Gel polish looks great and lasts a long time. But what about the UV light you need to harden it? If you want to avoid it can you use gel polish without UV light?
Due to the way that gel polish cures you have to use UV light from one source or another. However, there are gel-like nail polishes that do not require UV light.
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.
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.
Can You Use Gel Polish Without UV Light?
Since UV light can be bad for your skin health, many people want to avoid excessively exposing themselves to it.
This understandable desire leads to people attempting to eliminate it from their manicures. Unfortunately, if you want to use gel nail polish you have to cure it with UV light.
If you do not cure the gel polish with a UV or LED lamp it would remain wet until eventually being cured by UV light from the sun.
If you were to apply gel nail polish to something in a perfectly dark closet and leave it there, it would remain in gel form indefinitely.
Any true gel nail polish will only be cured by UV light. However, there are a few nail polishes that are either designed to look and feel similar to gel nail polish or are of similar quality.
- No-light gel polish
- Dip nails
- Acrylic nails
Each alternative comes with its pros and cons, but they do remove UV light from the process. If none of these alternatives are to your liking, you can also reduce your UV exposure when applying gel nail polish.
It is helpful to wear sunscreen or fingerless gloves when curing your gel nail polish. While these options won’t allow you to use gel polish without UV light, they will reduce the harmful effects.
How To Cure Gel Nails Without A UV Light
If you are determined to find a way to cure gel nail polish without using UV light, there are a few anecdotal life hacks that claim to work.
Several articles claim that cold water baths and cooking spray will do the trick–after several hours.
What is more likely is that the nail polish used in these life hacks were not true gel polishes. It is also possible that advice for one type of nail polish is mistakenly being applied to gels.
The cold water finger bath for example actually works, to a degree, on regular nail polish. The cold water will harden the outer layer of the regular polish.
Unfortunately, the layers beneath the top will not be fully dried and will have a harder time drying through a solid outer layer.
Whatever the case, here’s how to apply gel-like polishes without UV light.
How To Apply No-Light Gel Polish
No-light gel polish can be applied just like regular nail polish. The polish will air dry after several minutes instead of curing in a minute or so with UV light.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- No-light gel polish
- No-light gel polish top coat (if needed)
- Nail clippers
- Nail file
- Cuticle oil
- Something to push cuticles
- Buffing tool
- Cotton balls
- Nail polish remover
Once you have these items you can get started. If you want your nails to dry faster you can use a quick-drying nail polish spray.
Some no-light gel polishes will come with special top coats. If they do not, check if that brand needs one.
Check out our carefully curated list of the best nail polish removers that actually work.
- Start by clipping your nails. Shape them however you like.
- Then use the file to smooth any edges and perfect the shape.
- Drip some cuticle oil on each of your fingernail beds.
- When the oil has had a chance to be absorbed, push your cuticles back.
- Put a bit of nail polish remover on a cotton ball. Wipe each nail with the cotton ball.
- Buff each fingernail with the buffing tool.
- Apply your first color coat.
- Wait at least two minutes before applying the second color coat.
- Wait another two minutes then apply the top coat.
- Wait for your nails to dry.
How Long Does It Take For Gel Nails To Dry Without UV Light?
These no-light gel nail polishes are a middle ground between regular nail polish and gel nail polish.
They will take longer to dry than it takes to cure gel polish. The time it takes to dry will be closer to regular nail polish.
As with regular polish, the drying time depends on a few things. One of which is the coating thickness.
Adding several coats will extend the drying time. Even when you wait between coats, the polish will still need time to dry completely.
This can take as little as 15 minutes to up to an hour.
Some other factors include:
- Quick-dry nail polish spray
Spraying your nails with quick-dry spray or a drop from a liquid can speed up the drying process.
These products are made of quick-drying ingredients that help pull out the solvents in nail polish.
Airflow in the form of a hair dryer can help speed up regular nail polish drying. Just set the hair dryer to cool and hold it several inches away from your nails.
The increased circulation can help the drying time.
Neither factor will speed the drying process overly much. That said, they will help prevent awful smudges.
Does Opi Gel Polish Need UV Light?
OPI’s GelColor polish product line does require UV light to cure. GelColor is a true gel nail polish.
This nail polish can be cured with UV lamps or LED lamps. OPI sells an LED lamp specifically designed for curing gel nail polish.
You can find nearly every color in the GelColor line in the Nail Lacquer line as well. This is great if you like a color but don’t want to go through the gel curing process.
Does Opi Nail Lacquer Need UV Light?
OPI’s Nail Lacquer product line does not require UV light to cure. This product line is regular nail polish. It will air dry in the usual drying times for regular nail polish.
OPI recommends using their quick-drying liquid to dry the nails so that they’re touchable. This will help you avoid smudges and other imperfections.
Can You Use UV Light To Dry Regular Nail Polish?
UV light can cure gel nails completely in roughly 30 seconds to 2 minutes. It would be great if UV light would do the same for regular nail polish.
Sadly, UV light wouldn’t do anything to regular polish. All it would be is a quick dose of UV radiation.
Regular nail polish dries through evaporation. Regular nail polish is a film (usually nitrocellulose) suspended in a solvent. The solvent evaporates when exposed to air.
The smell associated with nail polish is those solvents. UV light does not increase the evaporation rate of these solvents.
Some salons have special UV lamps that have fans built-in. The air circulation provided by these fans could help speed up the drying time of regular nail polish.
This is the closest to UV light drying regular polish as will occur.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
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.
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.
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.
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.