How to Avoid Bubbles in Your Nail Polish Finish

By: Sara Elliott  | 
model gets her nails done
A model gets her nails done backstage ahead of a catwalk show in Sydney, Australia. Kristian Dowling/Getty Images

Bubbles trapped in nail polish are the worst. Unlike smudges and other minor imperfections, there aren't many fast and easy fixes for a buried bubble trapped in your nail polish finish. Even worse, sometimes it's hard to tell if you have a bubble problem until your nails are dry.

Bubbles can happen with new polish and with premium, expensive polish, too. They're also bound to show up and spoil your nail finish for that big date. All that hard work and you may have to invest another hour or so stripping a nail (and a few of its fellows) and repeating the process all over again — and again — and again. It's maddening.


If you've hovered over your nails, the polish applicator carefully positioned at a precise angle, determined that this time you'll get it right, only to fail, you know what we mean.

Wouldn't it be nice to find the cause of the bubbles and just make sure to eliminate them at the source? A little extra diligence would save you time and money on the cost of supplies, right? The problem is that bubbles can be the result of oil or moisture in the polish, or even ambient moisture in the air. They can occur if the polish you're using is too thick, too old or of poor quality. Bubbles can be the bane of a DIY manicure, but they aren't necessarily inevitable.

Let's proceed to the next page where we'll take a look at some effective ways you can deflate those bubbles for a smooth, professional-looking nail polish finish at home.


Tips for Avoiding Bubbles in Wet Nail Polish

Nail polish products are made using complex, proprietary formulas only known to their respective manufacturers. Sometimes, just changing the brand of polish you use can reduce or eliminate bubbles and streaks. If you're plagued with bad bubbling even when using a variety of different products, these tips will help.

  • Clean your nails: The skin on your hands releases oil and moisture that migrate to your nails, creating an invisible and slightly acidic layer that can mix with nail polish and cause problems. Wash your hands with warm soapy water and brush your nails with a soft bristle brush before applying polish. It's a good idea to clean the underside of each nail, too.
  • Add extra insurance: After your nails are clean, dip a cloth or swab in white vinegar and rub it on each nail in turn. Vinegar is a natural, safe, oil-busting acid that will help eliminate oily residue.
  • Make sure your nails are dry: After washing and treating your nails, take the time to dry them thoroughly. Remember, even if your nails look dry, the nearby skin folds may still be moist. Wait at least another 10 minutes before grabbing the nail polish.
  • Close the windows and turn off the fan: Moving air, especially if it's moist, can have an impact on your nail finish. There's a difference of opinion on this score, and without an expert consensus, you'll have to be the judge. Our advice is to err on the side of caution and create as stable — and still — an environment as you can. This doesn't mean you should apply nail polish in the closet, though. Nail polish and other nail products can produce dangerous fumes, so make sure to work in a large, open area.
  • Inspect your polish: Expecting old, gloopy polish to give you a smooth finish isn't realistic. Actually, it's hoping for a miracle. Always check your polish with a quick swipe across a test nail to see if it flows smoothly. If it looks like it's creamier than it should be, don't even risk it. Wipe your nail clean and move on to the next bottle.
  • Roll the bottle: When you do find a likely polish candidate, roll the bottle to blend the contents, don't shake it. Those beads inside almost invite vigorous shaking but resist the urge.
  • Secure the cap: When you've finished, be sure to tighten the cap on the polish securely so it won't dry out before you're ready to use it again.


Avoiding Bubbles in Dry Nail Polish

nail polish
The more air you have, the more bubbles will form.

If you've made every effort to apply a perfect layer of nail polish and still notice a pesky bubble, there are some culprits — and fixes — you should know about:

Beware excess oil and perspiration: If it's a hot day and your hands are perspiring, you may be adding bubble-building moisture to the polish as you work. To help keep moisture to a minimum, work in a cool room or wait until evening to do your nails next time.


Use a cover-up: Sometimes small bubbles spring up out of nowhere just when you think you have a perfect finish. Instead of starting over from scratch, you may be able to conceal the bubble using a top coat over your polish. The extra layer and enhanced sheen will reduce the appearance of the bubble and may even add some pressure to flatten it out. If you don't have or don't like to use a top coat product, adding an additional layer of polish may do the trick, too.

Thin it away: Minor bubbles sometimes can be smoothed out using polish thinner. Just brush over the bubbles from the cuticle to the tip of your nail in one or two flowing, continuous swipes, and let the area dry for a few minutes. Reapply polish to the treated spot. This works well with clusters of tiny bubbles.

Use a disguise: If all else fails, you can always take the easy way out and cover a large, persistent bubble with a nail decal, sticker, jewel or other enhancement.


Lots More Information

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