How Long Does It Take Nail Polish to Dry? A Definitive Answer

How Long Does It Take Nail Polish to Dry
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There are a few truths I've come to recognize: I am powerless in the face of carbohydrates, I will never be a morning person, and I never wait long enough to let my nail polish dry. I wish I didn't love bread as much as I do, and it would be nice to wake up earlier without hitting the snooze button, but it's only the last one that bothers me. After all, painting your nails requires time and patience—two things I currently lack.

So, in an effort to prevent myself from smudging still-tacky polish, as well as avoid a number of other nail polish faux pas, I reached out to two experts—Cyndi Ramirez, and Jessica Tong. They offered great advice on mastering the art of the manicure. Keep reading to hear what they had to say.

Meet the Expert

  • Cyndi Ramirez is the founder and CEO of the non-toxic New York-based spa, Chillhouse.
  • Jessica Tong is a brand ambassador for nail and beauty brand Smith & Cult. She has served as the lead manicurist backstage at New York Fashion Week.

Naturally, my first question was how long does it really take nail polish to dry? Tong says "about 10 minutes if you use the Smith & Cult topcoat in Above it All and base coat in Basis of Everything ( both $18). One complements the other." She continued to say that "all polishes can dry in a timely fashion as long as they are applied thinly and evenly on a clean surface and topped with a proper topcoat." Key words, here, are thin and evenly. Apparently, I have been applying nail polish much too thick basically since forever.

5 Secrets to a Smudge-Free At-Home Manicure
Emily Roberts/Byrdie

Ramirez agrees that thin layers of polish are necessary. "Two layers should be your max," she says. "Three or more can definitely result in immediate smudging." She also praises the power of a good base and topcoat. "Skipping a base coat and topcoat is also a big no-no. It will 100% result in chipped nails." So simple, and yet so important (I swear for the first 21 years of my life, I never touched a top or base coat unless I was getting my nails professionally painted—oops). As for dry time, she errs on the side of caution. "It could be anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes with dryers, but if you're DIY'ing it, you still want to allow yourself about an hour or so to fully dry and prevent smudges."

Their sound advice didn't stop there. They also offered ten extra tips to getting an Instagram-worthy manicure all on your own.

5 things to do when painting nails

  • File and apply cuticle oil. We like Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil ($20).
  • Make sure your nails are clean. "If there are traces of dust, dead skin, moisturizer, oil, etc., it can affect the finish," Tong says.
  • Have a steady hand.
  • Don't rush.

5 things not to do when painting nails

  • Don't forget to wash off extra cuticle oil. "Don't leave your hands too greasy or oily before you apply polish. It will most definitely chip or start bubbling," Ramirez says.
  • Don't come into contact with your clothes.
  • Don't try to go to the bathroom. "If you need to use the restroom, do so before you start the nail application process," Ramirez says. Sure, it seems obvious, but how many times have you tried otherwise? I know I have.
  • Don't use old, sticky polish. Ramirez says to avoid using polish older than six months. Anyone else need to go clean out their collection?
  • Don't come into contact with warm or humid environments. "Some people take showers or go to the gym afterward. Don't do that," Ramirez says.

Use an angled eyebrow brush with acetone to clean up polish that gets on the cuticle or skin.

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Smith & Cult Psycho Candy $18
OPI Gelato on My Mind $11
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essie Tangoed In Love $9
Dior Wonderland $28
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Smith & Cult Regret the Moon $18

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