Why Isn’t My Gel Polish Curing?

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Discover why your gel polish isn’t curing and what signs to look out for.

Gel nails are a popular manicure because they are a lot stronger and last much longer than regular nail polish.

However, it is a very technical manicure, and it is easier to get things wrong when applying them. A common question related to gel nails is, why isn’t my gel polish curing?

The one most common reasons are that the gel polish is applied too thick. Thick layers of gel polish mean that the light that cures the polish has a hard job getting through each layer, so it ends up curing just the top layer.

This post looks at the four main reasons why your gel polish isn’t curing, how to know if your gel hasn’t cured properly, and a few frequently asked questions surrounding gel polish.

Why Isn’t My Gel Polish Curing?

There are many reasons why your gel polish isn’t curing, and as each individual has a different manicure, it is hard to be certain as to which one is the possible reason.

However, most times, it’s to do with the process or how it is applied rather than the gel polish itself. Here are four possible reasons as to why your gel polish isn’t curing.

Your gel layers are too thick 

Gel polishes needed to be applied in thin layers to ensure it has cured correctly. The topcoats will absorb the UV light before the lower layers, which can be misleading if the top layer hardens as expected.

If the layers are too thick, the UV light will not be able to penetrate beneath the topcoat, leaving you with a hardened top layer and uncured layers underneath.

Applying thinner layers will ensure that it is cured all the way through, it’ll give you a better-looking manicure, and it’ll ensure the chemicals that need to be released have all gone. 

A key tip to making sure you apply thinner layers is, wipe the brush on the bottle’s neck before applying it to the nail. If there’s less on the brush, it’ll mean there’s not as much product on the nail; this is great, especially for lighter colours.

With lighter colours, it’s harder to see how thick the layers are, so naturally, you end up applying too much, making the layers thicker, which is what you want to avoid.

You are using the wrong lamp

Gel polishes either use UV or LED lamps to cure, but you have to use the correct one. When it comes to gel polishes, each polish has to be cured by the correct lamp; so if you have a UV gel polish, you can’t use an LED lamp and vice versa. 

Another essential thing to note with gel polishes and the lamps is that the majority of the time, each brand has its own lamp, and sometimes the gel polishes won’t work with other lamps.

So if you decide to buy a different brand polish from what you initially get or choose to buy the lamp separately from the polishes, you need to be aware of this issue. 

It would be best to buy a lamp that is compatible with the gel polishes you buy; otherwise, your manicure will never cure properly. You may think buying a cheaper lamp will save money, or it does the same thing as the more expensive one, but you need to get the correct one for your gels. Not only will it give you the best results, but it’ll also save you money in the long run compared to the cheaper option.

The bulbs need changing

A misconception of UV and LED lamps, especially if it’s for personal home use, is that the bulbs don’t need changing; but this is completely wrong.

On average, UV lamp bulbs need changing every 4 months, if used on a constant professional level, and every 6 to 8 months if you do home gel manicures or it is just for personal use. 

Led lamps do last a lot longer, but they still do need to be changed; if you work in a busy professional setting, then they need to be changed every two years; if you use it for domestic use or you have a small business, then you can go much longer without changing them.

This does change with each brand and version of the lamp, but each lamp should come with some instructions to give you more accurate timings.

It is important, though, to get into a routine of checking your lamps and keeping a note of how old the bulbs are. Not only is this better practice and safer use for you, but it also will keep the standards of the results high.

If you don’t check your bulbs, you’ll have your hands under the lamps for a longer time to cure your nails properly, and the more exposure you have isn’t safe and not what is recommended; so it is crucial. 

You haven’t prepared the nail properly

You need to apply a base coat and topcoat; if you don’t use these, your nails cure properly. Each layer, base coat, gel polish, and topcoat all need to be cured, so after each coat is applied, it does need to be cured for the recommended time. This ensures that each layer cured properly, as stated in the point before, and you aren’t left with a tacky surface.

You also need to make sure that, with LED cured gels, once the topcoat has been applied and cured, you wipe the nails with either alcohol or a non-acetone solution that comes with the products you are using.

If you fail to do this step, the polish will be tacky and look as if it hasn’t been cured properly. Curing the nails hardens the gel polish, and then wiping it with the solution or alcohol seals the polish.

How to know if your gel polish isn’t curing properly

A few key signs indicate your gel polish isn’t curing correctly, but a key sign is the bubbling of the gel polish. The bubbling will look like small holes in the nail polish, but these are the areas where the polish has not adhered well to the nail. It may not be something you see straight away, but a few hours or days after the initial application. 

While this is the main indication, others include a dull appearance, soft surface, a sticky feel rather than hard, and can easily wipe off or file the gel. If any of these are experienced, then it means that certain unreacted ingredients haven’t been able to leave the nail polish, and it could cause skin irritation, so you must make sure your nails have completely cured. 

If you have got your nails done at a nail salon and experience these signs after leaving, you should go back and get them to redo them; if you’ve done them yourself at home, you should remove them and try again. It isn’t safe having uncured gel on your nails, and you should try to avoid any irritation or damage it may cause.

Frequently asked questions 

Why is my gel polish sticky after curing? What Do You Wipe Gel Nails With at the End?

Your gel polish is sticky after curing because you need to wipe it with alcohol or a non-acetone solution to remove the tacky layer. Most gel polishes have this layer; it does not mean that your nail hasn’t cured, it is caused by the air’s oxygen stopping the gel’s top layer from curing completely.

It is normal to have this layer, but it is essential to remove it if you want your nails to look the best and last much longer. Wipe each nail with a lint-free wipe with either alcohol or a non-acetone solution; an essential tip is to use a different wipe for each layer so that the residue from one nail isn’t passed on to another nail.

Some brands do non-wipe gels, so if you’d prefer to use something like this, make sure you look into this before purchasing your gels.

Can gel polish be over cured? 

Yes, gel polish can be over cured; some gels will discolour, some will lose the shine, and in some cases, you may not be able to see a sign straight away, but the later effects will show. Over curing will cause the gel manicure to lose its durability; they will chip or peel a lot faster than expected.

How long does it take to cure gel polish? 

On average, UV gels should be cured for about 90 seconds and LED gels for about 30 seconds; however, this does depend on the brand, so you need to check it before. Do try to stick to what your gels’ brand says; never go over the time they recommend as it will lead to you over curing your nails.


There are so many reasons why gel polish doesn’t cure, but these are the most popular reasons and some of the reasons most people tend not to think about.

Make sure you read the instructions and recommendations correctly before applying gels, as we know overexposure to the lights isn’t safe. It is also essential to keep your nails as healthy as possible.

I hope this has helped and made your manicure applications a little bit easier. With a problem like this, it tends to be a bit of trial and error, so it is important you try different techniques and change things in your usual procedure to find what works for you and gives the best results. 

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