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Help, My Gel Nails Are Sticky!

Help, My Gel Nails Are Sticky!

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Main image – MarinafrostAdobe

Imagine (in fact, this has probably happened to you before if you’re a seasoned gel nailer), you’ve just had a fresh new gel mani but there’s a problem: they’re sticky.

Loads of us have been perfecting our gel manicure skills, investing in pretty colours, UV lights, top coats and base coats so that we can create the look from the comfort of our own sofa (I like to do this while watching Friends and eating chocolate, but you do you!)

Now, don’t get us wrong, gel nails are *supposed* to be sticky or tacky in between coats, this is so that each coat properly adheres and lasts. But sticky gel nails AFTER your manicure has been completed? This is a sign that something is wrong.

But why is this happening to me?! We hear you ask.

There are actually a few reasons why your gel nails might be sticky and, although annoying, we are going to tell you what you can do about it! We’ve also spoken with the Director of Education and Training for Frenchies Modern Nail Care, Kayla Bramlet, to get her expert advice on what to do if your gel nails are sticky.

Let’s get you out of this sticky situation together!


why are my gel nails sticky manicure mani

Image – Darya Lavinskaya/Adobe


Why are my gel nails sticky?

Beneath the allure of your gorge new gel mani – whether it be a stunning classic French set, a cool ombre design, or intricate nail art – some of you might find yourself entangled in a sticky predicament, and there are a few reasons for this.

It’s important to understand *why* your gel nails are sticky in order to find the correct remedy, don’t worry, we’ve got you.


The inhibition layer or dispersion layer: At times, the application of gel nails may suffer an off-beat rhythm, leaving a tacky residue on the nail’s surface. The guilty culprit? The untimely marriage of gel and air – an annoying affair known as oxygen inhibition.

As the gel polymerises under UV light, its changeable nature seeks solace in the ambient air, creating a delicate layer of stickiness. Inadequate curing or improper product composition may exacerbate this and the clingy affair, causing stickiness, smudges and chipping – yikes!


Improper curing: Now, this one is actually *really* important but more common than you think. Not only can improper curing cause sticky nails that will attract fluff and dust, but they will also only last for a few days. Interestingly, this can occur more often on thumbs!

Improper curing can cause cracking, breaking, shattering, lifting, pitting, discolouration, a cloudy finish, bubbles and onychosis to adverse skin reactions – nobody wants skin sensitivity from their mani.


Layers too thick or not cured long enough: It’s important to use the right amount of gel polish, too much can lead to improper curing and annoying tackiness. Not curing your nails under UV light for long enough will also, inevitably, lead to sticky nails.

To create a smooth finish without residue, apply the gel coats in really thin layers, ensuring no bumps or stripes, and make sure every layer is cured thoroughly.


Residue from previous gel manicures: Make sure to remove any residue from previous gel manicures. If proper removal techniques aren’t used, you’ll be left with remnants of your old manicure that can cause stickiness. You can see our guide to removing your gel mani here.


Chemical build-up: You shouldn’t have *any* cuticle oils or moisturisers on your nails when applying your polishes, as this will cause chemical reactions over time and lead to pesky sticky nails.


Insufficient UV light: If your UV light isn’t up to scratch or isn’t strong enough to cure the nails, you’ll *defo* end up with sticky residue. Your UV lamp must be strong enough to cure the product.

You can actually cure gel nails without a UV lamp, but it can result in stickiness and will take WAY longer to cure – like, literally, days.


Like the subtle art of tea brewing, precision and patience become the allies for a flawless gel nail finish.

And, as we all know, prevention is better than cure – so what can you do to prevent your new gel nails from being a sticky mess?

Fear not, my friends, for the conundrum does have a remedy.

To create a truly unyielding gel embrace, you will need to hone the craft of impeccable preparation, careful application, and nurturing harmony between the gel and the curing light.

You can, of course, also use a no-wipe top coat to prevent this sticky situation from occurring in the first place.


why are my gel nails sticky tacky

Image – golubovy/Adobe


How do I get rid of sticky residue from my gel nails?

Ok, so you’ve got sticky residue after your gel mani – now what?

Luckily, there are also a few remedies for this!


Extra curing: First off, make sure your nails are fully cured by popping them back under that UV lamp.


Isopropyl alcohol: This is the most common – and budget-friendly – way to effectively remove that sticky or tacky layer on top of the gel top coat. The alcohol will quickly dissolve the sticky layer and easily wipe away like magic, and Kayla backs this method up “To remove the sticky residue, you need to wipe your nails with isopropyl alcohol.”

You can use Isopropyl Alcohol in the form of wipes or by soaking lint-free cotton pads/balls in the alcohol and then wiping over your nails.


Gel nail cleanser: A gel nail cleanser is SUPER handy to have if you do your own gel manis. Not only will it remove any sticky layers, but you can also use it before your manicure to remove any oils, moisturisers or residue. Simply soak the product onto a lint-free cotton pad/ball and wipe away to reveal non-sticky talons!

A gel nail cleanser might be a slightly more costly option, but it has double usage so it’s swings and roundabouts with this one.


Non-acetone nail polish remover or micellar water: If you don’t have isopropyl alcohol or a gel cleanser, you can use a small amount of acetone-free nail polish remover on a lint-free cotton pad/ball.

DON’T use acetone on your nails if you want to keep them strong and healthy – and we are guessing you do! Only use a small amount otherwise you may potentially weaken your gel manicure and remove some of the colour or glossiness. No thanks!


DIY gel nail cleanser or soapy water: Don’t have ANY of these products? As a final resort, household chemicals that contain a high concentration of alcohol *can* work for removing the sticky residue – think hand sanitisers and perfumes. You can also try soapy water.

Use this DIY option at your own peril, as chemicals could potentially damage or ruin your manicure – you’ve been warned!


Kayla gives us her top tip for aftercare, she “recommends finishing with a non-toxic cuticle oil to moisturise your nails and keep them healthy.”


why are my gel nails sticky manicure mani

Image – tatyanarow/Adobe


Do I have to remove this sticky residue?

Can’t be bothered to re-do your nails? Don’t have any products to remove this sticky layer? Sorry guys and gals, it’s pretty important that you remove the tacky coating on your nails.

Why? It’s this step that ensures your nails have a glossy and smooth finish and, after all, what’s the point of having a gel mani if your nails don’t look incredible after?

If you don’t remove the sticky layer, your gel polish may appear dull and can be more prone to chipping or peeling, which is a complete waste of time!


Can I use normal nail polish remover?

 Yes! However, it’s important to use acetone-free nail polish remover so as not to damage your nails or your mani.


What if my nails are still sticky?

Suppose your gel nails are still sticky after the recommended curing time. In that case, this is because the remaining sticky layer is made up of oligomers exposed to oxygen and does not bond to the photoinitiators. You can simply add another coat on top and give those oligomers something to bond to.

You can also try curing your nails for longer under the UV or LED lamp to ensure the nails are fully cured and hardened.

How long should this take? The recommended time you should keep the gel base coat exposed to the lamp is for 45 seconds only, cure the colour layer for 60 seconds, and do not exceed 90 seconds for the topcoat.


why are my gel nails sticky tacky

Image – zatevakhin/Adobe


How do I remove gel nails?

To safely remove gel polish from your nails, you should first buff the surface with a nail file to break the seal of the top coat.

Then, soak a cotton pad in acetone or a gel polish remover, place it on your nail, and wrap your finger with aluminium foil.

Relax and let your nails soak for 10-15 minutes before gently removing the gel and any remaining residue with a cuticle pusher or orange stick. At this stage, don’t force the gel off, and be mindful not to damage your natural nails.


The takeaway

We’ve probably all been there at some point on our manicure journey, but now you know *exactly* what to do if you’ve got sticky residue left on your new gel nails.

Taking preventative measures like using a base coat, applying gel polish correctly, cleaning your natural nails before application, allowing layers to dry completely, avoiding moisture, and wearing gloves will help to avoid this altogether.

But, if you do find yourself with tacky nails, you won’t be stuck for long with these top tips!



Meet the expert

Kayla Bramlet is the Director of Education and Training for Frenchies Modern Nail Care, a fast-growing national non-toxic nail salon franchise.

Bramlet also owns a Frenchies franchise location in Lakeville, Minnesota.






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Senior Beauty Editor

Laura Kemp started her journalism career as a news reporter for one of the largest newspaper groups in Europe before moving into features and editorial writing. Combining her love of hard-hitting journalism with her passion for beauty, she’s now Senior Beauty Editor at Live That Glow. When she’s not writing, researching, or interviewing her favourite experts, you’ll find Laura practicing her downward dog or drifting on her paddleboard.

Expertise: Hair care, nails
Education: University of Salford

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