Why Is My Gel Polish Not Curing? Explained!

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Gel nail polishes are durable and beautiful. They start as something liquid, then turns into a hardened product after being cured under a UV or LED light. 

Most salons already know how to do this. Head to a salon and you’ll end up with great results. However if you’re doing it at home, you may encounter some problems. 

Sometimes your polish just doesn’t cure properly.

Why is my gel polish not curing? Why won’t my gel polish dry after minutes under UV light?

There are three main reasons your gel polish is not curing:

  • It could be due to the gel polish
  • There could be an issue with the lamp you’re using
  • Your application technique could be off 

Let’s discuss that further below. But before that, let’s first get to know how gel polish hardens and what UV and LED light has to do with it. 


Gel Polish: Let’s Get Scientific

Gel Nail Polish

You’re not really here for the science stuff, we know. It may seem boring but most of the time, knowing the reason behind the things will better help you troubleshoot your problem. 

The procedure for applying gel polish involves multiple steps. You have to apply the basecoat, the color coats and the topcoat. Each of the coats need to be cured under a UV or LED lamp set to a specific wavelength. 

So what exactly happens when that UV light shines on the gel polish? Well, first of all, the gel polish contains a chemical that reacts to the light.

The UV lights start the reaction which polymerizes the resin. The process of polymerization is what causes the gel to harden. However, it  also creates heat in the process. That could be the reason why some people feel heat spikes.

Why Is My Gel Polish Not Curing?

UV Nail Lamp

In order to cure UV gel polish, it needs to be exposed to UV light. Each coat should be exposed to Ultraviolet light to make sure that it is completely cured. If not, there is a chance that the lower layers wouldn’t be completely cured. 

Note: the same is true of LED nail polish and LED light.

As the polymerization completes, the gel polish hardens completely. However, there are some cases when something wrong happens and the gel polish doesn’t harden at all. This can be due to the following:

  • the gel nail polish
  • the UV lamp
  • the application

Let’s look at each in depth.

1. The Gel Nail Polish

If you are wondering why won’t my gel polish dry after minutes under UV light, it could be due to the nail polish.

Here’s what you might be experiencing:

Wrong Polish Used

The first thing that you should check is if your gel polish is really a gel polish. Should it really be cured under a UV or LED lamp?

There are some polishes that do not require a UV lamp for it to harden and be cured. However, they do require exposing them to air for quite some time. Check the polishes that you are using and make sure they are UV gel polishes. 

There are also some polishes  that are labeled as “gel” but don’t require UV light. They are simply meant to look like gel polishes when they dry. 

Although they won’t require UV lamps, they will still require some time to dry up. You simply have to wait for them to dry up. 

Expired Gel Polish

Expired products may not work as well. Some may still work, but if they’re old, there’s a good chance the process will fail. Usually, gel nail polishes are good for up to 36 months. To be on the safe side, most people get rid of them 24 months after opening. 

If your gel polish previously dried up when you used it and you just recently encountered the problem, expiration may be the cause.  

Normal Sticky Layer

Gel polishes will usually comprise a base coat, a color coat, and a top coat. There are different formulations for such gel polishes. 

Some gel polishes will form a sticky layer on top even if they are cured. This is quite common for base coats. However, this doesn’t mean that your gel polish isn’t cured. You just have to go through the layers until you reach the top coat. 

Once you’ve used the topcoat and cured it, there could still be a sticky residue. Many people think that this means that their gel polish is not properly cured.

However, that sticky layer simply needs to be wiped off. Check your topcoat and see the formulation. Some are of a no wipe formula  while others will require you to wipe off the tacky layer. 

2. The UV Lamp

The UV lamp is another factor that could affect whether your gel polish cures or not. Here are a few things that could happen:

Wrong Lamp Used

LED Nail Lamp

If your gel nails don’t cure, one of the things that you should also check is the nail lamp that you use. Are you really using a UV lamp or a LED lamp? It makes a huge difference!

If your gel polishes are only cured by a UV lamp, then you have to use a UV Lamp – an LED one won’t work.

There are some gel polishes that are only made for LED lamps. However there are also some that can be used for both UV and LED.

These styles are now the most common, as UV lamps have fallen out of favor due to skin health concerns.

Regardless, you have to use the right type of lamp to properly cure the polishes or else they won’t cure and harden. 

Bulbs Need Replacement

When did you buy your UV lamp, and when was the last time you changed your bulbs?

Ooops, do bulbs really need to be changed?

Most people who use UV lamps for personal use at home might think that they don’t need to be changed. However, that not necessarily true. 

The UV bulbs need to be changed regularly. Most salons will change the bulbs on their UV lamps every 4 months. However for home use, you could stretch that to 6-8 months. 

If you observe that it takes longer for the gel nail polish to dry under the UV lamp that it used too, then there is a great chance that the bulbs really need to be replaced. 

And often it’s cheaper to just get a new LED nail lamp , rather than stick with older UV technology.

3. The Application 

Gel polishes can also fail to cure depending on the application. Here are a few things that you might be doing that’s why it isn’t curing properly.

Incorrect Use Of Gel Polish

Gel nails won’t work if you only use the color coat. It needs a base coat and a topcoat to properly adhere to the nails and to prevent it from chipping or peeling. 

Make sure you use the complete set. Also, you need to use them in the proper order. 

Each Layer Should Be Cured Separately

Whenever you apply a layer, it should be fully cured before applying another layer. So after the base coat, you need to cure it under the lamp before using the color coat. 

You can use the color coat multiple times to get to the color you want. However, you should make sure that you use the lamp after each coat. That will ensure that the coats are entirely cured before moving onto the next. 

Layers Are Too Thick

Another thing you should take note of is the thickness of your layers. Although you cure each layer as you add it, you should still not make layers that are too thick. 

Thin layers are best. Even, think coat ensure that there is adequate exposure to the UV light to cure all of it. If your layers are too thick, only the topmost layer would be properly cured. 

It’s okay to use multiple layers if you wish. Just make sure that they are thin and that you cure them properly before moving onto the next. 

Curing Time Is Too Short

Another reason why your gel polish doesn’t cure properly is because the curing time is too short. Curing gel nail polish under UV lamps will usually require more time as compared to  those cured under the LED lamps. 

Usually, you need around 90 seconds to cure UV gel nail polishes. However, it will only take about 30 seconds to cure the LED gel polishes. 

Although that is the average time, it may still vary from one brand to another. 

The best thing to do is to stick to the instructions. They will tell you how much time your gel nails need to be cured. Over exposure could also lead to over-curing, which you don’t want either!

Final Thoughts

Gel nail polishes are great, and are mostly chosen for their durability. Many love them, but newbies may struggle a bit until they’ve got the system worked out. One of their problems would involve properly curing the gel nail polishes. 

The UV light is needed by gel polishes to initiate the polymerization reaction of the resin. That is responsible for hardening the gel polishes. 

Some wonder why their gel polishes don’t cure after minutes under the UV light. The exact cause of the problem will vary. 

There are three main things you should check when you have this kind of problem and that would be the gel polish you use, the UV lamp used and the application process. 

Good luck!

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Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).