The Truth About Air Drying Gel Polish: Is It Possible?


Will Gel Polish Air dry?

The short answer is no. Oxygen gets in the way of curing gel nails. Air prevents the gel molecules from forming together to harden, which explains why your gel polish will never dry in the air. I don’t fully understand the science, but gel nail polish will never air dry no matter how long you leave it. I know this because I tried to put some on the lid of one of my polishes and it stayed wet and soft for weeks. You need a UV (ultraviolet) or LED (Light Emitting Diode) lamp to dry (or cure) gel polish.

How do you dry gel polish?

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Sorry girls and boys, but no amount of flapping your hands around will get your nail polish to dry in the air.

When talking about gel polish, it is better to use the term cure rather than dry. Curing is a term used in chemistry for the process of hardening or toughening a material. Gel nail polish cures (or hardens) using a UV lamp or an LED lamp.

Curing your gel nail polish is easy. All you need to do is apply the polish, put your hand under the lamp and press start. Keep your hand still and wait for the light to go out on your lamp, simple!

You can cure your whole hand at once with some lamps. Or you can do the fingers and thumbs separately (four fingers at a time, then both thumbs together).

How long does it take to dry gel polish?

Good news boys and girls! If you’re in a rush, there is no quicker way of drying your nails. Drying (or curing) time for gel nail polish is a lot quicker than regular nail polish.

The time it takes to cure your nails can vary depending on the type of lamp you are using. In my experience LED lamps seem to be slightly quicker. The curing time also depends on how thickly you have applied the polish.

When painting your nails with gel you should always apply several very thin coats, as thin as you can make them. If you don’t do this then you risk your nails not curing properly and you will have to do them again. You should also cure after each coat, including the top coat and the base coat.

There are lamps that can cure your nails in as little as 15 seconds. The lamp that I use is a fast 120W UV LED Nail lamp. It has 4 drying times, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 60 seconds and 99 seconds.

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My last nail lamp had a curing time of 2 minutes, which doesn’t seem like a long time at first, but after a while it gets boring and feels like forever. I always use the 30 second option as I find that that gives me the best results.

I find that now I have got used to using gel nail polish, when I paint my nails, it actually takes me longer to apply the gel polish than it does to dry my nails under the lamp!

Some gel nail lamps are designed so that you can do your whole hand including your thumb at the same time. This is obviously quicker. Before I upgraded to my current lamp (the one mentioned above) I was curing four fingers on each hand, and then doing my thumbs (together) separately.

So, if you can find a lamp that will do your whole hand at once, then this is definitely better from a time-saving point of view.

Why won’t gel polish air dry?

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Oxygen is the enemy of curing gel nails. Air actually stops the gel molecules from forming together to harden, which explains why your gel polish will never dry in the air.

In order to dry or cure, gel nail polish needs to be exposed to either ultraviolet or LED light. The gel polish absorbs the light, which is what makes it harden.

The way the curing process works is that the top layers of the gel will absorb the most light. This means that if you apply the polish too thickly, the underneath layers will not dry. You always need to apply the coats thinly if you want a successful cure.

Exposing your hands to UV light for short periods is perfectly safe. It is comparable to being in normal sunlight.

Is there a way to dry gel polish without a lamp?

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As we’ve discussed, air-drying gel polish simply does not work. In fact, oxygen gets in the way of curing. So, is there any other way to dry your nail gel nail polish without using a lamp?

It is possible to do your own gel nail extensions at home without using a lamp. To do this you would need a special system that contains an activator such as nailene’s “ultra quick brush on gel kit”.

However, these no-lamp systems use false nails as a base and are designed to give you natural looking gel nails. They don’t include any coloured gel polish.

You can get gel nail polishes that don’t require a base coat or a top coat. But the lamp is always essential to dry gel nail polish.

How often should I change the bulbs in my lamp?


The light intensity of the bulbs used in gel lamps can disintegrate over time. You will need to change the bulbs in your lamp if you find that it is no longer curing properly.

How often you need to change your bulbs will depend on how often you use your lamp. If you are a salon professional who is using it all day every day, then you should change your bulbs every 2 – 4 months.

If you are just doing your own nails at home then you won’t need to change the bulbs very often at all.

You should wipe the nail dust off the bulbs in your lamp regularly as this can affect how well they perform.

Can I dry my gel nails using a sunbed?

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UV light has been the main method used to cure nail products for over 30 years.

While in theory, the technology in a sunbed and gel UV lamp are quite similar, it’s not advisable to use a sunbed to dry gel nail polish. There are many scientific reasons for this relating to wavelengths and light intensity.

The specific wavelength and intensity required to cure gel nail polish can vary between different gel nail products. I experienced this when I try to use an Essie product with my lamp. The formula must not have been compatible with my lamp because my nails didn’t cure at all.

Nail lamps are specifically designed to be the correct wavelength and the correct distance away In order to produce the best results. This is very difficult to replicate with a sunbed.

I hope you enjoyed this “will gel nail polish air dry?” post.

Thanks for reading.

Liked Will gel nail polish air dry? Check out our guide on how to make your gel polish last longer

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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.