Dip nails are a fun and unique way to upgrade your standard manicure from boring, messy, and easily chipped nail polish. There are hundreds of colors and finishes to choose from, and the process is pretty straightforward for each of them. However, there are a few steps for application--mainly, activator--that tends to confuse new users.

Even though nail activator is an integral part of dip nails, what do you do if you’re halfway done with your dip nails and realize that you’re out of activator or notice that it’s contaminated?

What are Dip Nails?

Dip nails are a relatively new way to add color to your nails. Dip powder is similar to acrylic powder (but they are NOT the same in most cases) in the way that it forms a cement to your nails, adding thickness and pigment to your nails. Most people opt to do dip on their natural nails, but dip powder can also be done on full-cover or half-cover false nail tips if you would like to protect your natural nail or add length.

Dip powder also lasts much longer than regular nail polish, which usually only lasts a few days. If executed correctly, your dip powder could last you 1-2 months without chipping.

How do I do Dip Nails?


  1. Lightly buff your nail beds; this step is way more important than you think and is key to having your nails last for weeks
  2. Apply nail dehydrator (or rubbing alcohol). Wipe away excess moisture. Any extra oil left on the nail will keep the dip powder from sticking to your nail and will shorten the life of your manicure
  3. Paint a thin layer of our Base&Bond 2-in-1 base coat and bonder; you can find it here
  4. Dip your finger at a 45-degree angle into the powder (only use our high-quality Fairy Glamor powders; click here to view our full-color catalog)
  5. Leave your finger for 2-5 seconds
  6. Slowly lift your finger out of the jar
  7. Brush away excess powder
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 to apply a second layer of dip powder
  9. Apply a nail activator to seal the powder
  10. Apply your dip top coat (gel or not gel)

If you’re a beginner to dip nails, we strongly recommend that you read this in-depth article to dip powder nails.

What is a Dip Activator?

Dip powder contains polymers that cement together when exposed to a particular liquid called an “activator.” This activator is also called “monomer liquid,” which is the term used in acrylic nail building. Monomer activates the polymers in the dip powder, which is when the molecules of the powder begin to bond together to create an (almost) impenetrable wall.

Is Dip Activator Really Necessary?

Yes and no. Activator “cures” the dip powder and prevents it from chipping, becoming powdery again, etc. However, it is possible to do a dip manicure without an activator. Traditionally, a top coat isn’t required for dip nails, but it helps with longevity and shine. When you don’t use an activator, some kind of top coat is needed in order to keep the dip powder in place; you can use an air-dry top coat or a gel top coat, and you should use 2-3 layers for best results.

If you just ran out of activator, click here to purchase again! Activator is a crucial step in dipping powder, and you deserve the best.

Are There Any Activator Substitutes?

Yes. Dip powder activator is the same thing as monomer liquid and can be used to activate dip powder as it’s very similar in chemical composition to acrylic powder. Instead of dipping a brush into the monomer solution as you would for acrylic nails, take a tiny paintbrush with a bit of monomer and swipe it over your dip nails to activate.

You can also try using acetone or rubbing alcohol. Although alcohols do not “cure” the dip powder the same way that activators do, they help dry and harden it. Take a small brush with a little bit of rubbing alcohol/acetone and swipe on top of your dip nails. Make sure to follow up with a top coat as alcohol doesn’t have the same sealing effect that an activator does.

Quick Recap

  • Dip powder activator is a liquid used to seal, cure/harden, and protect the dip powder
  • Dip activator is technically not necessary but increases the longevity of the nail set
  • Dip powder can be replaced with monomer liquid, top coat, rubbing alcohol, or acetone
September 24, 2021 — Sydney Howe


Debbie said:

Can you use activator & top coat without using the dipping powder?

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Fairy Glamor designs unique 3-in-1 dip and acrylic nail powders in Galveston, Texas. We're a 100% family owned business that was founded in 2020 and went from making handmaking powders in our spare bedroom to shipping out of a big warehouse. We believe in both quality and affordability--that's why our powders are used by both professional nail technicians and in homes. Our unique colors are hand-designed to give you gorgeous manicures that'll make your nails feel magical.