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How do nail polish drying drops and sprays work?

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How do nail polish drying drops and sprays work?


To understand how they work, you must understand how nail polish dries. First, you need to know this: Molecules are really small. Many millions of molecules can fit on the head of a pin. Even the most advanced microscopes could never directly see them or watch them move. Only special highly advanced devices can come anywhere close to doing this.

So, we’ll just pretend to have a microscopic vision and can see molecules. If you use this microscope vision, you could look down into the freshly applied nail polish layer and see that there were millions of molecules shaped much like playing cards used in games. These cards would be mostly standing on their edges and piled on top of each other to form many layers. These molecules are not just floating free in a solvent. Instead, they are randomly stacked to form a crazy-looking “house of cards.”  This house of cards would be only semi-stable and would slowly fall apart as the solvents evaporate.

As the polish dried, this house of cards would begin to fall down in slow motion until all the cards are lying flat on their sides. In other words, as the nail polish dries and solvents evaporate away, these tiny “playing-card-shaped” thickener molecules settle onto the nail plate, on their sides, lying as flat as possible. This is one reason why dry nail polish forms a thinner layer than when wet. Some of this loss of thickness is due to the solvents evaporating away.  Most of it is due to thickener molecules settling into new positions and flattening against the nail plate in piles. 

How do nail polish drying drops and sprays work? They contain ingredients that target the thickener molecules to cause their “house of cards” to fall very, very rapidly, instead of in slow motion. As the thickener molecules pile up on the nail plate, this pushes the solvents to the surface. The solvents then blend with ingredients in the drops or spray and evaporate away.

Now you can see why I first explained how traditional, solvent-based nail polishes dry. All that a nail polish dryer does is to slightly speed up the process. These dryers do not completely remove the nail polish solvents, so the layer of nail polish will still take a while before it is fully hardened. Even so, polish dryers will knock a good ten to fifteen minutes from the initial drying process.

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