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!

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