Can Gel Polish Air Dry?

Gel polish dominates other manicure procedures in that it creates the picture-perfect option for its consumers due to its smudge-free, long-wearing, and chip-resistance qualities. It offers an all-around perfect aesthetic appeal!

As a result, you may have questions relating to this on-trend beauty option, including some surrounding eco-friendly/economic choices and whether you can do it yourself.

If you choose to gel polish your own nails, this will almost likely lead to questions like “Can gel polish air dry?” since you don’t have a UV lamp.

Can Gel Polish Air Dry?

Gel polish cannot air dry and always requires explicitly a UV or LED lamp to cure/dry. The reason is that the Oxygen element (o2) in gel polish stops the gel molecules from binding together and forming the solid polymers that lead to curing. 

can gel polish air dry

As gel polish continues to take the beauty industry by storm, it is unlikely that there will be a quick end to questions about the process, especially with specific concerns about UV light and health.

So, if there are no handy UV or LED lamps, can gel polish air dry? Will gel polish cure in sunlight? Also, are there alternative methods for drying gel polish? Let’s discover more!

Why Can’t Gel Polish Air Dry?

All nail polishes are initially liquid substances. They beautify the nails after application and once dried. However, unlike regular nail polishes, gel polish won’t air dry.

Gel polish is a solid product of the UV light-induced organic bonding (curing) between acrylic oligomers and monomers. As a result, it won’t dry on its own after application due to its thicker-than-regular consistency. 

The only way to dry is by using a UV or LED lamp to activate the heavy molecules through a drying process known as curing. Any attempt to air-dry gel polish will leave you with a smudged manicure, or pedicure, due to its inability to air dry and auto-solidify.

Fact: Although gel polish doesn’t air dry, a type of gel polish – the no-light gel polish – can be air dried as it doesn’t need the curing process to make it look nice, but it won’t last as long as gel polish.

Since gel polishes won’t air dry, upon removal they must soak in acetone for at least ten minutes. While regular polish is easily removed by wiping with a nail polish remover and a cotton wool pad.

How Other Types of Nail Polish Respond to Air Drying?

If you are interested in having a home manicure, there are different nail polish options besides gel nails, such as regular nail polish and acrylic nails. So understanding the dynamics of their respective drying process will enable you to make the best choice for your nails.

1. Regular Nail Polish

a girl getting regular nail polish done

Regular nail polish is made of lighter volatile organic materials (solvents) such as ethyl or butyl acetate or alcohol that interact actively with air, allowing them to quickly air dry by evaporation. 

Moreover, their drying speed is based on the layers you apply. In other words, the thicker the coat, the longer your nails will take to air dry. Regular nail polish can take up to two hours to air dry.

If you are thinking of using UV light to dry your regular nail polish, the short answer is no, but you can find out why by reading the article.

Fact: Acrylic nails, made with methyl methacrylate liquid monomers, is discouraged in some states for being hazardous to health, potentially causing issues such as kidney problems, asthma, eye irritation, loss of smell, etc. Ethyl methacrylate liquid monomer is presented as a suitable alternative.

2. Acrylic Nails

how much do acrylic nails cost at a salon

Acrylic nails combine a liquid singular molecule (monomer) with a multi-molecule powdered compound (polymer) to form a paste that binds to your natural nails. As it dries and hardens, it gives your nails shape, length and thickness. 

Acrylic nails, like regular nail polish, also dry by evaporation. As a result, an atmosphere with higher humidity will cause your acrylic nails to dry slowly, while a dryer atmosphere will speed up the drying process.

Fact: A quick hack for applying regular or acrylic nail polish is to use the progressive coating system, where you apply an initial thin layer, allow it to air dry and build a second or third coating.

No-Light Gel Polish and How It Works

No light gel polish has long existed and is longer lasting than regular nail polish. They are air-dried, meaning they do not require a LED lamp or UV light to cure. Even though they are considered to be, in a sense, like regular nail polish, there is still a slight difference. For instance, they are thicker than regular nail polish.

How No-Light Gel Polish Works

They are applied the same way with gel polish but usually do not need a base coat to set. No light gel polish works with a minimum of two layers or color polish coating and finishes with a particular top coat.

However, each layer or coating must be utterly dry before adding on the next layer, or you risk a tacky manicure. You should already know how many layers of gel polish you should apply before doing it at home.

No light gel polish takes about an hour and thirty minutes to dry, slightly longer than conventional UV or LED light gel polish. This is partly due to the extra thick consistency of the no-light gel polish and the absence of a curing light or lamp.

Unfortunately, most no-light gel polishes only last about three to five days before chipping. To help you identify what type of gel polish you have, here is a table to illustrate how gel polish differs from no-light gel polish.

No light gel polishGel polish
It does not require a UV or LED light to dryIt requires a UV or LED light to cure 
It does not need a base coatThe use of a base coat yields a remarkable outcome
Works with a double coating of color, no light gel polish to setIt completely dries in less than an hour
It takes longer than an hour to completely dry

Will Gel Polish Cure in Sunlight?

a person trying to cure her gel polish under sunlight

Gel polish will cure under direct exposure to sunlight if you consider the chemical aspect of the curing process–gel polish is light sensitive. 

Although sunlight emits significant UV rays, enough to damage the eyes if you try to stare directly into it, or your skin with prolonged exposure without sunblock, it is not enough to effectively cure your nails in the physical sense of drying them.

Instead, sunlight activates the photosensitive process of the gel polish, causing it to thicken without drying and creating a semi-cured gel.

Gel polish can cure within a short amount of time, often 30 seconds to 2 minutes because the light rays are concentrated at higher energy to speed up the curing process. In other words, the sunlight must be more direct to achieve such results, making it impractical. 

Fact: Gel polish bottles are designed to prevent light from passing through them to avoid direct sunlight from activating the curing process minimally and yielding a sticky gel polish finish.

Are There Other Alternatives to Drying Gel Polish Without the UV Lamps?

Even though gel polish gives you the long-lasting glossy finish you desire, its UV-light curing mechanics could be a potential health hazard, especially with constant and prolonged exposure. 

Fortunately, there are alternative techniques for curing your gel polish and reducing exposure to UV rays. You could use a LED lamp, a non-UV gel polish, or a drying agent. 

The LED lamp is the most effective and recommended way to cure your gel polish while reducing UV light exposure. The reason is that LED lamps employ the same curing principle of UV light–photosensitivity and photoactivation. In comparison, other methods require gel-like variants that are not pure gel polishes. 

Final Thoughts 

Gel polish will not air dry, no matter how long you wait, because air does not possess the light energy required to activate the curing process in gel polish. It is best to cure gel polish with a UV or LED lamp to achieve the necessary effect.

Hopefully, this piece helps put things in perspective concerning the question, “can gel polish air dry” to give you a better manicure.