Gel nail polishes have become increasingly popular for their quick drying time and long-lasting wear. While gel polish can keep your nails looking great for weeks, curing the polish with a UV light can be dangerous for your health.
Thankfully, there are alternative ways to cure gel polish with less UV exposure. While only an LED lamp can cure your polish as quickly and effectively as a UV light, using a non-UV gel polish, applying a drying agent, or soaking your nails in ice water could work as well.
What Are Gel Nails?
If you’re used to classic nail polish you may not be familiar with gel polish. This alternate type of nail polish is loved by many for its durability and quality.
Gel nails can last as long as two or three weeks without any chips. If you’re especially careful and maintain your nails, they can even last up to four weeks!
This durability comes from the chemical makeup of gel polish. When applied, it will be very similar to a regular polish except it won’t air dry.
Gel nails are then hardened by a process called curing. Once cured, the nail is made up of cross-linked polymers.
What’s great about gel is that it can also be used for artificial nail extensions. These gel nails are often a little more expensive than acrylic nails.
The difference is the above-mentioned durability. Gel nail extensions are built by applying hard gel polish on top of a gel builder that provides a base for the extension.
The gel used for gel nails is slightly different than that used for gel nail polish. The gel used for gel nails is often called hard gel.
Will Gel Polish Dry Without UV Light?
There are ways that you can dry gel polish without UV light. However, these methods are undoubtedly not as good as the UV drying method, so be prepared for some significant quality loss. They can also take a lot longer. It’s, without a doubt, better to use UV light, if you can.
First, we’ll clear up a common misconception: UV lights don’t technically dry a gel polish, but cure it.
That’s the term for it hardening up into more of a solid, slightly different from traditional polishes.
In salons (and most home jobs), this is done under UV light. It’s the only “foolproof” way of coming up with perfect results.
But there are alternatives. They vary as far as effectiveness goes, so be aware before you start.
This isn’t an option you want to choose for a wedding or any other big occasion.
For the most part, you should invest in a UV light or book a salon appointment.
If it’s just for normal everyday wear, though, you can consider a gel polish that was designed to dry without being cured.
Be prepared to be flexible, and you’ll have fun giving it a try!
One method we’ll not be giving you? Normal air-drying, like you use with traditional nail enamel.
This is something that is never going to work, so you shouldn’t even try it.
No amount of time is going to stop your gel polish from being runny and smudgy if you don’t find a way to dry it relatively quickly.
How To Use Gel Nail Polish Without UV Light
Without UV light, there are two drying options that you have: home methods and an LED light. LED lights are as good, if not even better, than UV lights, so that would be the top choice.
Home methods can work, but will also probably bring down the quality. Expect a drying time of several hours. You’re not doing this on your lunch break.
The first alternative to UVs that you’ll want to try is an LED light.
If you’re new to gel nail polish but have used LED-setting nails before, then you might have one sitting around.
Otherwise, you could simply buy them.
The bulbs typically never burn out and can dry your gel nails in as little as thirty seconds.
Definitely, the alternative to choose here.
However, there are other options, if you’re feeling adventurous.
Ice Water Baths
The most likely to be successful is to give your nails an ice-water bath.
After air-drying for five or ten minutes (err on the side of caution), dip your fingernails into a bowl of ice water.
It should be more water than ice, since contact with any solids may smudge your polish.
Keep submerged for three minutes, then remove.
Your fingers should be numb by then, but don’t try to warm them!
You’ll need to sit still and let everything set for another hour.
Don’t be fooled by the seemingly sturdy state of your polish: it’s not done right out of the bath.
Don’t feel like freezing yourself? You could always try sprays.
Take your choice: fast-drying polish spray or canola oil?
Yep, you read that right: a cooking spray could help your polish set.
Before embarking on either of these options, though, be aware that this is going to take a very, very long time, and you won’t be able to use your hands for most of it.
So start off on a day when you’re binge-watching Netflix, not getting ready for a big date or special occasion.
The instructions for both are basically identical: lay down newspapers or similar, to deal with the mess.
Apply to freshly-painted nails, holding can six inches from the nail.
Then, let sit for hours, until the nail is completely dry.
Be sure not to touch anything, or they’ll smudge awfully.
The canola oil has the benefit of moisturizing your nails, but the downside of making you smell like a greased pan.
Probably better to choose any other option than these two.
How Do You Dry Gel Nail Polish?
After each coat of gel nail polish (of which there are at least three: base, color, and top) the gel must be dried.
More accurately, the gel must be cured. Gel nail polish doesn’t air dry like traditional polishes. Instead, it is cured using ultraviolet light.
This is typically done with a UV lamp, but some gels can be cured with an LED lamp. UV lamps can cure a layer of gel polish in 90 to 120 seconds.
LED lamps are much faster and can cure a layer in 30 to 45 seconds.
UV light is crucial to the curing process. Before this, the gel is a mixture of inert chemicals. The UV light activates one of the ingredients known as a photoinitiator.
This ingredient then provides the energy it gathered from the UV light to another ingredient, monomers.
Using this energy, the monomers combine to form hard polymers. This process is called polymerization.
The source of the UV light is often less important, though some gels can only be cured by UV lamps.
This has to do with the wavelengths of UV light put off by other sources like LED lights and the sun.
UV lamps emit a broader range of UV light.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Will gel polish dry on its own?
No, due to the ingredients of gel polish, it will not dry on its own. In order to harden gel nail polish, you must cure it using UV light.
How do you dry gel nails at home?
To dry gel nails at home you must use a UV or LED lamp. You can find lamps designed for curing gel nail polish at beauty stores, online, or at various retailers. Alternatively, you can sunbathe after applying your nails inside though this would take much longer.
Why is my gel polish not curing?
There are many potential reasons for gel polish that won’t cure. It could be that your UV/LED lamp is dying, the gel polish has expired, you have the wrong lamp, or you applied the coat too thickly.
Can I use a gel top coat alone?
You can use a gel top coat by itself. This is a great way to get a clear polish with the durability of gel nail polish.