How To Tell If Your Gel Polish is Cured




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Gel polish has to cure completely to last long enough without cracking or chipping. To most people, gel curing is an exercise unfamiliar to them, and so they do not know what to expect or what to look out for when curing gel polish. With no specific devices or formulas to check your cured gel, how do you tell if your gel polish is cured? 

Properly cured gel polish is bright and shiny and does not stick on the topcoat brush when applying the topcoat. It may feel tacky on touching, but this layer forms during curing and can be removed using isopropyl alcohol wipes without damaging the gel polish. 

Under-curing gel polish is a common problem because most people overlook some of the essential factors that affect gel polish curing. Others end up over-curing the gel polish as they try to cure it completely. This article explains how to tell if your gel polish is cured and what to do so that it can cure properly. 

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Why Is My Gel Polish Not Curing? 

Under-cured gel polish is a nightmare to anyone doing their manicure. Not only is it sticky, but it also makes your nails look dull. The manicure will not last long as it will easily crack and chip off. The only remedy is to remove the polish and start the application process again, and that’s frustrating. 

The two layers of gel polish have to cure properly to bond well with each other and with the base coat. You also have to ensure the topcoat layer cures well too. If the topcoat is under-cured, it will peel off and expose the gel polish.

You’ll know that your gel polish isn’t curing properly if you notice bubbling like small holes on the nail polish. It’s an indication that the gel polish did not adhere to the nail and may not cure properly. 

Other indicators that your gel polish isn’t curing well are:

  • The gel polish will have a dull appearance. 
  • The surface of the gel will feel soft and sticky on touching. 
  • The gel easily comes off if you try to wipe it off. 

There are many possible reasons why your gel polish isn’t curing, and that too depends on a lot of factors like how the gel was applied, the gel brand, curing time, etc. Let’s look at some of the reasons why your gel polish is not curing. 

  1.  Inadequate nail preparation

Before starting the application process, you must make sure your nails are clean and free of oils. You should not wash your nails in the water right before gel application; instead, use alcohol wipes to clean the nails of any dirt, dust, and oils. 

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During nail preparation, use a file to remove rough parts and smoothen the edges. Push the cuticles back a little to create enough space for gel application on the nail without touching the cuticle. Proper nail preparation will ensure that the gel adheres to the nails, which will help cure the gel completely. 

Inadequately prepared nails will have dust particles or an inconsistent surface, preventing the gel polish from adhering to the nails. When curing, the polish forms air-like bubbles and remains soft. 

  1. Thick gel polish layers

Thick layers absorb very little UV light, which is responsible for curing the polish. That means, with little absorption, very little curing will take place. Thinner layers allow the UV light to penetrate through, thus curing the gel completely. If you apply thick layers, only the upper part of the gel polish will cure, leaving the lower part uncured. 

During application, don’t use a brush with too much polish on it. Wipe the gel polish brush on the bottle’s neck to remove the excess polish, and then gently apply the rest on the nail. It’s better to apply many thin layers than one thick layer. 

Bright colors may be hard to tell when applying a thick layer because you are looking at making the color as visible as possible. However, if you’re using a bright color gel polish, you can ensure that you apply a thin layer by wiping the brush off any excess polish as much as possible. You can always apply another layer to increase its bold outlook. 

  1. Curing using the wrong lamp

Manufacturers indicate on the gel polish whether to use a UV light lamp or an LED lamp. If you are using a UV lamp for an LED-specified polish, you may not achieve any results, and maybe that’s why your polish is not curing. The ingredients used to make the polish determine what lamp to use and for how long.

It’s important to check the manufacturer’s recommendation for the gel polish you’re using so that you can be sure that you’re using the right one. These lamps are not expensive, so you can get a compatible one for the gel you’re using, especially if you’re doing your manicure at home. 

In most salons, manicurists use the same lamp for most gel polishes as they all require a wavelength ranging between 340 and 380 nanometers of UV light. There is no universal lamp for all gels as there are many differences in the amount of light emitted and the placement of bulbs. This difference results in different results when curing nails. It’s possible for the gel polish to under cure or over cure depending on its specific requirements. 

 If you notice that your gel is not cured properly using the lamp in the salon, you can check to ensure that you’re using the light lamp for the polish you’re applying. Your best bet would be to make sure that you’re using a lamp with specifications within the required specifications for the gel polish. 

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  1. The lamp bulbs need changing.

If you’ve been using your lamp for a long time now without changing the bulbs, then that could be a reason why your gel polish is not curing. People think that as long as they are using the lamps at home, the bulbs need no changing. 

However, lamp bulbs must be changed at the manufacturer’s recommended time for commercial or domestic use. UV lamp bulbs should be changed every 6-8 months, and LED lamp bulbs, after every two years. If you’re using the lamp for your salon serving 40 gel clients a week, you may need to change your bulb sooner because of the intense usage. 

You’ll know that your bulbs need a change when you start noticing a thicker inhibition layer on your client’s gel nails. Perfectly working bulbs will cure the gel polish more effectively, leaving a shiny surface and a small tacky layer. 

How to Cure Gel Polish Properly

Now that you already know some of the reasons why your gel polish may not be cured, you should also know how to cure correctly so that you avoid under-curing or over-curing your gel polish. You’ll need to cure every layer properly you apply on your nail, starting with the base coat, then to the gel polish layers, and finally the topcoat. 

This step-by-step process is important considering how curing works. When you expose the gel polish to UV light of the required wavelength and intensity, a free radical as a molecule is released within the gel polish. This release destabilizes the gel and causes a reaction with the resin’s double bonds. 

The reaction causes the resins’ double bonds to break, and the molecules combine to form a stable polymer, which is the gel nail enhancement. This reaction process is likely to cause some heat and make your fingers feel warm inside the lamp. Sometimes it can happen too fast and end up hurting your nails. 

Overexposure to the UV light in the lamp, even though it’s for a few minutes, can be quite intense and therefore not very safe for your hands. That’s why curing layer by layer is important so that you can cure for the recommended time and not extend the curing time. 

Follow through the three steps discussed below to cure the gel polish layer by layer. 

Step 1 – Cure the base coat. 

The base coat is important and must be applied to the nail before applying the gel polish. When applying the base coat, make sure that you apply a very thin layer that spreads evenly on the nail. To achieve a thin layer, you must leave very little on the brush by wiping the excess base coat off against the bottle’s neck. 

Some brands make their base coat a little thicker, so you can thin it a bit using a gel polish thinner. Add in a few drops and shake well, then leave it for about 15 minutes. Curing the base coat under a LED lamp should take only 30 seconds.

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Step 2 – Cure the gel polish.

You only apply gel polish on a well-cured base coat so that it can adhere well to the nails. Ensure that you cure each layer of gel polish before applying a new layer. Light colors may not appear bold if you only apply one layer because every layer you apply must be thin for fast and complete curing. 

That means, if you apply the first layer of gel polish, you cure it, then apply another layer and cure it separately. This is to ensure that every layer is cured entirely by the time you apply the topcoat. The curing process should take about 30 seconds for an LED nail lamp. 

Some people like cleaning every layer with alcohol wipes before applying the next layer so as to remove the tacky layer that forms on the cured gel polish. Although this may not be necessary, it may help you identify polish that is not properly cured. Uncured polish will come out when the surface of the gel is wiped. 

Be on the lookout for some of the signs showing that your gel isn’t curing, as discussed earlier. For example, if you notice some gel sticking on the topcoat brush during the application, the gel polish is not cured. You can try curing the gel polish again on both hands before you proceed. If the problem persists, you may need to wipe off the gel polish and apply again. 

It could also mean that the lamp is faulty, so you may want to try another LED lamp before wiping off your gel polish. 

Step 3 – Cure the topcoat.

The topcoat is clear and adds shine to your manicure. Therefore, it must be properly cured. Apply a thin layer of the gel topcoat, covering all the edges so that the gel polish is completely sandwiched in the base coat and topcoat layers. This will prevent chipping at the edges and the manicure intact for weeks. 

Ensure that the topcoat layer is not too thin so that it doesn’t come off easily, especially when you wipe it with an alcohol-based cleanser.  Since it’s a clear polish, the curing process should take about 30-45 minutes when using an LED lamp. 

After curing, the topcoat should be shiny and appealing. If you notice that the topcoat is dull, there’s a possibility that it did not cure correctly, or you may have wiped it off as you clean the nail. To solve this, you can apply another thin layer of the topcoat and cure for 30 seconds. If the same happens, then your lamp is faulty and should be replaced.

After curing the top coat, wipe off the tacky layer using the company’s product like isopropyl alcohol or acetone. Use a pad with plastic-like properties instead of cotton because the uncured gel can easily soak through cotton. The tacky layer should be thin and removed easily. If you notice a thick tacky layer, then the lamp bulbs are faulty and need replacing. 

Can Gel Polish Become Over Cured?

Gel polish should be cured for the recommended time. If you extend the curing time, the gel polish bakes under the lamp and becomes overly hardened. You may not notice the difference, but the gel polish loses its flexible characteristics and natural shine. 

Properly cured gel adapts like the natural nail, flexing and changing shape in the face of stress. But, if the gel is over-cured, it solidifies and hardens to break or chip off when the nail is under stress. Also, over-cured gel polish becomes unreactive to acetone such that it’s difficult to remove the gel polish and damage your natural nails during gel removal. 

To prevent over-curing, ensure that you read and follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer for that gel polish. This ensures that you employ the right practices when applying the gel polish and also cure for the correct time. 

You should also check the LED lamp to ensure that it’s not faulty and that the bulbs are changed as they should be. Faulty lamps might produce too much light that can over cure the gel polish even if you cure them for the recommended time. 

Ensure that your gel layers are thin so that they can cure within the curing time. Thicker layers may not cure even if you extend the curing time. You end up exposing your hands to too many intense light wavelengths and end up achieving very few results. Such continuous exposure may not be too friendly to your hands in the long run. 

Over cured gel doesn’t come off easily without destroying the nails. It is less reactive to acetone, so you have to be careful to don’t harm your nails. It will also take a longer time to remove as you’ll have to file away the gel coat layers. 

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Here’s the procedure to remove over cured gel polish:

  1. File the topcoat layer and the gel polish layers in a gentle side-to-side motion until you reach the base coat layer. If you file under too much pressure, you may end up filling out your real nails. 
  2. Soak the remaining polish after filing in acetone for about 15 minutes so that it can soften and come out easily. Filing removes most of the hard portions of the gel and allows the remaining to soak in acetone.
  3. The gel polish will be soft and easily come off from your nails. If some gel continues to stick, you can push it gently using a cuticle pusher and remove it. 
  4. Wash your hands in water after removing all the gel polish and hydrate your nails. Let your nails breathe for some time before the next round of gel application. 

Here you can read more about over-curing gel polish.


Curing your gel polish is as easy as following the manufacturer’s recommendations on the particular gel polish. If you follow the instructions using the right lamp and the right curing time, you’ll be sure that your gel is completely cured. Also, ensure that your nails are clean before you start applying the gel polish. Choose a quality gel polish from a reputable manufacturer, and you’ll be ready for a durable gel manicure.  


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