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How To Make Nail Polish Less Sticky [What You Need To Do]

Noticing that your nail polish is thick and sticky is a dilemma that you could certainly do without. Imagine you apply your nail polish, and instead of drying with a hard and smooth finish, it’s still tacky, somewhere between wet and dry despite ample drying time. Maybe it went on thicker and stickier than usual, or maybe it seemed just fine. Either way, it’s time to resolve this unfortunate issue.

So, how do you make nail polish less sticky? The best way to make your nail polish less sticky is to ensure that you are tightening the cap and storing it correctly. If you are using gel nail polish, make sure that you use a top coat to properly seal the base coats. Be sure not to apply too much polish as this can result in a ticky finish.

There are many factors to consider when figuring out why your nail polish is sticky. 

It could be that your nail polish is nearing its expiration date and has started to dry up. It could also be that your nail polish is formulated with less durable ingredients. 

You could even be applying too many coats without letting the previous ones dry properly. 

Continue reading. We’ll explore a few different reasons why your nail polish may be sticky and how to get yourself out of this conundrum.

Why Is My Nail Polish So Sticky?

Nail polish is formulated using ingredients that react with air and light to make it dry quickly and evenly after being applied to the surface of the nail. Often, these ingredients are so sensitive that being exposed to air or light for too long can cause the nail polish to become sticky before it even leaves the bottle and long after it is applied to your nails. 

Sometimes it’s tough to know exactly why your nail polish won’t cooperate, so we’ve explored some of the top reasons why you could be struggling with sticky nail polish:

Inappopriate Storage

First and foremost, you may not be storing your nail polish bottles properly.  

Nail polish contains isopropyl alcohol, which is known for being sensitive to heat, air, and light.

The alcohol in nail polish is also what causes it to dry very quickly when applied to your nails.

If left open for too long, the nail polish itself can dry out while still in the bottle.

Prolonged contact with air and direct sunlight should be avoided if you want to prevent your nail polish from becoming thick and sticky.

Applied Too Much Polish

Think you’re saving time by applying extra-thick coats of nail polish?

Applying coats of nail polish that are too thick will slow down the drying process and can sometimes cause a sticky mess rather than a smooth finish.

While the topmost layer of nail polish will start to dry as soon as it comes into contact with air, the polish sitting beneath it has less contact with air and remains wet for much longer.

This will cause the nail polish you applied to become sticky and smudge very easily.

Hasty Application

Another possibility – you’ve applied the next coat of nail polish without letting the previous one dry.

Similar to applying coats of nail polish that are too thick, applying the next coat of nail polish too soon doesn’t allow the layers hiding underneath to dry thoroughly.

This creates a squishy, sticky texture that basically signals not enough drying time.

The more time each coat spends exposed to air, the better it will dry and the better it will accommodate the next coat of nail polish.

Air Is Getting In

It could be that nail polish residue is overwhelming the neck of your nail polish bottle.

When too much nail polish dries around the neck of your nail polish bottle, it can cause the cap not to tighten properly and let air in.

Sometimes the residue can even get mixed up in the nail polish, compromising the original consistency of the lacquer and causing it to become clumpy.

Low Quality Nail Polish

Not all nail polishes are made equal.

Nail polish brands use different formulations, including different pigments and different thickening agents, to create your favorite shades.

Just like any other cosmetic, some ingredients, such as pigments, are more vibrant and last longer than others.

If the ingredients aren’t the most appropriate for quick-drying nail polish, you could end up with sticky nails.

Not Using A Topcoat

Another possibility – you forgot to finish your gel manicure without a topcoat.

Some gel polishes will feel sticky if they are not finished with a top coat after curing.

Air-dry gel polishes are more likely to feel sticky even after drying, as their formulation is more like traditional nail lacquer than it is salon-quality gel polish.

Either way, a topcoat is meant to be a final, protective layer that prevents stickiness.

How To Stop Your Nail Polish From Getting Sticky

Depending on the cause, there are a few ways to stop your nail polish from getting sticky:

Thin With Nail Polish Thinner

Adding a drop of nail polish thinner will thin out your nail polish and help reduce stickiness.

Be careful when using this method, as too much thinner can actually dilute your nail polish and make it runny.

Gel polish requires a thinner specially formulated for gel nail polishes.

Specially formulated gel polish thinner keeps the original formula of gel polish intact, whereas solvents like acetone or nail polish remover will eventually break it down.

Most nail polish brands also carry thinners that are compatible with their nail lacquers.

Otherwise, if you are in the market for a thinner, consider the following from Amazon.

It simply has the best reviews and I’ve compared a lot👇

BEAUTY SECRETS Nail Polish Thinner
  • Thins nail polish for even flow
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Store Nail Polish Bottles Properly

Prevent nail polish stickiness by going straight to the source and ensuring that your nail polish bottles are closed tightly and stored properly.

Store your nail polish in a dark, cool, dry place and away from direct sunlight.

Wipe Excess Nail Polish From The Neck Of The Bottle

Remember to wipe excess nail polish from the neck of the nail polish bottle to prevent future sticky messes.

Storing nail polish properly is the key to preventing stickiness and will save you both time and money.

Apply Thinner Coats Of Nail Polish

When applying nail polish, start with nails that are clean and dry.

Apply a thin coat of nail polish and let it dry for at least a few minutes.

Not sure how much polish is too much? As you remove the cap, try letting excess nail polish drip off of the applicator brush and back into the bottle.

This will give you greater control over how much nail polish is applied.

Let Each Coat Dry Thoroughly Before Applying Another

We’ve all been eager to get that third coat of nail polish on before the previous one has had enough time to dry, but drying time is crucial to a successful manicure or pedicure.

After the previous coat of nail polish dries, apply another and allow that coat ample drying time as well.

Not drying fast enough?

Gently blowing air on your nails or running them under cold water for a few seconds will help speed up drying time.

Try Out A Different Brand Of Nail Polish

If your nail polish becomes sticky well before its expiration date, it could be that it is not formulated with long-lasting, high-quality ingredients.

It’s widely known that nail polish doesn’t have to be expensive to be of good quality.

A good quality nail polish provides even coverage, dries fairly quickly, and makes for a stunning manicure.

Most drugstore polishes will do the trick. If you’re looking for luxury, beauty supply stores carry the same brands used by your favorite nail technician.

When choosing gel nail polish, keep in mind that gel works a little bit differently than traditional nail lacquer.

Sometimes, sticky seeming gel polish doesn’t actually signal a problem with your nail polish – it’s just part of the process.

Use A Topcoat For Gel Nails

Gel nail polish and traditional nail polish use different processes and similar ingredients to achieve the same goal.

While gel polish is now widely available, saving us all countless trips to the salon, a successful home manicure involves a series of steps that are all equally important.

The base coat of your gel polish can remain sticky when not sealed with a topcoat, which is why it is so important to remember this final step in the process.

Applying a top coat will protect the base coats and ensure that your nails are finished properly.

Use An Alchohol Wipe

Using an alcohol wipe to quickly wipe the nail after the gel top coat has cured helps eliminate any residual stickiness left by the gel nail polish.

If you don’t have pre-moistened alcohol wipes handy, you can also add a drop of alcohol to a small square of paper towel.

Make sure to be quick and careful when wiping your gel nails with alcohol, as lingering too long could start to degrade the glossy finish of your freshly painted nails.


Keep in mind that most gel nail polishes are formulated to be a bit thicker than traditional nail lacquer, which makes them seem a bit sticky from the start.

If you suspect that your nail polish is becoming sticky, try painting one of your nails to determine the cause.

Remember to use thin layers and avoid diluting your nail polish with too much thinner.

If your nail polish is becoming too sticky to use, now is the perfect time to treat yourself to a new shade!

And if you are looking for other tips and techniques to restore nail polish, then check out my following guides: