Do Gel Nails Dry Instantly? How, Why, Method, the Answers!

So, you’ve got a great day or evening planned, maybe to a girly champagne bar, your friend’s hen night, dinner with your significant other, or even just a winter trip to the coast with your fur baby and friends and you really want your nails to look amazing!

Perhaps you’re going for a gorgeous midnight blue, dramatic graphite or a ‘goes with my whole life’ cherry shade. Whichever gel colour is currently at the top of your love list, it’s important to make sure your gel nails are completely dry before you head off!

So you may be asking yourself how quickly your home manicure and more specifically, gel nails will take to dry?

Do gel nails dry instantly? Gel nails will not dry or cure without the addition of either a UV or LED drying process. Both ways will start the process of polymerization. The molecules in the gel polish work with the light rays to produce a hard, smudge and chip-free finish. The process takes around 3 minutes.

Now that we’ve taken a look at the short answer as to if drying gel nails is a quick fix, first of all, let’s understand a little more about the difference between gel and more usual standard nail polishes, so we can make sure we can get them dried quickly and efficiently.

How gel nail varnish differs from standard polish?

Gel manicures are a real modern beauty must-have.They dry quickly, have an amazingly gloomy finish and best of all? Pretty much chip-free.

Good quality gel polishes can give you a professionally manicured salon look that can last up to 21 days. Traditional varnishes don’t have the virtuality indestructible finish of a gel and we all know how many times we reach in our bags for our phone and chipped nails are just not cutting it in our modern busy world. Gel nails provide real flexibility and gears wearing quality that is just not there in a traditional polish

So, it’s easy to see how gel nail polish has revolutionised manicures at home! With the onset of professional equipment such as base coats, topcoats and gel polish dryers, we are able to get the convenience of DIY, with a professional salon look that’s so flexible, it will stand up to daily wear and tear and still look amazing! 

So now we’ve looked at how gel polish differs from traditional lacquers, you may be wondering how long different types of nail varnishes take to dry. So let’s take a look below.


  • Traditional nail polish - The more traditional types of varnish take a considerable time before they are really dry to the touch and not ‘tacky’. It can take between one and two hours before your traditional nail polish will be completely dry. It can take longer if you are using a base, and a topcoat.
  • Gel nail polish dried with a UV drying lamp - when using a UV dryer, the initial base coat will take around 60 - 90 seconds to dry, followed by a further 60 - 90 seconds for the topcoat.
  • Gel nail polish dried with an LED drying lamp - When drying your gel polish nails, the base coat will take approx 30 seconds to dry, followed by a further 30 seconds for the topcoat to dry.

So although Gel nail varnish doesn’t dry instantly, we can understand that using either a UV or LED lamp, the drying process can be incredibly quicker than with traditional nail varnishes and lacquers.

It could be that you may also be wondering how the light works to set or cure your home gel nail manicure, so let’s take a look below to find out.

So how does LED or UV set my gel nail polish?

UV light

The active product in both UV and LED light source is UV light. It is this light which begins the drying process and sets your nails hard, without any smudging and with minimal chipping.

Traditionally, gel nail polish is cured by UV wavelengths. This light emits a range of UV wavelengths that compounds in the gel known as photoinitiators, absorb and then convert it into the energy required to begin the process of polymerization.

It is when the light attracts the molecules within the gel that makes the gel set hard and appear like the hard kind of plastic coating we are familiar with. 

LED light

LED lights work pretty much in the same way but the wavelengths they give off are narrower and with more energy, which is why an LED dryer is a little quicker in activating the drying process. There are particular elements within the LED that cure the gel faster than UV light.

“There are particular elements within LED that
cure the gel faster than UV light”

Can Drying lamps cause skin damage?

You might be wondering if exposure to drying processes via UV or LED can cause skin damage.

As with any kind of light waves, it makes sense to use any equipment involving UV light sensibly and make sure you keep your exposure to a minimum. Do take care when using UV types as a for those with sensitivity to UV it could cause skin damage if used extensively over a period of time.

So now you know a little bit more about gel nail polish, the types of drying processes and how long it can take to be nail ready, let’s take a look below about how to achieve that beautiful and sleek finish to your nails and how to get a really professional look at home!

How to get a great gel nail finish

  • Make sure you prepare your nails well by removing your old nail polish thoroughly and cleaning your nails
  • Prepare the beds of your nails by pushing back your cuticles with a cuticle stick and cotton wool.
  • Begin to shape your nails with a gentle nail file
  • Give your gel varnish a good surface to adhere to by lightly buffing your nails with a nail buffer block
  • Make sure you remove any residue of the buffing process and wipe your nails clean with a nail cleaner and a lint-free wipe
  • Once your nails are clean and buffed, apply your gel polish base coat. It’s important to remember to only apply a very thin layer of base and also make sure the base coat finishes without touching the cuticle. If you do get done on your cuticle by accident, you can wipe it off with a cuticle stick if necessary.
  • The next step is going to dry your base coat. Do this by placing all of your fingers (or toes) in either a UV or LED lamp. If using UV place inside for 1 minute, or if you’re using an LED type, for 30 seconds.
  • The next stage is to apply a thin layer of gel polish in your chosen colour.
  • Darker colours take a little longer to dry, so 3 min yes for a dark, 2 minutes for a lighter shade in a UV or 30 seconds in an LED dryer.
  • For a really professional finish, repeat the above two steps
  • Now apply a thin coat of gel polish top coat
  • Topcoats will take 2 minutes for UV or 30 seconds for LED
  • Use a nail cleanser or lint-free nail wipe to take off any tacky surface
  • Finally, for a really professional look, massage some cuticle oil around your cuticles and the skin around the nail

And finally…

We hope this article has given you loads of useful tips on drying your gel nails so you can enjoy the convenience of an expert salon finish in your own home!

Don’t forget to check out our store to find a huge range of beautiful gel colours to inspire you and also discover our range of starter kits which include salon-quality topcoats and base coat, along with a 24W LED dryer in a unique curved design, perfect for your fingers and toes!

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