Why Is My Gel Polish Sticky? (9 Reasons Why)

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Isabelle O'Gallagher

Isabelle O'Gallagher is a personal development and relationship expert who has consulted for some of the biggest companies in America.

Gel polish is long-lasting and produces beautiful, natural-looking results that aren’t too heavy (unlike other types of nail enhancements, like acrylics).

And while gel polish is relatively easy to apply, one significant issue commonly occurs: sticky nails. Why did your gel polish end up a sticky mess? Keep reading to find out.

Why Is My Gel Polish Sticky?

1. Applied A Top Coat To Wet Nails

The top coat is a critical part of gel polish application. The top coat ensures the longevity of your gel polish. Not only that, it keeps the colors more vibrant, which is something everyone desires.

But applying a top coat to wet gel polish is a big no-no. This will undeniably cause a sticky residue that’s highly unpleasant.

With that said, always make sure that your gel polish is completely dried before applying your handy dandy top coat.

2. Didn’t Cure All The Way

Gel polish requires a UV or LED light in order to cure. Unlike regular polish, it will not dry by the air alone, no matter how long you wait.

So, if you’re applying gel polish at home, it’s essential to purchase a nail lamp to get the job done. Otherwise, your gel polish won’t dry, leaving you with sticky, troublesome fingertips.

3. Nails Were Buffed Too Much

Before you even think about applying gel polish, you need to prep the nails. This is done by trimming, pushing back the cuticles, wiping with rubbing alcohol and shaping the natural nail.

Another key step? Buffing the nail. Gel polish is going to be likelier to adhere to a rougher surface rather than the naturally oily surface of your nail bed, so buffing the nail bed is critical.

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But too much of something is never a good thing – and that includes buffing.

Over buffing your nail bed can cause trouble with adhesion, which can cause sticky nails down the line.

4. Applied Too-Thick Layers

Gel polish is much thicker than regular nail polish. So, while you may need to apply several coats of nail polish to achieve the desired results, the same is not valid for gel polish.

If you apply too much gel polish and create thick layers, the UV light will not be able to penetrate them and cure (dry) them.

This leaves you with a manicure of uncured, sticky fingers.

The solution? Stick to thin layers and make sure you’re curing between each and every application.

5. Polish And Lamp Are Not Compatible

Polish And Lamp Are Not Compatible

Two types of lamps can be used with gel polish: LED and UV.

And while most gel polishes can work with both types of lights, the same isn’t true for every gel polish on the market.

It’s imperative to use the correct lamp with your gel polish.

That said, double-check which type of lamp your gel polish requires and use it. Otherwise, it won’t cure properly and leave you with an undesirable stickiness.

6. Used Low-Quality Gel Polish

When you’re going to apply gel polish to your fingernails, it’s important not to go cheap. As the saying suggests, “You get what you pay for,” and that holds true for gel polish.

Low-quality gel polish will be challenging to work with and even more tricky to cure. The results may be lackluster, sticky, and overall unpleasant.

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The solution? Spend a little extra on your gel polish to ensure you’re buying a top-tier product. Not only will you reduce your risk of stickiness, but the manicure will look 100 times more beautiful.

7. Didn’t Apply A No-Wipe Top Coat

A top coat is a critical part of gel polish application. But not every top coat will work wonders on your gel polish. You need to be picky about the type of top coat you use.

The best option for gel polish is a no-wipe top coat.

That’s because gel nails are naturally somewhat sticky after they’re applied; it’s simply the nature of this type of polish.

While a top coat will remove some of the stickiness, there may be some lingering stickiness if you don’t choose the “no-wipe” version.

Always use a no-wipe top coat. This will provide the lovely sheen and glossy appearance typical of gel polish. It will also remove any leftover tackiness that’s causing your problems.

8. Used Expired Gel Polish

That carton of milk in your refrigerator isn’t the only thing with an expiration date; your gel polish does, too

Gel polish that is past its prime will not be able to cure properly, leaving you with sticky fingertips. It may also be somewhat clumpy, making it challenging to apply in the first place.

So, before you dive into your home manicure session, check the expiration date on the bottle. If it’s past the expiration date, you’ll need to take a trip to the store before starting!

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9. Improper Cleaning Between Manicures

Did your last manicure start to wear off, so you decided to re-do your nails? That’s great and all, but you’ll be left with stickiness if you don’t clean your nails properly.

Leftover residue from a previous gel polish manicure can render your next gel polish session sticky.

With that in mind, you need to make sure that there is no leftover residue before engaging in your next gel polish manicure.

The best way to do this is by soaking cotton balls in acetone, wrapping them around your fingertips with tinfoil or nail clips, and letting the solution sit on the fingernails for 10 minutes.

Then, rinse your hands thoroughly. Anything still gripping your nails can be removed with a cuticle pusher or nail file. Use some more nail polish remover if necessary.

To learn more, you can also read our posts on why people color their hair, why women wear lipstick, and why people look younger now.


Stickiness is a common problem associated with gel polish. It’s most likely caused by not letting the gel polish cure all the way or using low-quality or expired gel polish.

Other factors may put you at risk of sticky gel polish, too. It’s essential to always apply thin layers, avoid over-buffing the nail bed, and use compatible lamps and polish.


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