Can you put a gel top coat over regular nail polish

If you love painting your nails, then you know that a manicure wouldn’t be complete without a topcoat.

It helps seal the lacquer in and adds a shiny finish that will make you admire your mani all day.

But regular nail polish doesn’t last as long as gel as it tends to chip after a few days even if you applied a top coat over it.

But what happens if you put gel top coat over regular polish? Would it make your manicure last longer, or will it just ruin it?

So in this article, you’ll find out the difference between gel and regular topcoat; and see if it’s possible to layer gel over nail polish.

Regular vs gel top coat

Regular vs gel top coat

As a nail polish fanatic, you know that a top coat is usually the last step of a good at-home regular manicure. It makes your nails glossy and adds a protective layer over your colored polish. It helps prevent your polish from chipping a few days longer than a manicure without a topcoat.

Regular topcoat is available in various modified versions, including fast-drying, anti-chipping, or strengthening. But, it still contains the same base as an ordinary colored polish, so it only needs to evaporate its solvents to dry.

While a gel topcoat also provides an added layer of protection over your manicure. But unlike a regular top coat, it needs curing under a UV or LED lamp to harden.

Gel topcoat is available in 2 formulas: wipe or no-wipe topcoat. A wipe topcoat is usually used during a gel manicure, but it leaves a sticky residue after curing. So you have to wipe your nails using alcohol, nail polish remover, or gel nail cleanser to remove the tacky layer. Since it will make foreign objects stick to your nails, thus, shortening the life of your manicure.

While a no-wipe topcoat won’t need wiping off since it doesn’t leave a sticky residue, making it more convenient to use. It also has a thicker consistency, so it dries stronger than a wipe topcoat.

It’s also great for nail art since it won’t easily run down your nails, giving you more time to smoothen out your manicure.


Can you use a gel top coat over regular polish?

Can you use a gel top coat over regular polish

Don’t you just love how easy it is to apply nail polish but hate how it only takes a couple of days to peel off?

That’s why the idea of layering gel and nail polish is growing more and more tempting the more your polish wears off.

So the question is, can you use a clear gel top coat on regular nail polish?

The simple answer is: yes

The application can be a little tricky, but as long as you make sure your nail polish is completely dried. 

Once you cure your gel top coat, the layers will have a hard time drying since the solvents are being trapped under, which will then make the regular polish wrinkle and eventually shrink.


So if you want to try this method, make sure to let your nails air dry for 24 hours, as that’s how long the solvents take to evaporate completely.

Applying thin coats of regular nail polish also helps reduce the drying time as well as making the lacquer adhere to your nails better, so it doesn’t peel off as fast.

How to use regular nail polish with gel top coat

If you want your manicure to last longer, applying a gel top coat over nail polish can be easy using the following steps:

  1. Start with clean and trimmed nails. Push back your cuticles and make sure there’s no leftover nail polish from your previous manicure.
  1. Apply 2-3 thin coats of your regular nail polish in any color of your choice. But remember to give each layer enough time to dry between.
  1. Once you’re done with your final coat, allow the lacquer to completely dry overnight.
  1. On the next day, apply a layer of clear gel top coat over your nails. Cure them under your UV or LED lamp for 30 seconds or depending on the designated time of your topcoat.

If done well, you can then enjoy a manicure that won’t chip after a few days.

But if you want a more durable manicure, you can also try the “gelly sandwich” method. You apply a gel base coat before painting on layers of regular nail polish, then finish it off with a layer of your favorite gel topcoat.

It will give the illusion of having a full gel manicure, and it’s also easy to do. You just need to cure your gel base coat and wipe off the sticky residue. Then follow the steps above to get a long-lasting manicure.

How to remove regular nail polish with gel top coat

How to remove regular nail polish with gel top coat

So let’s say you’ve enjoyed your manicure for a week, but now you’re ready to apply a fresh color, so how would you remove them?

You can take off the gel topcoat the same way you normally remove gel nail polish. Except you don’t have to soak your nails in acetone as long as when you have a gel manicure.

To remove the gel top coat, you can do the foil method. It’s an effective process since the heat accumulated inside the foil makes the acetone work faster.


To start, soak a cotton ball in acetone and place it on top of your nail. Then wrap your finger with aluminum foil, ensuring your nail is fully covered. Then repeat the steps on the rest of your nails.

Let the cotton ball sit for 5-10 minutes, then remove the foil off your fingers. The gel layer will then be soft enough to push off with a nail groomer. But if not, you can soak them again in acetone.

If you don’t have acetone at home, you can use a mixture of warm water, dishwashing soap, and 1 teaspoon of salt. Let your nails soak for 20-30 minutes until the gel layer is easy to scrape off.

Once the top coat is off, remove the rest of your nail polish with a cotton ball soaked in acetone or nail polish remover.

If your nails and cuticles feel dry, apply moisturizing cuticle oil to rehydrate and nourish them.

Alternative to gel top coat

But if using a gel top coat over your regular manicure intimidates you, you can use a gel-like or gel-effect topcoat.


It gives your nails the same glossy effect as real gel nail polish would. As well as helps prevent your manicure from chipping and cracking, making it last longer than a regular topcoat can.

Another great thing about it is that you don’t need to cure it under a UV lamp, so it’s not a hassle to apply. Plus, you can simply remove it by using nail polish remover.

So if you want to give your nails a break from gel nail polish, some brands also offer colored gel-effect nail polish that would pair perfectly with a gel-like topcoat.

CHECK OUT: Alternative to Gel Nails

Final thoughts

Regular nail polish will always be a staple in every nail polish lover’s collection. But compared to other types of polish, it’s the easiest to chip off.

So that’s where the method of applying a gel top coat over your regular manicure comes in.

It gives your lacquer an extra layer of protection that a regular top coat can’t do. Plus, don’t you just love how glossy it makes your nails look?

The secret is to make sure your nail polish is completely dry before adding that layer of gel topcoat. Otherwise, it’s going to look wrinkly.

But removing the layers can be a pain since it still needs you to soak your nails in acetone. So before trying this method, always use your best judgment on whether your nails can handle that many chemicals.

But other than that, you can now enjoy a longer-lasting manicure thanks to this little trick. 


Why is my gel polish sticky

It’s hard not to get wide-eyed with your gel polish. You place your hand on the UV lamp, and you can feel the jitters running throughout your body. 

You know how it would look, but you still hold your breath. 

You just wanna finish everything, raise your hands under those sparkling lights and watch it REFLECT that shine. 

It’s addicting. 

And then you see that one dull nail. You fearfully touch it. And there it was— the imperfection.

Why is my gel polish sticky?! You screamed. You wanted to thrash out. This is not what was promised to you! 

Relax. It’s not like a broken Barbie doll or a missing lego piece of your old snotty days. It’s manageable. 

There is a fix to your frustration.

Why is my gel polish not drying?

Why is my gel polish not drying

Drying your gel polish, especially without the help of UV light, maybe like lining up for groceries behind the lady with a doomsday cart. 

When exactly does this end? Why did you even do it? Could you have chosen another option which doesn’t take this long?

But before you get your Karen on, there is something you must understand: you won’t know it is the finish line when you are blind to the checkered flag. 

CHECK OUT: Why does my gel polish peel off

How to tell if gel nails are cured

A dried, or to be technical about it, cured gel polish looks shiny and plain. It does not slide down and does not drip. Air bubbles and peeling are also indicators that it has not been cured yet. 

Look at your thumb. Most of the time, the tragedy is often noticeable there.

You might want to add these two to your evidence bag when you suspect an under-cured job. 

Tip no 1: It shouldn’t be like dragging yourself for the early morning shift when you brush your topcoat. Rather, it should feel like butter. The gel polish shouldn’t stick to the topcoat brush. A topcoat is clear, so that is a big red flag if you see any color. 

Tip no 2: An under-cured gel topcoat looks dull. And when alcohol-based cleaners come in contact with it, it goes sayonara. 

Other things to look for: loss of clarity, a dull, soft finish, and a more than normal stickiness. 

But what if your eyes are not as good as a magnifying glass? Well, there is no better way of telling a mirage from an oasis than actually touching it. 

Yes, touch it. As much as that makes you fear the possibility of messing your nails up, you gotta do it. If you leave any fingerprint behind, then you know for sure that thing has not cemented itself on your nails yet. 

Now, you can ask what the culprit to this endless waiting is. 

Thick layers

Counting may sound elementary, but it is essential when it comes to curing gel polish. Getting excited and applying multiple coats might be the reason for the sticky mess you have there. 

It’s like putting a jacket over a sweater on a humid day then expecting to dry off your sweat. There is a big problem there somewhere. 

So get to counting. Three to 4 layers is enough and actually the ideal range. 

But! Just one reminder: do not roll the dice when choosing how many layers.

Fix the number of layers you want. If it is 4, stick to it. That way, the nails dry evenly and at the same time. 

Expired bottle

It’s nice to say that we never forget anything in this world where our phones can remind us what to do every second of the day. 

That would be a blatant lie, though. How many times did you leave the keys at home when you went out? Or your wallet? Worse, your phone?

Such is the case of expiration dates. You buy that bottle. You don’t even look at the bottom, do you? You just trust that it will not disappoint you with its incurable gooey consistency when you open it. 

But don’t be like that. Be better. 

It’s a basic check, and it is something you must never neglect.

Base and top coat

This should be your last newbie mistake of the year. Don’t make yourself dirty like that. 

When you buy that $40 gel mani, you also have to grab both base and top coats, or else it won’t get you the results you want.

Applying gel mani directly to the nail leads to uneven texture. No base coat? Goodbye flatlands, hello seabed. That bad, yes. Some parts may remain thick and others thin, which just leads to a longer curing period,

No topcoat either? Same dilemma. 

Never create ridges of gel polish on your nails. It’s only forgivable when it is intentional. 

Finally, and this sounds unnecessary, but cure it properly. Do not stare at it or wave it to air dry and leave it to the Fates to blow your nails to a dry finish. If that worked for regular polish, that is not how it works with gel manis. 

How to cure gel nail polish

How to cure gel nail polish

Curing a gel nail polish is not unlike curing a person. You do it with care, and you do it with great consistency. 

Thin layers

When it comes to gel manis, all shortcuts are blockbuster horror movies.

Example no. 1: you thought that putting on layer after layer of polish then curing it all at the end will save you time and woulddefinitely work still. 

Wrong. While that top layer looked like it got a perfect time under the lamp, what was squished under it might not have. 

Example no. 2: You are going for the paler palette, then you decided that since it is light-colored, you should put on more coats. 

Wrong again. You need to keep it thin, no matter what color it is. Never slap one thick layer on your nail like you’re casually putting jam on bread. 

A good UV lamp

A UV lamp is an investment piece. It needs to work for you. There shouldn’t be a moment where it indirectly causes smudging. Yes, that can definitely happen when you use a 20 watt or less lamp since curing time is slower. 

One more thing! Upgrades are important. 

Not to worry, this is not the iOS pace where upgrades are more often than you would truly appreciate. 

This is more of an observe and react situation. 

When your curing timer seems like it is not working as before, that may be a good assessment. 

It is recommended that you change your UV lamp every 2-6 months. And while you are on your maintenance spree, check if your bulbs are clean. It’s not uncommon to hit the roof and do an accidental paint job on the bulbs out of excitement. 

Alternative to UV lamps:

If UV lamps are not your type or budget, there are a few alternatives

Led lamps

If you have heard some scary rumors about UV lamps, you might wanna try a LED lamp. It certainly cures your polish three times faster. 

FYI, it still emits UV rays, but in a less broad spectrum. 

Ice bath

This one might be actually enjoyable, albeit wet and not as efficient. So, not that fun and definitely really cold. 

But it works! With patience, it does. 

Quick-drying topcoat

Quite the common sense on this one but worth mentioning. You have a lot of options now for every single product in the aisle. Topcoats also come with quick-dry. 

There’s also a quick-drying spray to help cure. 

They have their own pros and cons, but if it works for you, why not?

CHECK OUT: Alternative to Gel Nails

Why is my gel polish sticky after curing?

What if you’ve done all of the above and still have that sticky leftover? No worries. It might be simpler than you think. 

Your initial suspect should be your topcoat. Well, you might have forgotten to wipe off that topcoat before curing in the UV lamp. 

Every topcoat comes with specific instructions.  You can often just use alcohol. To make sure, just follow what is suggested at the back. 

It’s not rocket science, but it isn’t counting sheep either. So do your due diligence, and you will never fear the length of the curing process again. 

FYI: There exist no-wipe topcoats. So rather than assuming and wiping away your efforts accidentally, read the back label carefully.

Your second on the line is the air. Aye, something vague gets to be a villain of your story this time. 

See that tacky residue? It’s the oxygen in the air preventing the surface layer from curing.  It is called an inhibition layer. 

What can I use to remove sticky residue gel nails?

What can I use to remove sticky residue gel nails

Now that you get some idea why here are some solutions to try. 

Isopropyl alcohol

Budget-friendly? Yes. Effective? Super. It’s a general preference to have 70%  isopropyl alcohol-soaked wipes. But if that may seem wasteful and not very true to the whole cheap advertisement, you can always use a lint-free cotton pad.

Pro tip: Alcohol wipes aren’t reusable. So one wipe is for one nail. Besides, there’s a likelihood you will transfer that residue. Talk about defeating your own goals.

Gel cleanser

You know how there are products made specifically for something and nothing else? 

Gel + cleanser. This is your solution— the expensive one. They don’t only remove your problems post-curing but also during prep time, like oils and moisture on your nail plates. 

Non-acetone nail polish remover

Okay. If it came to this point, it’s either you scoured the entire mall and came up with nothing, or you didn’t want to move an inch from your set-up. 

There is no judgment here, but you have to be warned: Even non-acetone ones potentially weaken your gel manicure. 

So if you are lazy rather than plain unfortunate, it’s a smart choice to start walking for a better option.

DIY substitutes

If you listened to your chemistry class, the following shouldn’t shock you. 

Nevertheless, some household materials should work: perfumes, Lysol, and hand sanitizer.

This might ruin your nails. Or not. It’s a matter of luck at this point. 


Gel manis are expensive even when it’s DIY. So if you want it, go all out. Don’t hold back on purchasing quality gel polish, your base, and topcoats. As for technique, trying is the only option you got.

It’s a hit and miss to remedy your mess, but sticky layers are temporary issues. It shouldn’t be a cause of alarm or even a restart of, fates forbid, an entire hand. 

Don’t frown because a little research and you are on your merry way!


Why does my gel polish peel off

We don’t want our new nail color to last forever of course. Think of the wardrobe nightmare in trying to match the color of your nails with your outfit. 

But we spent a good amount of time comparing nail gels that are only about a shade lighter than the others. We also don’t want the winning nail color to chip off too soon.

Why gel polish peels off fast isn’t always a you-problem, but what you’re doing before, during, and after your nail appointment contributes to the issue.

Nail color and social class

The world’s love affair with nail colors did not emerge just recently: Our history with nail polish goes back a long way. As early as 3200 BC, people have been painting over their nails. Nail color was used to show off one’s rank either in the military or in one’s society.

Today, you could walk out of the nail salon with whatever color you set your heart out. Red nails are for anyone bold enough to seek them. In the past, that may have been your death sentence. Because you can remain in your social standing for life in some cultures, you may never wear certain colors.

Thank heavens for people who made nail colors available for everyone.

How do nail colors work?

How do nail colors work

The pigments in the nail polish will not do much beautifying on your hands if they would just drip or slide from your nails. The polish has to adhere to your fingernails. In the bottle, the polish is liquid. But when it is already brushed onto nails, it has to harden in a process called polymerization. It is how nail gel works.

Polymerization is just smaller molecules, called monomers, connecting into a chain, called a polymer. Different kinds of nail-coloring products achieve polymerization differently — by air or by light. 

Traditional nail polish

A traditional nail polish dries on its own after it is applied to nails. It’s a type of polish or coat that leaves a shiny finish.

It contains solvents like acetate, butyl acetate, and ethyl acetate which will evaporate upon application of the product. The solvent gives off that distinct smell.

Pigments and other nail polish ingredients create a smooth and glossy film that will harden as the solvent leaves.

The film does not fall off after it dried because of the resins in your nail polish. Resins keep the nail polish attached to your nail. To keep the film from breaking too soon, manufacturers also add plasticizers. Plasticizers allow flexibility of the film.

Your traditional nail polish may also contain additives that help protect the finished product from sun damage or add adornments like glitters or pearls.

Gel nail polish

Unlike traditional lacquer nail polish, gel nail polish does not dry on its own. Its molecules have to be joined and bonded together through a chemical reaction. Ultraviolet light jumpstarts this bonding which initiates the drying process. This is also known as curing the nails.

Don’t we get UV light from the sun? Yes, we do. However, the UV dose that we are getting may not be enough to activate the photoinitiator in the gel. If the light is too little, the reaction does not happen. If the light is too strong, it may damage the fingers because there is too much heat.

Since gel polish does not depend on evaporating solvents, they don’t have the signature smell of traditional nail polish.

Gel nails are strong. But if the finished product is also too rigid and stiff, it would break easily, like a thin biscuit. So, nail gel polish also contains plasticizers to prevent early breaking and chipping off. 

But the plasticizers in your nail polish won’t prevent chipping and peeling by causes other than the nail polish itself.

CHECK OUT: Alternative to Gel Nails

Why is my gel nail polish peeling off?

Gel nail polish is supposed to last longer than traditional nail polish. It is stronger and less susceptible to chipping. 

You may ask, “If that is true then, why does my gel nail polish peel off so easily?” And despite the promise of longevity, you could be the next person asking, “Why do my gel nails peel off after a week?” 

If the issue already exists during the manicure process, painting over the problem won’t fix it. 

Why is my gel nail polish peeling off

Your nail cuticle is in the way

If you look at your fingernails, a thin layer outlines the base part of your hard nails. This is your cuticle. When you paint over your nails with the cuticles still protruding, some of the polish sticks to the cuticle and not the nail itself. This would cause gel nails lifting and peeling because of where the polish is adhering to. 

The gel polish could not stick properly

Another reason why your new gel nail polish lifts and peels too soon is that it didn’t have a tight grip on the nail plate in the first place. Unlike when it was just your cuticle in the way, the gel polish barely has anything to hold on to this time.

You could be upping your lazy-day game and just painting over old polished nails. Or you didn’t wash your hands first before whipping out your nail kit. Old polish and oils keep your nails smooth. 

CHECK OUT: Why is my gel polish sticky

The curing process was not right

Gel nail polish requires exposure to UV light from special lamps. It is what transforms the polish into a dry and strong film on your nails. The chemical reaction from UV light alone perfects the manicure process. If this process did not go as expected, your freshly manicured nails did not dry properly. 

Not all UV light lamps are not created equal. While there is a common range of wavelengths (340 to 380 nanometers), wavelengths alone do not tell the whole story. 

The intensity of the light differs as to bulb wattage (in watts). How many bulbs there are and how far they are from the fingernails also affect how the lamp cures your nails. 

Add to those, there is no singular magic number for how long the nails should be kept under the UV light. 

But the hard part in understanding UV light lamps is finding the perfect match for your gel polish. Brands differ from each other in the recommended specifications for UV light lamps. For instance, the photo-initiator of Brand X reacts at 340 nm while Brand Y’s only activates at 370 nm.

If you use specifications that are not meant for your gel polish, your manicure won’t cure properly. 

The gel polish layers are too thick

You may have been too excited about your new nail kit that you applied too much of the product in between layers. Thick coats of the gel polish won’t cure in the same manner as the recommended coats. The time would be too short to perfect the curing process. The light won’t be as effective as well. 

However, this does not mean you should keep your fingers under the lamp longer. Nor does this mean that you should use a stronger UV light lamp. The light could damage your skin if you do either.

CHECK OUT: How to fix bumpy nail polish

Not taking care of your manicured nails

Even if you’re sure that the manicure went perfectly, you can still get early gel nail lifting and peeling from not taking care of your nails. Manicured hands need extra attention. There are activities that you have to do a little differently when you have gel nail polish.

For instance, you could be working with harsh chemicals regularly. The chemicals can weaken and damage your fresh nails. Working with high or low temperatures can also make your nail polish flake away too soon. 

How to fix peeling gel nails

Eventually, nail polish is going to peel and lift. You can still fix peeling polish. How you’re going to react when it happens can save or shorten the life of your nail color. 

Picking on it is not the answer

If you have a habit of picking on nail polish even after you just applied them, the question “Why do my gel nails peel off after one day?” answers itself.

When you notice that your nails are prematurely peeling, you shouldn’t make it worse by picking on the lifted gel. Not only will this make the polish peel off faster, but you may also damage your nails. If you force the polish off by picking on it, you might also unintentionally slough off cells from your nail. 

Cover and seal it

If the polish is just starting to lift from your nail plate, you can use a topcoat to reseal it. While this is a band-aid solution, it’ll help you get by for a while.

But if bits and pieces of the polish have already peeled off, you may have to visit your nail salon. They can recommend a long-term solution.

How to stop gel nails from peeling

How to stop gel nails from peeling

For the several issues discussed earlier, the solution is simply to start the manicure right.

Prep your nails properly

Before you start painting over your nails, make sure that there is nothing that will prevent the nail gel polish from sticking on your nail plate.

And you should keep your cuticles in check so they don’t come between the nail and the polish. You don’t have to trim the visible layer. Instead, just make sure that you’re actually applying the polish not on the cuticle, but on the nail. 

Curing process done right

Your UV light specifications should complement your chosen gel polish. Thus, you have to follow down to the letter what the manufacturer prescribed for their product. 

By making a personal estimation and formula, you might be wasting a perfectly good product. Worse, you could irreversibly harm or hurt yourself from UV light exposure.

In following the correct specifications for wavelength, light intensity, duration, and distance from the light your nail polish would cure properly. It would not peel too soon. And you could set aside that nail appointment for later. 

Use thin, even layers

Swiping on a singular thick layer to finish early seems like a logical way to apply gel nail polish. After all, it would take you a long time to achieve the same thickness if you apply several thin layers. 

But this would only prevent your nail polish from curing correctly and completely. And if you use thick layers, that means you have to adjust the settings for your UV lamp or keep your hands under it for longer. You should not resort to this.

Your nail polish won’t be strong and long-lasting. You may even harm yourself if you stray from the recommended use of the lamp. 

The answer to “Why are my gel nails peeling off?” may also be found in what you do after you get your nails done. 

Protect your hands with gloves

Manicured nails should not stop your day. It just means that you have to be extra careful when you’re working with your hands.

A good pair of gloves keeps your nails safe from chemicals that would otherwise weaken your nails or damage your nail polish. Your hands will also thank you for taking this extra step.

Don’t bite your nails

If the edges of your teeth are sharp enough to cut and tear down food, they can also scrape your nail polish. Biting your nails can damage not only your nail plate. It can leave painful cuts and wounds on the skin around your nail. This habit should be curbed since it is an invitation for infections and diseases.

Keep your nails healthy 

Keeping your nails healthy is an accumulation of habits that contribute to good nail health. Number one on the list is maintaining a balanced diet so that your nails won’t be deprived of nourishment. 

Another habit that you should have started yesterday is using hand moisturizers. Taking care of your hands is also by extension taking care of your nails. When your nails are moisturized, you’re less likely to have chipped and peeling nail polish. 

CHECK OUT: Why are nails clear


How to dry gel nail polish without UV light

One great pleasure in life is splurging on a fabulous manicure.

And if you’re already splurging on one, why not get the one that lasts longer?

Gel nail polishes are made up of acrylic monomers and oligomers that bond together when cured under UV or LED light, making a more durable manicure that lasts for 2-3 weeks. So you don’t have to worry about chipping your manicure after a short period of time.

But you might be asking, “Isn’t UV light bad for your skin?”

Repeated exposure to UV light is harmful and can cause multiple skin conditions.

So now you’re trying to look for other ways to dry your gel nail polish without using UV light.

Well, follow along as we discuss less harmful alternatives for drying gel nail polish at home.  

How to dry gel nail polish at home

Before we get into other alternatives, let’s go back to basics.

You might be wondering why gel nail polish needs UV or LED light to harden. 

Well, gel nail polish contains a chemical called, photoinitiators, which needs direct UV wavelengths to dry. This process is called photoreaction

The photoinitiators are then converted into energy needed to start the polymerization process. This is when molecules inside the gel bond together, turning it into a hard coating.

How to dry gel nail polish at home

Either a UV or LED nail lamp is used as they both emit UV wavelengths. The difference is, UV lamps emit broader wavelength spectrums, while LED lamps give off a more targeted number of wavelengths.

However, LED nail lamps are more expensive compared to UV lamps, as they tend to last longer. So it’s a better investment if you want a sturdier lamp.

The only disadvantage is, not all gel nail polishes can dry using an LED nail lamp. So you have to figure out which brands of gel nail polish can. 

CHECK OUT: Why is my gel polish sticky

How To Make Gel Nail Polish Dry Faster

When you’re in a rush but still need to do your manicure,  applying a thinner coat of nail polish can help speed up the drying time faster.

Also, an LED lamp can dry the polish faster compared to a UV lamp. It takes a single layer of polish 30 seconds to cure, while a UV lamp takes 2 minutes. 

That’s why more people are now choosing to buy LED lamps over UV lamps.

Can gel nails dry naturally?

What if you don’t have a nail lamp, or just generally want to avoid them, can gel nail polish still dry?

Nope, unfortunately. Without the help of UV wavelengths, oxygen will hinder in curing the nails. The air will stop the gel particles from binding together, preventing them from hardening. So leaving your nails to airdry is not a plausible solution.

But what happens if you use gel nail polish without UV light? Would it even be possible?

All hope is not lost. There are alternatives, albeit a little out of the box, but read on to find out. 

Substitute for UV light for nails

Here are a few ways on how to set gel polish without UV light:

Gel-like nail polish

Gel-like nail polish, or also called “Gel Effect nail polish”, is a type of polish that gives off the same shine and appearance as gel nail polish gives off.

They also have the same strength and durability, so they don’t chip off easily.

What’s great about gel-like polishes is they don’t need curing under UV light. You can apply them like regular nail polish and you’ll get the benefits of a gel nail manicure.

They can also be removed the same way as regular nail polish, so you don’t need to soak your nails in acetone for an extended period of time.

Gel-like nail polish

Natural sun

What better way to get UV light, than from the original source, right? 

Just like UV nail lamps, the sun emits UV wavelengths, so drying gel polish can be effective, it just takes a little longer.

As long as you pick a gel nail polish that’s light-sensitive, you can dry them under the sun for 20-45 minutes.

There’s also a brand that designed a gel nail polish line that can actually dry using natural sunlight.

Now you don’t have to wait for your gel polish to dry before going out. Just don’t forget to slather on your sunscreen.

Ice bath

Getting your nails wet to dry your nail polish seems like an unusual idea, but it can work.

After applying a coat of gel nail polish, air-dry your nails for 5-10 minutes, then dip them in cold water with ice. The bowl should contain more water, so you don’t smudge your nail polish with the ice cubes.

Keep your nails submerged for 3 minutes before removing them.

Let your nails air-dry for about an hour to allow them to be fully set. Remember to use your hands minimally to avoid smudging.

Fast-drying nail polish spray

If you’re not a fan of freezing your nails off, then try a fast-drying nail polish spray. This method takes the longest time, so if you do try this, set aside a few hours.

The method is easy:

  • Lay down a newspaper to protect your table.
  • Hold the can of fast-drying nail polish spray 6 inches away from your nails.
  • Apply slowly to your painted nails.
  • Allow your nails to sit for a few hours until completely dry. 

CHECK OUT: Alternative to Gel Nails

How long does it take gel nail polish to dry without UV light?

How long does it take gel nail polish to dry without UV light

The drying time for your gel nail polish will depend on a number of factors, like the method, brand, or coat thickness.

Gel-like nail polish can have different drying times depending on the brand that you’re using. It’s best to look at the label of the polish to get the best results.

But, typically, gel-like nail polish can dry to the touch in about 6-8 minutes, while it dries completely after 13-15 minutes.

As mentioned above, drying your polish using the sun can take around 20-45 minutes. The ice bath method can take about an hour, and the fast-drying nail polish spray can take several hours.

CHECK OUT: Why does my gel polish peel off

Final Thoughts

Gel nail polish can give off a shinier and stronger manicure that can last longer compared to regular nail polish. So if you want a good quality manicure, you also need to invest in a good UV nail lamp.

But sometimes the effects of the radiation from the UV light can deter you from this type of manicure.

All hope is not lost, though, as there are alternatives on how to dry your gel polish, you just need to experiment with the methods mentioned above.  


Alternative to Gel Nails

Gel nails are fetch. They are the Regina George in the world of nail polish. They look fancy and stay aesthetically awesome for much longer than your regular nail polish. So why does it seem like everyone is putting it in their burn book and looking for an alternative to gel nails?

Well, because they are not-so-secretly nasty. Think about it for a second. The only reason gel polish is dubbed to be a 2-week manicure is because of your cuticles growing out. It is so durable; it is literally often indestructible. 

Doing a DIY removal? The only way out is soaking them with acetone then filing them down. You can get away without the filing part if you have a gel extension.

Well, it turns out karmic justice is real. Gel polish is relatively easy to dry but still takes time to remove. Removing it yourself will take patience, several cotton balls, and surprise! Aluminum foils.

And if you are the regular polish kind of person, this may feel like a lifetime of uncomfortable removal for you. 

The tale doesn’t end there, unfortunately. 

Acetone dehydrates the nail bed. So if you happen to wonder why your nails look parched, it’s because you need to do the after-care step of moisturizing them with oil or cuticle serum.

Gel polish is also known for another disappointing thing: lifting. 

Lifting happens due to a poor prep routine. The polish will start peeling off at the end of its long life. Words of wisdom, though, even if your nails look less than perfect, do not forcibly pick the gel nor the skin around them. 

You may feel tempted to just physically strip those gels but don’t rush into what could spell disaster for your nails. 

If your reason for going to this more expensive mani is that you are unsatisfied with your natural nails, then you would get instant regret from DIY-ing that removal process. 

First of all, white spots. No, not the Dalmatian cuteness you could have probably pulled off. These are the ones with irregular textures and seem chalky. It’s technically a bruise due to improper removal. 

Can you believe you are committing abuse against your nail beds? Terrible. 

You are probably thinking right now of the days you chipped them off despite warnings. Nothing really happened. There is no need to make a fuss about something trivial, right? 


Repeated picking leads to weaker nails. If you have that habit, your nails must be suffering from thinning. They can also make your nails dry, flaky, and cracked, which adds to the bumpy texture.  

What about totally growing them out? The sight of it wouldn’t be so terrible. 

That is not a smart option, honestly. When you grow it out, you also create a weight imbalance. The top becomes heavier, and the lower part becomes strained.

The removal process can be downright discouraging. It’s not the worst, but it may already be a hassle for you. Is it time to quit gel nails?


While you can wiggle yourself free from the guilt of destroying your nails by saying you can just take a break from gel polish, you might want to consider the other shady character in this story. 

Namely, the reason why you do not have to blow your nails until you get dizzy just to get them dry— UV light.

This one might have just had that possible consequence that no break can heal.

CHECK OUT: Why does my gel polish peel off

But first, why even use UV light?

why even use UV light

UV light helps with the “curing” process. It involves a polymerization reaction that hardens the resin in the gel to give you that smooth and indestructible quality. If that sounded alien, just think of your plastics. It’s basically the same stuff, but you are on the receiving end this time too.

So what’s the tea? 

Ultraviolet light which comes from the sun causes skin cancer. In theory, these UV dryers may cause similar damage to your skin, too, given your exposure to it.

In theory, of course.

Scientific studies show the risk is low. And scientists will tell you there is just no huge amount of data to conclude anything. So you sit there and wonder. 

Often, imagining the what-ifs might just be enough to terrify you of the whole idea of UV light. 

What are the alternatives to UV light for gel nails?

Pause for a moment. 

Now go back and return that LED lamp to where you got it from. 

If a UV dryer is the Flash, then an LED lamp is Quicksilver. They might look like they are from an entirely different universe, but they work the same. LED lamps also have a UV light. They might lower exposure by drying your nails faster, but it’s still the same horror movie you are trying to run away from.

And while you’re at it, stop standing out there under the glaring sun, hoping to “air-dry” your nails. Have mercy on your skin, please.

No sun and no LED to help, what then?

CHECK OUT: How to dry gel nail polish without UV light

Ice bath

Ice-dipping might be one uncomfortable option to take, but it’s an undeniably effective one. You just gotta endure it. 

You often need to soak those nails repeatedly to dry both the top and base layers. So don’t get fooled and make sure everything has hardened. 

And by the way, if you are feeling brave, the freezer is available.

Quick-dry spray

On the scale of 1-10, 10 being most effective in drying, this one is at the top. It can even dry your nails in as fast as a minute! 

A word of warning: These sprays are flammable!

If somehow you aren’t game on investing in a proper spray, you got to try cooking spray at least. 

Surprising, isn’t it? But never say never!


Oil is, by far, the least unpleasant of the bunch and even a healthier way to dry your gel polish. When in a pinch, drip some olive or baby oil to your nails. It even hydrates, so that is a plus!

You know what could also work? Cooking oil. That is one magic you can once again summon from your kitchen. How dope is that?

But if the alternatives for UV light don’t convince you to stay with gel nails, there is always its known competitor: acrylic.

Which is better for natural nails: acrylic or gel?

Which is better for natural nails: acrylic or gel

So, to switch or not to switch— that is the question.

Gels and acrylics are both the go-to when you want that extra oomph to your nails or nail extensions. But “better” is a subjective word here. 

Aesthetically, there is nothing to complain about. They both give that mean boss vibes. The only way one is better than the other may lie in the ease and risk of the process itself. 

So here’s a rundown of quick facts to help you decide. 


The boon: The process takes less than an hour and can even be done at home. It stays for as long as 2 weeks and has a glossy finish. It is also more flexible.

The bane: An overuse of primer may lead to damage. When you have gel manicure removed professionally, the filing down process may weaken your nails. It is also more costly than acrylic nails. 

CHECK OUT: Why is my gel polish sticky


The boon: The process involves a powder and liquid mixture to create a very durable material. It lasts up to 6 weeks. It also sets in minutes without any equipment. You get to customize more with this!

The bane: While gel can be done DIY, this one requires skill to apply and remove. It can look thick when applied wrong. And even worse? The smell is not something you’ll miss. It is not as flexible as gel and still tends to damage your nails.

If you are the type of person to experiment at home, gel polish is an easier route. You can even buy your own UV dryer these days and skip a costly salon visit.

On the other hand, if you are going on a month-long vacation and want those nails to be impeccable from start to finish, acrylics may be better for you.

If you remain unimpressed between the two, though, there are other options out there. They are not all meh, after all. Something ought to stand out. 

CHECK OUT: Can you paint over acrylic nails

What can I use instead of gel for nails?

1. Dip powder

You instantly associate nail polish with painting your nails when you think of nail polish. But dip powders are Jackson Pollock paintings. They are different from what you are used to.

With dip powders, you apply first a primer, then literally dip your fingernails. The acrylic nature of dip powders ensures a longer-lasting manicure for you. 

2. Polygel

It’s not a trick. They didn’t just put “poly” there and sell you regular gel polish. PolyGel is a hybrid of all the good things a hard gel and acrylic have.

It is stronger than hard gel but more flexible than acrylic, and lighter than both. It can be applied directly on the nails, as tip overlay or sculpted over a form.

3. Shellac

If gel or acrylic nails scream loudly of fake nails, then this patented polish may just be for you. Shellac is more natural-looking and has a breezy removal process. That being said, it has a shorter life span.

But you can always apply another again, and your nails wouldn’t be a deathbed scene. So, why not, right? 

CHECK OUT: Alternative to Acrylic Nails

Other healthy alternatives to gel nails

Other healthy alternatives to gel nails

In this day and age, everyone demands the lowest risk for every beauty product. Got something minutely shady? Instantly canceled. 

Don’t worry; you’re not being a Karen. You are just opening your options wider.

When you walk down the healthy option aisle, you might be searching for this one particular phrase: vegan product. 

We all love these labels, obviously. For some reason, we feel closer to nature when we choose them. And if you are the conscientious type, say no more. 

SpaRitual creates the Gold Formulation line of 26 shades. It has a longer wear time than your regular polish and has a self-correcting feature if there’s a smudge. It is that flexible!

There’s probably another part of the healthy option you are particular about: the state of your nails. 

Could you get that glossy gel finish without ultimately suffering possible nail damage afterward?

Yes, yes, yes! 

This time, you won’t have to worry about any hard labor just to get them off. Your poor nails can finally rest!

Some great examples are Nails Inc.’s Gel Effect nail polish and Sally Hansen Miracle Gel nail polish. 

And if you are worried about longevity, these regular polishes last longer than your basic go-to.

Revlon’s Longwear Nail Enamel and Deborah Lippman’s Gel Lab Pro. 

You have a lot of options that either don’t have the difficulty associated with a gel manicure or even have gel formula at all.

If you are a newbie to gel alternatives, don’t be overwhelmed. It’s a trial and error basis. You go for what works for you. 

And as you are a newbie, it might be good also to remember that what you might want may not suit you at all. Not to be an alarmist, but there might be a chance you are allergic to these gel alternatives. In such cases, stop and reevaluate. 

You can always go for your regular polish or even take out those press-on nails you impulsively bought in a mall years ago and wear them. 

And if you are stubbornly sticking to gel mani, just try to take long breaks to encourage your nails to still grow strong and healthy.

It’s not just about UV rays or the hassle; it’s about sustainability. 

Do you want to do gel nails or other alternatives even when you’re older? Then take care of those nails and let them have that beauty rest when you can. 

Always remember: You can’t paint art on a ruined canvas.