Does UV light Dry Regular Nail Polish?

Regular nail polish is the oldest and, once, the fastest-drying polish type in the industry. However, since its existence, several advances have been recorded in manufacturing longer-lasting nail polishes, like gel polish, with its special drying equipment–the UV or LED lamps.

Even though regular nail polish air dries, some wonder, “does UV light dry regular nail polish?” So let’s find out!

Does UV Light Dry Regular Nail Polish?

Regular nail polish will not dry faster with UV light, but the heat may hasten the drying process compared to air drying. It does not contain these photoactive ingredients or photoinitiators–they do not cure and will not dry under UV light.

If you are planning on starting your home nail salon or are nail savvy, understanding how different nail polishes dry is invaluable for achieving a perfect finish.

does uv light dry regular nail polish

So in this article, we will go over everything you need to know surrounding the question–”does UV light dry regular nail polish?”

Why UV Light Isn’t Appropriate for Regular Nail Polish

Understanding why UV light is inappropriate for regular nail polish requires a little dip into the world of organic chemistry. Essentially, UV light acts on the photoinitiators in gel polish to dry it through a chemical process known as curing. Photoinitiators are chemical compounds that produce radicals when in contact with ultraviolet light (UV). 

The radicals produced further react with single large molecules (monomers) and multi-large molecules (polymers) to start up the growth of a polymer chain of free radicals, essential for solidifying the nail polish coat during the curing process.

Regular nail polish does not contain any light-sensitive compounds, making it a mismatch for UV light. You could place your hands painted with regular nail polish under the UV light and get no result because regular nail polish lacks the active ingredient for curing–photoinitiators.

Why UV Light Dries Gel Polish fast?

Moreover, prolonged exposure to UV light could harm your health because of the radiation. This is why gel polish, designed to dry under UV light, are manufactured to have very short drying or curing time to reduce human exposure to radioactive rays.

Evaporation is the scientific mechanism responsible for the drying of regular nail polishes. The reason is that they contain volatile compounds like butyl and ethyl methacrylate that quickly evaporate when exposed to air. In other words, regular nail polish require a sufficient oxygen supply to catalyze the reaction behind its drying process instead of UV light. 

Fun fact: when using regular nail polish, the color of the polish influences its air-drying speed. As a result, lighter colors dry faster than darker colors.

The Science Behind Regular Nail Polish and Their Functionality

The market is saturated with several nail products designed to reduce drying time. From nail polish to sprays and drops, all claim to function with quick-dry technology. However, a closer look reveals they all work with the same principle as regular nail polish, except for gel polish. 

For a better understanding of the dynamics of regular polish and why UV light isn’t good for them, below is a table explaining the ingredients of nail polish and their significance.

Nail Polish IngredientsSignificance
Solvent It forms the primary volatile liquid within which other solid compounds are dissolved and mixed for homogeneity. 
It is that aspect of the nail polish responsible for the quick evaporation and drying process.
Film formers (nitrocellulose)They are responsible for the smooth surface of the polish when applied.
Resin They add gloss and shine to the dried coat.
Plasticizers They are responsible for the film’s flexibility in controlling chipping. This feature is lower in regular polish compared to gel.
PigmentThey give the nail polish its color 

Fun fact: Ingredients like titanium dioxide and mica give a pearly shimmering effect to nail polish.

Essentially, the quick-dry technology employed in making most regular nail polishes to save time works by adjusting the ratio of solvent to other solute ingredients so that more solvent is added to facilitate the evaporation process and reduce drying time. 

On the flip side, applying thin coats of polish will produce a similar reduced drying time. You can always build your layers with extra coatings.

How Long Does Gel Polish Take To Dry Compared to Regular Nail Polish?

While regular polish takes about 45 minutes to a few hours, depending on the brand, to air dry, gel polish dries in seconds through a chemical process called curing. The curing time for gel polish varies depending on the curing lamp and the thickness.

Below is a table that summarizes the drying time against each type of nail polish variant: 

Nail Polish VariantDrying Time
Air-dried regular nail polishIt takes about one to two hours, possibly longer if you add a base and top coat.
UV-cured gel polish It takes 30-90 seconds
LED light-dried gel polishIt takes approximately 30 seconds

You can learn more about how each coat of gel polish may take to dry by reading my other article, which discusses gel polish curing time in depth.

Why Regular Nail Polishes May Take Longer To Dry

a hand with a timer running

By now, you already know that regular nail polishes take significant time to air dry. Regardless, your regular polish can exceed the expected drying time. Here are some fundamental reasons:

  • Applying Thicker Coats: Thicker coats take longer to dry and will exceed the usual one to two hours, yielding a messy result. You should always apply nail polish thinly and build it to several thinner coats.
  • Using an Old Nail Polish: Newer nail polishes are smoother and thinner, making them easier to apply for an even finish. In contrast, older polishes are thicker and difficult to use, yielding a tacky finish.
  • Painting in a Hurry: A manicure is a form of self-love and should only be done when you have enough time to spare. This way, you can ensure the base coat dries appropriately before applying a top coat. 

Best Ways To Dry Regular Nail Polish

a woman blowing her nails to air dry them

Regular nail polish only needs air to dry. As a result, buying any UV or LED lamp is pointless. However, there are other appropriate ways to speed up the drying process of regular nail polish if you are in a hurry.

They include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A hand dryer that blows steady air.
  • Nail polish drying sprays as aerosols.
  • Drying drops absorb solvents.
  • A nail fan with an enclosed high-speed rotating motor.

Final Thoughts: Can Normal Nail Polish Dry Under LED Light?

Regular nail polish has the advantage of not exposing yourself to UV light, which benefits those with sensitive skin.

However, now that you know that UV light will not dry regular nail polish, this article has provided you with sufficient information to help you effectively manipulate your regular manicure to get the best from it.