Did you know that as early as 3000 BC, Chinese women paint their nails with potions made from gelatine, beeswax, and egg white?
Painted nails have been synonymous with elegance and beauty for many years. Luckily, modern nail polishes require a lot less hassle.
Over the last decade, gel nail polishes have taken the beauty industry by storm. Finally, the world has access to long-lasting, hard-wearing, streak-free polish in a rainbow of colors.
However, there is one age-old dilemma that nail technicians can’t agree on: are LED or UV nail lamps better for curing gel nails?
LED nail lamps are miles better than UV nail lamps. Not only do they cure gel nails three times faster than traditional UV lamps, but they’re also longer lasting. This means LED lamps are safer since they require less exposure to potentially hazardous UV rays.
I think it’s high time for me to weigh in on the debate. Are UV rays as harmful as they’re made out to be? Is it true that LED gel polishes can be cured with standard LED bulbs? Keep reading to find out.
What Is The Difference Between UV Light and LED Light?
As the name suggests, gel nail polishes differ from traditional nail polishes in that they are made from gel oligomers. The benefit of this is a smoother, more flexible nail that doesn’t crack easily.
Unlike traditional polishes, gel nails do not dry when exposed to air and instead require exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This process is known as curing.
Are you ready to get scientific? Let’s delve deeper into the curing process.
All gel polishes contain tiny molecules called photoinitiators.
When UV rays hit the photoinitiators, they convert this UV light into energy, which triggers a polymerization process.
In simple terms, UV light activates photoinitiators, which transforms gel polish from a viscous state to a solid one.
So with that in mind, let’s set the records straight. All nail lamps, whether UV or LED, emit UV light. Without exposure to UV, gel nails will not harden.
Therefore, the difference between LED and UV nail lamps is related to the spectrum of UV waves that they emit.
Traditional UV nail lamps will emit broad wavelengths between 320 and 400 nanometres. LED nail lamps, whereas, are much more targeted. They typically emit narrow wavelengths between 340 and 350 nanometres.
The upshot of this is that LED nail lamps cannot cure all gel polishes since some photoinitiators operate outside their remit.
In this regard, traditional UV lamps are more versatile. You can use a UV lamp to cure all LED gel polishes, but you cannot use an LED lamp to cure all UV gel polishes.
How Long Does It Take To Cure Nail Gel With LED?
Fortunately, there’s some good news. Due to the narrower spectrum of UV waves they emit, LED lamps cure gel nails much faster than traditional UV lamps. LED lights take 30 to 60 seconds to cure gel polish, compared to 2 to 3 minutes under UV lights.
Are you wondering how this works?
Though it depends on the polish, most gels are activated by UV rays of around 350 nanometres. UV lamps, which emit light between 320 and 400nm. This means that a large proportion of their waves have no effect on the gel. With LED lamps, the spectrum of waves is much narrower, so there is much less waste.
It may be helpful to explain this with fractions. With UV lamps, only 1/80 waves can successfully cure gel polish. But for LED lamps, 1/10 waves can cure a polish.
Since more of the LED lamps’ waves are useful, the speed of curing is quicker.
Why does this matter? Well, on top of the obvious benefits of speedier manicures, LED nail lamps reduce exposure to UV rays.
Although nail lamps do not require specific health warnings, exposure to UV radiation can be extremely harmful. Research by the American Cancer Society, found that UV lamps increase the risk of both skin damage and cancer!
If a UV lamp takes 3 minutes to cure one layer of gel, and each manicure requires 2 coats of polish, that’s 6 minutes of UV exposure per hand. When you consider that most people get manicures every 2 to 3 weeks, this accumulates to a lot of UV exposure.
So switching to LED lamps reduces UV exposure tenfold.
Do You Need A Special LED Nail Lamp?
It’s clear that LED lamps are the way forward, but compared to traditional UV lamps, they can be damn expensive. If you love saving money, you may wonder if the standard LED bulbs around your house can be used to cure gel nails?
The answer: probably not.
Gel polishes are formulated to react to specific wavelengths of UV light. This is predetermined by the manufacturer and not usually set out on the product packaging.
For a standard LED bulb to cure gel polish, the UV wavelengths it gives off would have to precisely match those needed by the polish.
But of course, all gels are different. So this isn’t a case of ‘one-size-fits-all.’
No matter how long you leave a gel nail under an LED, if it is not an exact match, the gel will never be fully cured.
The nail may become hard on top, but there is no guarantee that it would be cured all the way through.
Why is this bad?
First and foremost, uncured gel nails will break down and chip easily. In addition to this, leaving the fresh gel on nails can lead to an allergic reaction or even dermatitis!
Can LED Flashlight Be Used To Cure Gel?
So it goes without saying that an LED flashlight cannot be used to cure gel nails. Technically, it is not impossible. But the chances of finding an LED flashlight that emits the exact UV waves needed by a gel polish is pretty remote.
And that’s not all. Most white LEDs feature a phosphor coating. This is intended to convert UV waves to visible light, thus making the LED brighter and whiter.
Essentially this means that LED flashlights emit minute, if any, amounts of UV light.
If you’re still intrigued, there’s a simple way to test this. Place a small bead of gel on wax paper and cure it under an LED flashlight for 60 seconds. Then, lift it off the paper and see if it’s fully cured.
That’s all there is to it! LED lamps are a quicker, safer, longer-lasting alternative to standard UV nail lamps.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still room for improvement. Like UVs, LED lamps emit hazardous UV rays.
But in the meantime, I’ve seen a lot of nail techs providing clients with anti-UV fingerless gloves to help minimize exposure.
Have you upgraded from UV to LED nail lamps yet? What’s stopping you? Let me know down below, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.