January 30, 2023

Swirls of nail polish close up

There is nothing more defeating than smudging your polish after spending an hour painting your nails or paying a decent amount of money to get them done by a professional. For this reason alone I switched to gel polish, as I am not one to be trusted with the great responsibility that comes with regular polish—nor can I sit still for the allotted amount of drying time without checking my phone. Unfortunately, gel polish can be hard on your nails (and your wallet), so what’s a person to do?

If you’re looking to go the traditional polish route—but without the dings and dents that often come along with it—we’ve got you covered. We tapped mani experts Emily Rudman, Mel Shengaris, and Marisa Carmichael for their top tips for preventing and fixing smudged nails. Read on for their expert advice.

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Prevent: Keep Your Coats Thin

Rudman says that the best way to prevent smudging is to apply thin coats of polish: “Typically, two to three coats of color are best. This will ensure the longest wear, and will be less likely to chip or dent.” You also want to give your coats some time to dry before you apply a new one. “I usually find by the time you get back to the first finger you started with, it’s ready for the second layer of color,” says Shengaris.

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Prevent: Check the Formula

To be on the safe side, check what kind of polish formula you are using. “Speed or quick dry formulas have solvents in them that evaporate quickly and allow the formula to dry faster,” says Rudman. “The trade-off is that these types of formulas wear for less time and chip more easily. On the side of caution, one or two minutes in between coats is best.”

Long-wearing formulas take a bit longer to dry, but they create a more flexible coating with stronger endurance that won’t chip or wear down as easily. The formula you should choose really depends on how much time you have to properly sit and wait for your polish to dry.

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Prevent: Try Quick Drying Drops

Essie Quick-E Drying Drops
Essie Quick-E Drying Drops $11.00

“My go-to tip is to use some quick drying drops. My personal favorite is the Quick-E Drying Drops by Essie. They are the saviors in my kit and they nourish the cuticles at the same time,” says Shengaris. Drying drops are a great way to speed up the drying process, and if you do accidentally brush up against something they help prevent your polish from smudging.

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Prevent: Come Prepared

If you’re going to a salon, make sure to pay before you get your nails polished and wear flip-flops when getting a pedicure. Rudman recommends opting for soft, loose clothing and foregoing a purse to make your commute home easier.

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Prevent: Go Cold

Once your nails feel dry, Shenargis suggests running them under really cold water or immersing them in a bowl of cold water and ice to thicken the nail polish and help it solidify quicker. “A good blast of cool air from your blow dryer will also help them dry quicker, but make sure the blast of air isn’t too forceful, otherwise you’ll move the polish and can create little ripples,” she adds.

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Prevent: Add Some Oils

“A really good trick if you need to put shoes on quickly after painting your toes is to drop a generous amount of cuticle oil, almond oil, or coconut oil to create a barrier, and then cover your toes with saran wrap,” shares Shenargis. This allows you to put your socks and shoes on without fear of smudging.

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Fix: Use Your Finger

Depending on how wet the polish still is, if it’s more of a surface smudge (as in the nail is not visible under the polish) you can lightly swipe a finger across the polish to remove any indentations. “If the nails are still wet you can use your fingertip with a little bit of acetone or polish remover and gently rub the smudge flat,” says Carmichael. You then go back in with more top coat, or, if needed, a thin layer of color and then top coat. Remember to allow for ample drying time between coats.

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Fix: Use Your Tools

If you’re dealing with a large smudge where polish is built up around the smudge, you can cut some of the excess polish off with a cuticle nipper. Then, use your finger and some polish remover to swipe across the surface and smooth out the smudge. You can also gently buff the smudge with a soft grit buffer or nail file until it’s smoothed out and gone. Go back in with the color and top coat as needed.

Despite your best efforts, however, “in some scenarios, a smudge is not fixable,” says Rudman. In that case, “you might need to carefully remove all polish on that finger and start over.”

FAQ
  • How many coats of nail polish should I apply?

    Our experts agree that when it comes to polish coats, four is the magic number: A base coat to protect the nail from staining and to help with adhesion, two coats of color, and a top coat to finish.

  • How long does it take nail polish to dry?

    This can depend on the kind of polish and its consistency. A thinner polish will dry faster than a thicker polish. You can theoretically resume activity in 20 minutes, but Carmichael suggests waiting 45 minutes before sticking your hands in your pockets.