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Can You Use Gel Nail Polish Without UV Light? [The Reality]

Gel nail polish is perfect for those times when you want the best, cleanest look that will last for weeks without chipping. One of the only downsides is the application process. For most people, gel polish drying is synonymous with drying under UV light. But do you need one? Here is what you need to know.

So, can you use gel nail polish without UV Light? Some brands and products of gel nail polishes can dry naturally without UV light – but these will have been specifically designed to dry with exposure to air and are not considered to be true gel nail polish. They will not be the same quality or as durable. For most brands of gel nail polish, you will require UV light to properly cure it.

So in reality it depends on the product!

This is why it is so essential to check the manufacturers instructions ahead of any application.

Your results will most depend on it!

But whether you’re a newbie that didn’t know to buy a light, a seasoned at-home-pro who is suddenly without one, or just a person who doesn’t like the idea of bathing your hands in UVs, there are some tricks of the trade you should know.

Let us get started.

Will Gel Polish Dry Without UV Light?

There are ways that you can dry gel polish without UV light. However, these methods are undoubtedly not as good as the UV drying method, so be prepared for some significant quality loss. They can also take a lot longer. It’s, without a doubt, better to use UV light, if you can.

First, we’ll clear up a common misconception: UV lights don’t technically dry a gel polish, but cure it. 

That’s the term for it hardening up into more of a solid, slightly different from traditional polishes.

In salons (and most home jobs), this is done under UV light. It’s the only “foolproof” way of coming up with perfect results.

But there are alternatives. They vary as far as effectiveness goes, so be aware before you start. 

This isn’t an option you want to choose for a wedding or any other big occasion. 

For the most part, you should invest in a UV light or book a salon appointment. 

If it’s just for normal everyday wear, though, you can consider a gel polish that was designed to dry without being cured.

Be prepared to be flexible, and you’ll have fun giving it a try!

One method we’ll not be giving you? Normal air-drying, like you use with traditional nail enamel. 

This is something that is never going to work, so you shouldn’t even try it.

No amount of time is going to stop your gel polish from being runny and smudgy if you don’t find a way to dry it relatively quickly.

Or, even if it does manage to dry – it will just peel off!

Either way, it’s just a waste of good polish.

Does All Gel Nail Polish Need UV Light?

Not all gel nail polish requires UV! Always read the instructions carefully before purchasing or using a gel nail polish. And, even if it says a light must be used, there are some other alternatives to try as a last resort. Results may vary, so be willing to experiment.

Here’s the good news: there are absolutely gel polishes that don’t require you to use any kind of light at all! 

These are the perfect solution for those not wanting to deal with either the light-curing process or any of the home-remedy options that can take more than an hour to complete. 

You’ll find these gel nail polishes in local beauty shops, drug stores, and even department stores.

Sally Hansen Miracle Gel Collection is one such example. And there’s a fantastic range of colors to get over at Amazon.

Another great option is Essie Gel Couture, which again is available for a great price on Amazon.

They can be applied quickly, just like normal nail polish, and are often easier to remove than normal gel polish.

So, what’s the catch? The first of those is the same problem you run into when trying to find a no-UV drying solution: Quality.

While many brands are well-known and have a high customer satisfaction rate, you’re just not going to get the same look from a non-UV gel polish as you would from the ol’ fashioned stuff. 

There’s also a good chance that it won’t last as long, so be prepared to reapply more often. 

If that doesn’t bother you, though, then this might be the solution that you’ve been looking for!

How To Use Gel Nail Polish Without UV Light

Without UV light, there are two drying options that you have: home methods and an LED light. LED lights are as good, if not even better, than UV lights, so that would be the top choice. Home methods can work, but will also probably bring down the quality. Expect a drying time of several hours. You’re not doing this on your lunch break.

The first alternative to UVs that you’ll want to try is an LED light.

If you’re new to gel nail polish but have used LED-setting nails before, then you might have one sitting around. 

Otherwise, you could simply buy them. 

The bulbs typically never burn out and can dry your gel nails in as little as thirty seconds.

Definitely, the alternative to choose here.

However, there are other options, if you’re feeling adventurous.

Ice Water Baths

The most likely to be successful is to give your nails an ice-water bath. 

After air-drying for five or ten minutes (err on the side of caution), dip your fingernails into a bowl of ice water. 

It should be more water than ice, since contact with any solids may smudge your polish. 

Keep submerged for three minutes, then remove. 

Your fingers should be numb by then, but don’t try to warm them! 

You’ll need to sit still and let everything set for another hour. 

Don’t be fooled by the seemingly sturdy state of your polish: it’s not done right out of the bath.


Don’t feel like freezing yourself? You could always try sprays. 

Take your choice: fast-drying polish spray or canola oil? 

Yep, you read that right: a cooking spray could help your polish set.

Before embarking on either of these options, though, be aware that this is going to take a very, very long time, and you won’t be able to use your hands for most of it. 

So start off on a day when you’re binge-watching Netflix, not getting ready for a big date or special occasion.

The instructions for both are basically identical: lay down newspapers or similar, to deal with the mess. 

Apply to freshly-painted nails, holding can six inches from the nail. 

Then, let sit for hours, until the nail is completely dry. 

Be sure not to touch anything, or they’ll smudge awfully. 

The canola oil has the benefit of moisturizing your nails, but the downside of making you smell like a greased pan. 

Probably better to choose any other option than these two.

How Long Does It Take For Gel Nail Polish To Dry Without UV Light?

It depends on the drying method used. For LED lights, it can take as little as thirty seconds. For at-home options like canola oil, it can take several hours. And different gel polishes might take longer than others. If you’re not following the exact directions on the bottle, you can’t be certain of the time.

So, thirty seconds to an entire afternoon.

Doesn’t really get more vague than that, does it? 

Unfortunately, that’s about as precise as it can be.

Because different gel polishes have different requirements, and they all go out the window when not using light of some sort, there’s no real way to be sure as to what kind of drying time you’re looking at. 

So it’s probably best to try at-home options out on a day where there isn’t much to do. 

It’ll save you headache, heartache, and a lot of wasted gel polish.

The minimum amount of time you’ll be looking at, if you DIY it at home without an LED light, is a little over an hour. 

That’s the time needed for the ice bath. 

However, for the spray options, you’re looking at spending a large chunk of your day doing nothing, waiting for your nails to dry.

Of course, LEDs only take thirty seconds to a minute to cure your gel polish. That’s actually quickly than the UV lights that you’re supposed to be using!

Should You Use UV Light To Dry Your Gel Nail Polish?

Are you preparing for a big event, don’t have time for trial-and-error, or simply can’t abide by sloppy results? Then, yes. You’ll get the best results from UV light. If you’re willing to deal with the downsides and don’t mind not using your hands for a while, then have fun trying things out! But know what you’re getting into before you start.

In general, it’s always a good idea to follow the instructions that come with the product. 

That’s how they were designed to be used, so that’s how you’re going to get the best results. 

And most gel polish is designed to be used with a UV light. 

If you can buy one, get one. If you can’t, try to get an LED light, instead. It’s not the same, but it’s similar enough to work.

None of that appeal to you? Or do you have some gel polish you want to put on, but don’t want to wait to buy a light? 

Then home remedies might be for you. 

It’s a long, often boring drying process, but it can be done. 

So just expect the unexpected when preparing to do it yourself. There are bounds to be some twists, turns, and surprises along the way.