply a primer to the whole of your nail or just to the tips where the chips occur.

If you just put the primer on the tips, it will be easier to remove.

Applying a nail dehydrator and primer, before you put on your base coat, may help you if you have oily nail plates.

Because gel nail curing uses UV light, a lot of people apply sunscreen before they cure their nails.

You really don’t need to do this as most lamps cure your nails in a matter of seconds, so you are not leaving your hands under the lamp long enough to cause any damage.

If you put any product on your nails or hands besides rubbing alcohol or a special nail prep solution, then there could be conditioners in that product that are adding moisture or oil to your nails.

So, If you are having problems with your nail polish staying on because your nails are oily, then make sure that you don’t apply any cuticle oil, hand cream, or sunscreen before you paint your nails.

If you want to apply cuticle oil or hand cream then the best time to do this is after you’ve done your nails.

There’s gunk around the sidewalls


Yes really.

You’d be surprised at how much gunk can be hiding in that teeny tiny space between your nails and your skin.

This gunk can get underneath the polish and cause premature chipping at the sides of the nail.

How to solve this problem

During prep, really pull the skin at the sidewalls back and get right in the groove with your cuticle pusher.

If you have an orangewood stick with a pointy end, that’s ideal for this job.

But be careful not to poke too hard, you don’t wanna hurt yourself!

Your gel polish didn’t cure properly

There are a number of reasons that gel polish doesn’t cure right.

It could be that your lamp (or the bulbs) needs replacing, or that your polish and lamp aren’t compatible.

It could also be that you didn’t cure it for long enough. (Some lamps require a full 2 minutes to cure gel polish).

Uncured polish remains soft underneath, even though it feels hard to the touch.

This causes it to peel off after a very short time.

How to fix the problem

Always use a matching brand polish and lamp.

Gel polish formulas are all different, and the lamp from the same brand is the one that’s been designed to cure that particular polish perfectly.

If your lamp is old, you could try replacing it to see if that gives you better results.

Make sure that you always follow the instructions for the lamp and the polish carefully, and remember to use several very thin coats to avoid the next problem on our list.

The coats of gel polish were too thick

Another reason your gel nails could be peeling is that you have applied the coats too thickly.

This applies to base coat and top coat as well as to the color.

When you cure gel nail polish only the very top layer absorbs all of the light.

This means that if the coat is too thick, the underneath layers will remain soft and this can also lead to peeling.

What’s the fix?

When it comes to applying thin coats of gel polish, practice makes perfect.

Try wiping as much polish off your brush as you can before you begin.

Don’t worry about putting it on too thin, gel polish stays wet so you can always add a little more until you get the right thickness.

You skipped base and/or topcoat

This one’s for the lazy girls and boys, you know who you are!

Gel base coats are specifically designed to bond to your natural nails, whereas colored gel polishes are designed to stick to the gel base coat.

So, if you skip this important first step you might have problems keeping your polish on for very long.

What’s the solution?

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The solution to this one is simple. Just use a base coat!

I recommend that you always use a gel base coat.

Using a gel base coat is non-negotiable if you want your nails to stay on longer and to last.

The free edges weren’t capped

Are the majority of your chips happening at the tips of your nails?

Then it could be that you didn’t cap them at the free edges.

What’s the fix?

Have you heard of capping?

It’s a simple technique you can use when painting your nails that will lessen the number of chips.

Basically, all you do to “cap” is run the nail polish brush across the tips of your nails before you cure.

Mastering the capping technique using gel nail polish can be a little bit difficult, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

You might find that you get uneven tips at first or tips that are a little bit jagged.

If this happens you just need to file them down a bit and then apply a top coat as normal to seal the nail.

Your nails will definitely last a lot longer once you have mastered the capping technique.

You exposed your nails to harsh conditions

Extreme temperatures and common chemicals used around the house can have negative effects on your gel nail polish.

This type of exposure can cause chipping, peeling, and lifting.

Intense heat from cooking, or cold exposure from putting your hands in the freezer can cause structural problems for gel nail polish.

This means it will be more likely to crack.

Chemicals can affect the color and the consistency of gel nail polish too.

How to fix this problem

To protect your nails from chemicals and heat, wear gloves while using cleaning products, washing dishes, and removing things from the oven.

To minimize the possibility of cracks in your gel manicure, use a moisturizer at least once a day.

Gel polish chipping at the free edge

If you are having problems with gel polish chipping but only at the free edge then there are 2 main problems to look out for.

The most likely reason is that your nails are dry and weak.

Dry weak nails are more prone to chipping because they lack moisture and flexibility.

If your nails are quite brittle and split a lot, it might be time to take a short break.

The second issue you might have is that the polish is too thin on the tips.

To solve this problem you can learn the capping technique explained above.

Gel nails peeling after 2 days

Your gel nails should definitely be lasting longer than 2 days!

This usually happens when the gel polish has been applied too thickly or if the nails have been exposed to harsh chemicals or heat.

If the polish is coming off in whole sheets, then I’d suggest starting again following the tips for preparation and application above.

If you are getting lots of small chips, then nail health could be an issue.

Here’s a list of the most common reasons gel polish chips too soon:

1. You didn’t prepare your nails correctly

2. You skipped the base coat

3. The free edges weren’t capped

4. You exposed your nails to harsh conditions

5. Your nails have too much moisture or oil in them

6. The polish didn’t cure right

Why do my gel nails peel off after a week?

If your getting a full week out of your gel nails before they start to peel, the problem is less likely to be due to poor prep.

It’s probably either moisture or exposure to harsh chemicals or temperatures.

You could also have a curing issue.

Sometimes this can happen when the sticky inhibition layer is removed in between layers of gel polish using an alcohol wipe.

You should not be removing the sticky layer in between coats of polish.

The only time you need to wipe off the sticky inhibition layer is when you have finished curing your topcoat.

Final thoughts:

A lot of people seem to think that gel nail polish shouldn’t chip at all.

It’s true that gel nail polish when applied correctly, chips much less than regular nail polish.

However, it can and does still chip occasionally, even if you are doing everything right.

Because of how hard gel nail polish is when it dries, it can be tempting to think that nothing will chip them.

To avoid chipping your gel nails you need to be careful with them.

Whatever you do, don’t use your nails as tools!

If you are worried about your gel nails chipping then you might want to try using a very pale color.

If you use a light color then any chips will be much less noticeable.

Ok so now you know everything there is to know about how to get your gel nail polish to stay on for longer!

I hope you enjoyed my “Why won’t my gel nail polish stay on?” post

Happy painting and rock those nails!


Why do my gel nails look dull?

If your gel nails look dull then chances are something has gone wrong during the curing process.

If gel nails are not cured properly they can discolor or lose their shine.

Loss of shine on gel nails is usually due to over-curing.

What should I do if my gel nails are dull?

Try curing your gel nails for a shorter amount of time.

Experiment and see what works.

Also, you could try using a different lamp.

Some polishes and lamps are just not compatible and this could be what’s causing the problem.

Try not to touch the nail at all during the application process as this can lead to the transfer of oils from your fingertips which can result in a dull finish.

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Want to make sure your nails are the perfect complement to your little black dress? Check out our full guide on how to match the perfect nail color.

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  • 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.