Why Does Gel Polish Stay Sticky After Curing?

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It’s really frustrating when, despite having mastered perfectly shaping and buffing your nails, and laying on your base coat, gel color, and topcoats like a boss, equipped with your UV or LED lamp, for which you’ve carefully read the instructions… You are still left with sticky, tacky nails instead of the super-smooth, luxurious, glossy finish you were expecting.

What went wrong?

The thing is with gel, maybe you didn’t do anything wrong… or maybe you did. Gel polish is a different beast from regular nail polish. In this article, we are going to look at why does gel polish stay sticky after curing? And we’ll tell you how to fix it.

Why Does Gel Polish Stay Sticky After Curing?

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First, we’ll look at the short answers as to why your nails might still feel tacky after an at-home gel manicure.

There are three main reasons your gel polish is sticky after curing:

All gel manicures will feel sticky after curing*

All of your gel coats will feel tacky after curing. It’s a gel thing.

It’s the tackiness that allows each coat to stick to the next coat.

So you may have not done anything wrong during the application. It’s sticky because that’s how gel manicures work! We’ll get into details below as to why, and how to finish off your manicure to that smooth glossy, stick-free shine.

You haven’t let the layers fully cure before adding the next layer

Gel manicures require a 3-step process of a gel base coat, gel color, and topcoat. Each step has its own curing time, so make sure you read the product manufacturer’s instructions.

Be sure you are allowing them enough time to cure before proceeding to the next step.

Thick layers

Gel polish is a lot thicker than regular nail polish. You have to be careful not to paint on too thick a layer or it will not cure properly.

When the gel is applied too heavily, UV light cannot penetrate through the entire layer to cure it properly. Uncured gel polish can cause the topcoat to dull and discolor. It can also cause it to bubble and wrinkle as well, so thin layers are key!

A Sticky Situation

A gel manicure will be sticky even after curing*.

Now all you have to do is make sure that you are letting your layers cure for the appropriate amount of time before adding the next one.

And be sure that you are applying the gel in thin layers.

You’ll still have a sticky manicure because that’s the nature of gel nails, but not to worry!

Read on to find out why gel polish is sticky after curing (even if you’ve applied it properly) and the last step you need to do for that high gloss, shiny, professional look.

You may have noticed the (*) above – we’ll get to that in a bit.

Why are gel nails sticky when traditional polish is not?

Regular nail polish requires some air-dry time. But standard lacquer dries to a hard, glossy finish.

If gel nails are supposed to offer you that look but with much longer and stronger wear, but cures to a sticky finish, it hardly seems worth the extra time and expense to go for the gel.

So what is going on? Why are fancy gel nails sticky when regular plain old nail polish is not?

Let’s start with the base coats.

The base coat you use with regular nail varnish works to perform a totally different job than a base coat of gel polish. Not only is a base coat for a regular polish manicure optional, but its main function is to make sure your nail polish doesn’t stain your nails.

This is really important if you use darker colors such as reds and deeper more edgy colors like dark purples and blacks.

If you are using a lighter shade of regular nail polish, you don’t even need a base coat.

Although it is really important to let the regular polish base coat dry thoroughly before you add your nail color, it dries smoothly, not tacky like a gel base coat.

The base coat for regular nail polish also does not require curing under a nail lamp, as a gel nail base coat does.

When it comes to gel nails, the base coat is NOT an optional step. The base coat you put on with your gel manicure is there to make sure the gel polish properly adheres to your nail. It needs to remain sticky or tacky so that when you apply your gel color, it can literally stick to the base coat.

But it’s not just the base coast that cures with a sticky feeling. Each layer you apply for a gel manicure – base coat, gel color, and topcoat – will all feel sticky until you remove the stickiness.

Whereas you could compare regular nail polish to paint or varnish, which chemically clings to stuff, gel on the other hand is just that – gel.

If your gel manicure was made up of just gel, then it would simply slide off your nails.

Other components must be added to the gel to make it cure and the layers stick to your nails and the layers to each other. This of course makes them sticky!

How to remove the stickiness from gel nails after curing

Alright, so now you know that gel manicures are inherently sticky. And you know that stickiness ensures the gel adheres to not only your nail but also to the layers.

Now the only thing left for you to do is to remove the sticky residue!

What do you wipe your nails with after gel polish?

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Once you’ve finished your gel manicure, there is one last step that is often not mentioned. This step will remove the stickiness and give you that smooth, luxurious, glossy finish you were going for.

The most common, budget-friendly, and effective way to remove the sticky or tacky layer on top of your gel topcoat is to use Isopropyl alcohol. The alcohol will dissolve the sticky layer making it easy to wipe away.

Use a lint-free wipe  along with a high concentration alcohol (91% or more) to wipe off the tacky layer from the topcoat. You can also use disposable alcohol wipes   .

Don’t be afraid to wipe the nail. It’s dry.

Regardless of which you use – the wipe with alcohol or the alcohol wipe – it’s a good idea to use a fresh wipe for each nail to prevent cross-contamination from nail to nail.

You can also use a gel nail cleanser  instead of alcohol.

*There is an exception to this rule. Here’s where we get into the asterisk (*) from above. If you are using a no wipe top coat, you do not need to wipe your nails with anything. 

A no wipe top coat is exactly what it sounds like: a topcoat for gel polish that doesn’t dry sticky, nor does it need to be wiped with anything.

It’s quick, easy, and mess-free, not to mention saves you that extra step. Here are a few of our picks for the best no wipe top coats:

Take Away

Assuming you’ve applied your gel manicure properly by making sure you are using thin layers… and assuming you cure each layer before you start the next step, all you have to do is use an alcohol wipe or a gel cleanser on the top coat after it’s been cured as the final step. This will achieve that lustrous, polished, shiny, professional finish.

Your other alternative would be to use a no wipe top coat, which should dry to a glossy finish without the stickiness or the need to wipe it.

See also:

Heat Spike On Gel Nails: What is it?

Does A Nail Drill Burn?