Can You Use Gel Polish On Natural Nails?

If you’ve only seen pics of gel manicures and have yet to experience one yourself, you might think they look too flawless to be real. Surely no polish can make natural nails look that good! So, what’s the deal? Do you need fake nails to wear gel polish, can you use gel polish on natural nails? 

Gel nail polish is formulated to be used on natural and artificial nails. When applied to healthy natural nails using the proper technique and cured under LED or UV light, a gel manicure can last up to three weeks without smudging, peeling, or chipping.   

Your natural nails can be the perfect canvas for gel polish! However, the success of your gel mani comes down to how it’s applied. I’ll share pro tips (and mistakes to avoid) for applying a lasting 5-star gel mani to natural nails.

can you use gel polish on natural nails

Does Gel Polish Work On Natural Nails?

Gel polish can work on any nail, real or fake. 

LED or UV light makes gel nail polish stick to all types of nails. The light causes a chemical reaction that hardens the polish and makes it cling to the nails. Once the polish has set under the light, we say it’s cured. 

So, it’s not the type of nail that helps you nail a gel mani, but the curing of the polish. 

Good to know: Gel polish works best on healthy natural nails. You can tell your nails are in good condition if they’re smooth and strong without blotches. On the flip side, unhealthy nails (think: dry, brittle, and spotty) can be damaged by applying and removing gel polish. Regularly moisturizing your nails and letting them go polish-free now and then help keep them healthy.  

Without the crucial curing step, gel nail polish won’t work on natural nails. It will stay gloopy and smudgy. You need that light-triggered chemical reaction to get gel polish to set and stay on the nails. You’ll find gel polish formulations that airdry, but these aren’t the real deal. They don’t look as good or last as long as gel polish that cures under light.

Curing isn’t the only essential step for getting gel polish to work on natural nails. There are several other technique must-dos for stellar results. You should learn the drying time for gel polish, so you don’t make any mistakes along the way.

Now, let’s go over the steps to using gel polish successfully on natural nails.

How To Use Gel Polish On Natural Nails 

I’ll break down a winning gel mani into 2 basic steps: prep and polish. 

Step #1: Prep The Nails

Can You Use Gel Polish On Natural Nails?

Your gel mani’s fate is sealed long before polish touches a nail. What you do to the nails before applying polish will make the difference between dreamy and disappointing results. 

Gel polish is made to be used on all nail types, but it doesn’t work well on natural nails that haven’t been prepped. 

Natural nails are usually shiny, partly covered by cuticles, and have debris and oil on them. All these elements can stop gel polish from sticking properly. So, you need to get sprucing!

Here’s how to get natural nails ready for gel polish:

  1. File the nails to neaten and shape them.
  2. Gently push back the cuticles. (You can apply cuticle oil first to soften and protect the cuticles, but wipe off the oil with acetone polish remover after you’re done.)
  3. Lightly buff the whole nail plate to remove shine and create a rough texture the polish can stick to. Don’t forget the edges. 
  4. Dust away nail debris and dead skin with a nail brush, and then swipe rubbing alcohol over the nails (using lint-free material) to ensure they’re squeaky clean. Let the nails dry. 

Alert: Some gel polish manufacturers advise using a primer or bonder before applying the polish. Read and follow your product brand’s instructions.

Step #2: Apply Base Coat, Color Gel, And Top Coat 

apply a gel base coat on natural nail

Now your nails are ready to be dressed to impress!

This is how to apply gel polish like a pro:

  1. Apply a thin, even layer of base coat to your nails. Remember to paint the top edge of the nails to seal the polish and make it last (this is called capping). Then cure it under LED or UV light. A base coat is sometimes skipped by a lot of technicians, so do you actually need a base coat for gel polish?
  2. It’s time for the most rewarding step: applying the colored gel. Paint a thin layer using short strokes. Get as close to the sides and cuticles as possible without getting any polish on the skin, and cap the tips. Use a striper brush for more control at the edges. When all looks good, cure the polish. Keep applying thin layers and curing them until the color is as bold as you want. 
  3. Apply a layer of top coat next, from right next to the cuticle to just over the tip, and cure it. After curing the top coat, you might be left with a sticky layer on your nails. Just wipe this off with rubbing alcohol. Gel polish needs a top coat to seal all the layers, and keep your gel nails well-protected.
  4. When the nails are cool, massage the skin under them with cuticle oil which will benefit your nails in many ways.

Follow these prepping and polishing guidelines, and you should end up with gel-polished natural nails you can’t stop admiring!

However, if you don’t get the results you had in mind, here’s what might have gone wrong:

The ProblemThe Fix
Thick layers of gel polish might not cure properly, creating a wrinkly, bubbly, or squishy effect. Thick layers can also create a globby look. Apply several thin layers and fully cure each one before adding another.
Not painting the nails’ top edge can cause the polish to separate from the nail.By painting the nails’ top edge, you’ll help create a lasting bond between polish and nails. 
Getting polish onto the skin can make the polish peel off the nail over time. Paint super carefully to avoid getting any polish on the skin. 
Applying polish over an oily or dirty nail surface can make the polish shrink and pull away from the edges and cuticle.  Clean the nails with rubbing alcohol or primer before painting them. 
Applying polish to nails with a smooth, shiny surface can stop the polish from sticking.Gently buff nails to roughen up their texture before applying polish. 


Gel polish can be the perfect beauty treatment for natural nails. For top results that last, apply gel polish to healthy natural nails using a pro technique. Must-do steps include thoroughly prepping the nails and applying thin, even layers of base coat, color gel, and top coat to the whole nail plate (including the top edge) while avoiding getting them on the skin.

I hope you have found this article helpful and you were able to find your answer to the question “Can you use gel polish on natural nails?“.