The experts break it all down for us.

May 04, 2021
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Getting a manicure should be an act of self-care that brings joy, but we all know that sinking feeling that comes with underestimating polish's drying time and accidentally ruining our newly-painted nails. To ensure your nails look their best post-manicure, it's important to give that lacquer enough time to dry. So, how long does this process really take? We asked Kelly Bannon, senior product testing manager at ORLY, and Mimi D, celebrity manicurist and nail artist, to share everything you need to know about nail polish drying times. The experts even share ways to speed the process up and the best ways to maintain a fresh manicure so your investment stays in tip-top shape.

woman painting fingernails at home
Credit: Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Know that drying time varies.

Mimi says that drying time depends on a number of things: how many coats you apply, how thick each coat is, and what type of polish you choose. If you consider all these aspects, she says you can expect drying time to take anywhere from five minutes to an hour. If you don't have an hour to wait, Bannon says you want to at least wait 20 minutes before doing anything with your hands, which will allow for the top layer to start drying. This method isn't foolproof, but it will at the very least minimize any chance of smudging.

You can speed up the drying time.

There are a couple of ways to speed up drying time. If you're painting your own nails, Mimi says her top piece of advice is to wait two minutes between each coat of polish and paint your nails while you're doing something enjoyable, like watching your favorite TV show, as this will help pass the time. "Let's say you're watching an hour-long show, polish [your nails] during the show and allow the polish to dry during the commercial breaks or vice versa," she says. Bannon adds that polish application is super important when it comes to fast drying times. Instead of two thick coats, she says to opt for three thin ones as thinner layers dry faster than thicker ones. She also says using nail polish that only requires one to three coats between the basecoat, color, and topcoat will help expedite the process.

You'll also want to look into topcoats and fast drying drops. Mimi says a dry fast top coat really helps with speeding up the drying time. A topcoat like Zoya's Armor Top Coat ($10, amazon.com) or Olive & June's Super Glossy Top Coat ($9.79, target.com) are two great recommendations. Bannon agrees and suggests something like ORLY's Fast Dry Drop ($15, amazon.com), which works with the topcoat to dry polish faster. Other nail drying tips include using an electric or hand fan. Bannon says that even using a blow dryer will help speed up dry time (though she warns that you'll need to be careful about air bubbles forming or lint accidentally sticking to the polish).

One popular idea that actually doesn't do much is running your nails under cold water, so it's best to skip this step. "I don't recommend running underwater because then you have to move and you run the risk of dinging or smudging your polish," says Mimi. "It would really only work on the top layers, and the bottom layers would be wet, so you'd want to still be careful," Bannon adds.

Prevention is key.

Mimi says the best way to prevent polish from chipping is "capping" the free edge as your last step with the nail color of your choice when polishing. "This means sweeping the brush along the very tip of your nail," she says. She also recommends reapplying a top coat every other day.

Bannon adds that using a base coat before putting on polish will help keep a manicure look fresh. "Using a basecoat not only helps to prevent staining from the color but products like the ORLY Bonder Basecoat ($10, ulta.com) is used as a double-sided double tape to help prevent chipping from the color," she says. And with household chores that involve frequent use of your hands, both Mimi D and Bannon say to wear gloves. "I joke with my clients that their nails are 'jewels' not 'tools,'" says Bannon. "When doing daily activities, especially those that include the use of hands a lot, taking preventive measures like wearing gloves can help reduce chipping, [and] remembering not to use your nails to open boxes or a can of soda can also help."

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