Can You Dry Gel Nails With A Hairdryer? [Answered]

Reviewed by: Jenna Law - Nail Artist

When curing gel nails, it’s customary to do so underneath a UV light. But what if you don’t have a UV lamp to hand? Can you dry gel nails with a hairdryer?

a woman's nails being painted by another set of hands wearing gloves.

In short, no, gel nail polish will not dry (cure) properly if you use a hair dryer instead of a UV lamp. The curing process specifically requires UV light which the hair dryer obviously does not provide.

How Does Gel Nail Polish Dry?

To start, let’s clarify that gel nail polish doesn’t dry like regular nail polish. Instead, it cures or hardens. 

The curing process has to do with the chemical makeup of the nail polish. 

Gel nail polish is made of many ingredients but the important ones are the photoinitiators and monomers. Without one or the other, gel nail polish wouldn’t work.

The photoinitiators are what start the chemical reaction that is gel nail polish curing. The monomers are what the chemical reaction changes. 

The reaction is called polymerization and involves the monomers in the gel bonding together to form polymers. This is an exothermic reaction which is why you feel your nails heating up.

The process looks a little like this:

  1. After application, a gel layer is placed under a UV or LED lamp.
  2. The UV or LED lamp provides energy for the photoinitiators.
  3. The photoinitiators release free radicals (free-moving electrons).
  4. The free radicals encounter the monomers.
  5. The monomers begin to bond together forming harder polymers.
  6. The polymerization process finishes when the gel polish becomes hard.

Can Gel Polish Dry On Its Own?

If you don’t have time to use a UV lamp or don’t have access to one you may be wondering if the gel polish will still dry. 

Unfortunately, the answer is no. As detailed above, gel nail polish requires the Ultra Violet radiation given off by UV and LED lamps.

Gel polish is unlike normal nail polish which can dry without help from an outside source. The monomers in gel nail polish will not polymerize without the energy from UV light. 

However, this does mean that you can sun cure your gel polish.

So while your gel polish won’t dry on its own, you can skip the UV lamp if it’s a sunny day. Just remember to apply sunscreen.

Can I Use A Hair Dryer To Dry My Gel Nails?

close up of a woman painting the nails of another woman on top of a pink table with gems and nail polish.

No, you cannot use a hair dryer to dry true gel nails. However, hair dryers can be helpful when drying traditional nail polishes as the flow of air can speed up the process. 

How Do You Make Gel Nail Polish Dry Faster?

Although gel nail polish dries faster than traditional nail polish, the application can still be a slow process. 

Thankfully there are a couple of ways to speed up the curing process.

These methods include:

  • Use an LED lamp
  • Apply thinner coats

Use An LED lamp

UV lamps are great. They do the job and they do it well. That said, LED lamps can cure your gel nails slightly faster. 

UV lamps emit a broad range of UV light whereas LED lamps are more focused. These focused UV wavelengths are more efficient at curing gel polish.

LED lamps can take as little as 30 seconds to cure your gel polish. UV lamps take closer to a minute or two. 

Another benefit is that LED lamps won’t need replacements as often as UV lamps. The downside is that LED lamps are usually more expensive than UV lamps. Additionally, some gels only cure using UV. 

Apply Thinner Coats

This one can be tricky but will speed up the curing process slightly. The thinner you make your various layers (while still looking good) the quicker it will cure.

It’s a pretty simple thing but if you do it efficiently you can save time.

Of course, it can also take extra time to make sure you’re only applying really thin layers. So unless you’re super quick during the application stage you won’t save that much time during the curing stage. 

Why Are My Gel Nails Not Drying?

close up of a woman's hands with manicured nails.

If your gel nails aren’t curing like normal don’t worry. The potential reasons are relatively easy to fix. 

Unfortunately, some require you to restart but better starting over than go out with uncured nails. 

Some of the potential reasons include:

  • The UV lamp is dying
  • Polish coat is too thick
  • The polish has expired
  • This polish takes longer to cure
  • The polish and lamp type don’t match

Dying UV Lamp

The first thing to check is your UV lamp. The bulbs in these lamps don’t last forever. Chances are the bulb is going if you’ve had the lamp for a long time without replacing it. 

While UV bulbs can last longer–especially if only used occasionally–you should replace the bulb at least every year.

Polish Was Applied Too Thick

Just as applying thin layers can speed up the curing process applying a layer too thickly will slow it. If the layer is too thick it may even make the curing process impossibly slow. 

Be sure to apply the polish thinly as that will help it and save you some polish. 

Thick layers can still cure but it will take much longer since there is more polish that needs to polymerize.

Expired Gel Polish

Gel nail polish has a very long shelf life, but it does have an upper limit. Even when stored in a dark cool place your gel polish will eventually lose its quality.

Expiration doesn’t make the polish unusable. It just makes it look worse and harder to apply. 

The typical shelf life for gel nail polish is about 2 years. They can last up to 3, but at that point, it won’t be the same polish. 

Slow Curing Gel Polish

It is also possible that the gel polish you’re using is a little slower when it comes to curing. Each nail polish has a different composition. Sometimes that changes how long it takes to cure. If you’ve changed the polish you use this may be the reason.

The Gel Polish Only Cures With UV or LED

Lastly, you could be using the wrong polish for your lamp. There are plenty of gel polishes that will cure under both LED and UV lamps. That said, not every gel polish will. Some will only cure under UV lamps. 

Will Any LED Light Cure Gel Polish?

close up of a woman's hands, folded with gold and dark brown nails and she is also wearing a diamond ring

As mentioned above, LED lights are very helpful, but not perfect. Whether a LED light will cure your gel polish depends on both the polish and the LED. 

Certain gel nail polishes will only be cured by UV lamps. These polishes should include this information either on the bottle or website.

As for the LEDs themselves, only LEDs above a certain wattage will be able to cure your gel polishes. Look for LED lamps that are at or above 36 watts. These will emit enough UV radiation to cure your nails.

Additionally, the LEDs need to be designed for nail curing. An LED flashlight won’t work because the LEDs are covered in a film that makes the light appear more white.

This film means that they won’t be able to cure gel nails.

Other Ways To Dry Gel Nails Without UV Light

Curing with UV light, whatever the source, is really the only way to truly cure your gel nails. Between UV lamps, LED lamps, and the sun you should be able to use UV light.

That said, cooking oil sprayed on your gel nails is said to harden them after several hours. The same has been said about immersing your nails in an ice bath.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can I use gel nail polish outside?

You cannot use gel polish outside as the sun will begin curing it. You will either cure your bottle of gel polish or end up with partially cured nails before you’re ready.

How do I know if my gel nails are cured?

Look to see if your nails a bright and shiny. If they are not, they aren’t cured yet. Other signs include runny polish, cloudiness, air bubbles, and uneven surface.

Why are my gel nails still tacky?

After curing, your gel nails will still feel sticky. This is what helps the later coats stick to the previous. When you get to the top coat you need to wipe the tackiness off with a bit of rubbing alcohol.

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