You just finished painting your nails and you are astonished by how well they turned out. As hard as you try, you just can’t sit still while they dry. Nearly instantly, you smudge your nails, and while you can try to fix them, they just don’t look the same.
UV lights are used in nail salons all across the world to dry freshly painted manicures. Why can’t you do the same? Studies show that UV lights are only useful in drying certain types of nail polish, like UV gel nail polish, that rely on a chemical drying process. Contrary to popular belief, UV light actually does not help dry regular nail polish and can do more harm than good.
Why are UV lights used on freshly polished nails?
Nearly every nail salon lights to dry freshly polished nails. Salons will typically use either LED lights or UV lights, depending on the business. Nothing is more frustrating than chipping a fresh manicure before you even leave the salon, and UV lights help prevent this. These lights speed up the drying process, and make sure that customers leave with dry nails that won’t smudge on the drive home.
While a typical manicure will fully dry in one to two hours, a UV light can shorten the drying process to less than ten minutes but will only be useful for specific types of nail polish. UV lights are used to cure gel manicures as they chemically cure the gel polish and solidify the polish into a harder plastic, making the manicure less likely to chip or peel. A gel manicure is a multi-step process and use UV light multiple times between coats to fully dry the special polish.
UV lights work by emitting a low concentration of ultraviolet radiation directly onto the wet nail polish. The heat from the lamp, combined with the UV rays, allow the chemical bonds within the polish to dry more quickly.
However, this process will only work for polishes that rely on a chemical drying process, and not an evaporative drying process. Regular nail polishes rely on an air-drying process that allows the liquid portion of the polish to evaporate.
Does regular nail polish need UV light to dry?
While UV lights are essential for gel manicures, they aren’t the best choice for every manicure.
In recent years, studies actually show that UV lights could be harmful for your nail beds. UV radiation are the same rays emitted by the Sun and tanning beds and were found to increase the risk of skin cancer. Even though UV lights are typically only used for five to ten minutes, frequent exposure to intense UV rays, even for short periods of time, were found to increase the risks of skin cancer in the hands.
Plus, the UV lights don’t actually expedite the drying process for regular nail polish. While gel nail polish requires a chemical drying process, regular nail polish relies on the evaporation for the nails to air dry. If the UV light is powerful enough to generate a significant amount of heat, the heat could speed up the air-drying process for regular nail polish.
However, if the light is that strong, it presents a higher risk for skin damage and is not recommended for frequent use. While occasional use isn’t the end of the world, other alternatives offer more efficient drying without the use of UV rays.
How do you know which polishes need a UV lamp?
UV lights are only useful for certain types of nail polish. Lights are only necessary for gel nail polishes that require chemical bonds to dry fully. Regular, or classic, nail polishes do not need light exposure and will not dry more quickly under UV light.
But how do you know if UV lights will help your nail polish dry?
Finding out if your mani-pedi requires ultraviolet rays is as easy as reading the bottle. Most nail polishes are clearly labelled. Gel nail polishes, in particular, will specifically be labelled as “gel” polishes and will often note that they require a UV light to fully dry. The gel process takes much longer and requires multiple different types of polish.
A gel manicure, however, will last much longer as they form a hard, acrylic like, coating on the nail. While you can buy home gel manicure kits, most gel manicures need to be done in a nail salon.
“Regular” nail polishes, on the other hand, are typically not labelled. These classic polishes will not be labelled as a gel polish, and do not require a UV light to fully dry. Instead, a quality manicure can be done by applying a base coat, painting on the classic polish and finishing with a top coat. The polish will then air dry within one to two hours on its own, or more quickly if assisted with any of the methods outlined below.
What can I use to dry normal nail polish?
If UV lights don’t help dry classic nail polish, then what does? Just because lights won’t dry your nails, doesn’t mean you have to wait two hours for your nails to set. There are several different options to speed up the drying process for regular nail polish.
Mini Nail-Drying Fan
For classic nail polish to dry, the liquid elements need to evaporate. There are miniature fans available, marketed specifically for drying nail polish, that increase the rate of drying. While these fans get the job done for a relatively inexpensive investment, their success can vary based on which product you buy.
Nail Drying Spray
Many beauty brands also sell a rapid nail drying spray which relies on a synthetic mixture to leave nails dry and smooth within several minutes. The reliability of nail-drying sprays depends on the brand and the formula they use. While a finishing spray is convenient, and inexpensive, some brands also leave a temporary, semi-oily residue on the nails.
Quick-Drying Top Coat or Drops
In addition to rapid drying spray, many nail polish brands sell a quick drying top coat. When used with a regular nail polish, instead of a normal top coat, it causes the nail polish to fully dry much more quickly. The quality of quick-drying top coats will vary between different brands, but will help to dry nails in a relatively short amount of time.
Many brands also offer quick-drying nail drops. These oil-based drops are applied to the cuticle and flow over the fresh polish to dry your manicure in a matter of minutes. Using drops instead of a quick-drying top coat can moisturize your cuticle, giving you healthier nail beds.
Use Multiple Thin Coats
Getting your manicure to dry quickly is not only affected by what products you use, but how you use them. Using thick coats may seem like the easiest option, because it requires only one or two coats for a manicure. However, if you use multiple thin coats, the nail polish will dry much faster. When using this method, be sure to let each coat fully dry before applying the next coat.
Cold Water Rinse
Another method involves filling a small bowl of cold water. Between each coat dip your freshly painted nails into cold water for three to five minutes. Be sure each coat is fully dried, and any excess water is wiped off, before adding the next coat of polish.
Use a Hairdryer
If all else fails, you can always turn to your trusty hair dryer. Set your hairdryer on the coolest setting and wave it over your nails for several minutes until they are dry to the touch. Make sure not to use any warm settings, as this could melt the polish, having the opposite effect.
A fresh manicure can boost confidence and level up your self-care rituals. The key to a professional-grade manicure is letting the polish fully dry to prevent unsightly smudges and chips. UV lights are the best solution to cure gel nail polish, which considerably extend the life of your manicure. However, UV lights will not work for setting classic polishes, which can be dried using alternative methods.
A high-quality manicure starts with the using right tools. UV light creates a clean polished look, if used with the right products. But you might want to think twice before using the UV lights at your next trip to the nail salon and ask yourself, “Is this really necessary?”