How Long It Really Takes for Nail Polish to Dry — and How to Make It Dry Faster

How Long It Really Takes for Nail Polish to Dry — and How to Make It Dry Faster

how long does it take for nail polish to dryIuliia Isaieva//Getty Images

We’ve been independently researching and testing products for over 120 years. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission. Learn more about our review process.

Few things are more frustrating than smudging your nail polish after a fresh manicure or pedicure. Whether you accidentally brush into somebody or something, the sinking feeling that ensues is universal. Have you ever put a Band-Aid on a chipped nail because there just wasn’t enough time to return to the salon, or worse, you get the touch-up…only to smudge it, yet again? Of course, you can always get a gel manicure or dip manicure, but there is a simple solution to this maddening cycle: Allow your nails to fully dry before moving around.

If you’re wondering how long it actually takes for nail polish to dry completely, whether on fingers or toes, real, fake or acrylic nails, wonder no more. Evelyn Lim, a nail technician and the Chief Educator of Paintbox, a nail studio in New York City, spills on all things nail maintenance, including just how long to wait for your nails to dry. Unbeknownst to most, there are many influencing factors, like the type of nail polish used and whether it was an at-home manicure or in-salon process. Read on for everything you need to know about drying your nails.

So exactly how long does it take to air dry nail polish?

Most nail polish applications should fully dry in under an hour; in fact, nail polish can take as little as 15 minutes to dry, Lim says. Many salons have fan dryers with UV lights, which can help accelerate the drying time.

To air-dry nail polish, there are many fast-dry nail polish formulas and topcoats that enable drying within minutes. But depending on how many coats of nail polish are applied (one coat will dry faster than two to three or more), it can take up to two hours for nails to completely air dry. (To be safe, if your mani or pedi is in the evening, pros advise waiting this long for your polish to dry before bed, too.)

As far as pedicures go, the polish takes the same amount of time to dry; however, even if it is dry to the touch, she recommends waiting an hour before wearing closed-toe shoes. Even if the polish doesn’t smudge, it will often get smushed with an imprint of your sock, so it’s best to stick with flip-flops post-pedi.

Nevertheless, mistakes happen — even if you waited the suggested amount of time. If you smudge your nail polish, "Dip your finger in nail polish remover and try to smooth out the smudge, then apply a thin coat of polish," Lim advises. "If the smudge cannot be smoothed out, then remove all the polish from that nail and reapply."

5 Tips to Make Your Nail Polish Dry Faster

For best results, always start by applying a base coat, followed by two layers of nail polish and a topcoat, Lim says. Pro tip: Always make sure you’re using apply fresh nail polish. To evaluate your nail polish’s freshness, shake the bottle and listen: If you don’t hear the beads inside the bottle moving freely, it’s time to invest in a new bottle.

  1. Apply thin layers.
    “Technique is everything: Apply polish with the least number of strokes, not overworking it," Lim suggests. "There’s a tendency to do this, especially with lighter nail colors in an attempt to get them to appear even.” Paint on a thin first coat even if it looks a bit streaky and trust that the second coat will even out the color.
  2. Don’t use cold water to help polish set.
    Despite myths you’ve heard,"Running your hands under water doesn’t help nail polish dry faster," Lim says. "The cold water may harden the top layer, but not the coats underneath, so nails will still be susceptible to smudging." If you must wash your hands, be sure to dry them carefully afterward, as a towel’s material can easily stick to nails.
  3. Try a hair dryer to speed along the drying process.
    Believe it or not, you can use your hair dryer to help nail polish dry faster. Lim recommends using it on a cool setting, as a “higher temperature may cause the polish to bubble.” Hold the dryer’s nozzle a few pinches away from your hands, and aim the airflow at your nails, for a few seconds at a time, until nails feel dry.
  4. Boost drying time with quick-dry drops or sprays.
    Do as many salon pros do and expedite the nail polish drying process by applying quick dry drops or spray after nails have dried for five minutes. In the meantime, try to keep your movement to a minimum.
  5. Continue to care for your nails post-mani.
    Maintaining your manicure is an extension of the polish drying routine. "My top nail maintenance products are a file and buffer to smooth out chips or breaks immediately so they don’t get worse," Lim explains. She also recommends smoothing on a cuticle oil to keep the nails strong and healthy, plus enhance the nail polish’s shine. You can also reapply the topcoat every two to three days to refresh your manicure and extend its wear.


    No comments yet. Why don’t you start the discussion?

    Leave a Reply