How to Make Glow in the Dark Nail Polish

Glow in the dark nail polish is the perfect accessory to rock a sweet rave party or be the coolest person at any evening gathering. You can buy glowing nail polish at a store, but if you can't find what you want or you're the DIY-type, you can get the effect of using science and regular nail polish.

Here are 2 methods that actually work for getting glow in the dark polish, one method you should avoid (dangerous and does not work), and a final method if you want your nails to glow under a black light.

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Homemade Nail Polish That Really Glows

Bright green nail polish
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It's easy to get nails that glow from top to bottom. Plus, this homemade polish looks pretty and professional under ordinary light.

Get That Glowing Manicure

  1. Paint your nails. It doesn't matter what color you use. The point is to provide a base so it will be easier to remove the glowing color later. You can skip this step if you want and your nails will glow just fine. It's just easier all around to start with a good base.
  2. Next, use a nail polish brush from an old bottle of polish. Unless it's from a clear polish, you might want to clean it up using nail polish remover so it doesn't have unwanted color.
  3. Use this brush to paint any of the following onto your nails: glowing paint, glow in the dark glue, glow in the dark fabric paint... basically any liquid that truly glows in the dark. Some of these dry clear, while others dry with a color. You probably need just a single coat of whatever you use, but if you use multiple coats, allow them to dry completely before applying another one.
  4. Seal the glowing color with a clear topcoat. That's it!

Helpful Tips

  • Any glow in the dark product glows best after exposure to bright light. To get the best effect, "charge" your nails under a bright light or a black light, if you have it.
  • Your glowing nails will glow in the dark for a few hours. That's just how to glow in the dark (phosphorescent) materials work. After that, they will need a re-charge. However, if you are going someplace with black lights, the nails will glow the whole time. The exception would be a radium or tritium paint (glow on their own practically forever), but those are radioactive; don't use those, especially if you bite your nails. 
  • If this is a last-minute manicure, you may want to charge the glow before applying the topcoat, just in case it filters out some light. It might not matter, but you never know.
  • There is a black light topcoat on the market you might want to try. It only glows under black light, but it's bright.
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Glowing Powder To Make Glow in the Dark Nails

Apply glowing glitter or shapes on top of nail polish for a glow in the dark effect.
Gesine Kelly/Getty Images

Get a more subtle, interesting glow in the dark effect by using glowing glitter, powder, or shapes with your nail polish. A craft store is the best place to find one of these items, although glowing powder is also a cosmetic. You can be creative and try any small, flat shape.

  1. Paint your nails. Or not; up to you.
  2. Apply a clear coat. Sprinkle or dust over the wet polish with your glowing powder or shapes. You can apply the treatment to the entire nail bed or just to the tips.
  3. Seal the look with a topcoat.

Mix in Glowing Pigment with Polish

You can also use powders or shapes as mix-ins with your polish. Just keep in mind, this can change the consistency of your polish. If you add the powder to a colored polish, the pigment will coat some of the particles, so the end effect will not glow as brightly. It's a great way to get uniform coverage, so the technique is worth considering.

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Using a Glow Stick To Make Nail Polish Glow

Glow stick liquid glows outside it's container, but it won't make your nail polish glow.
Mark Watson (kalimistuk)/Getty Images

Pinterest and other online sources would have you believe you can break open a glow stick, mix it in with a clear polish, and get glow in the dark nail polish. This method is an epic fail. It ruins a perfectly good glow stick, stinks, and makes a greasy, nasty mess. It also doesn't work.

The technique varies, from mixing the contents of the glow stick directly into your polish, to mixing clear topcoat with glow stick liquid in a separate container (safer, but the chemicals don't really mix), to painting your nails with a broken glow stick and then sealing with a top coat (glow stick liquid never, ever dries).

Don't try any of these at home. Trust me on this. In the interest of science, I tried them all. Gross. If you decide to go ahead anyway, at least coat your nails with a base coat before applying anything from a glow stick to protect them.

Another internet hoax is glowing Mountain Dew, although here a glow stick can come in handy.

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Use a Highlighter To Make Nails Glow Under Black Light

Rainbow toe nail polish
Dana Edmunds/Getty Images

It's easy to make your nails glow under a black light using fluorescent highlighter pens. Just keep the following points in mind:

  • Not all highlighters glow under a black light. Yellow is pretty reliable, but most blue pens don't glow. Check your pens under a black light before painting your nails -- unless you just like the color (then paint away).
  • Highlighter pens will stain the keratin of your fingernails and toenails. Apply a base coat before coloring your nails. Again, if you like having stained nails, go for it.
  • The color of the highlighter does not have to match the color of the polish. Just saying.
  • It's easier to get a good coating of highlighter color if you roughen the surface of your nails first. Use an emery board to get a slightly rough surface. Don't go hog wild or you'll have nasty-looking nails. An alternative is to use the highlighter to color over a matte or rough polish. Easy peasy.
  • Highlight ink is water-soluble, so you need to seal your artwork with a topcoat.
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Your Citation
Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Make Glow in the Dark Nail Polish." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2023, April 5). How to Make Glow in the Dark Nail Polish. Retrieved from Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "How to Make Glow in the Dark Nail Polish." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 28, 2023).