When the popularity of gel manicures skyrocketed in the early 2000s, so did concerns of exposure to harmful UV radiation. According to studies published by the American Cancer Society, UV lamps, like tanning beds, were linked to skin damage on the hands and they put clients at risk for most cancers. Today, new developments in technology have given nail techs another option – LED light dryers.
LED (light-emitting diode) nail dryers are rapidly replacing UV (ultraviolet) dryers for many reasons. Although purely up to the professional, the move to LED promises to be better overall not just for the tech, but also for clients.
A quick science lesson
Gel nail polish is set or cured with ultraviolet light whether it’s from a UV or LED source. When clients are exposed to ultraviolet light for five to 10 minutes every couple of weeks when they receive gel services, it significantly increases their exposure to harmful UV light from the sun, tanning beds, etc.
Traditionally, gel nail polish is cured by UV wavelengths. The light emits a broad range of UV wavelengths at a lower concentration and energy than LED that hits molecules in the gel called photoinitiators, or compounds, that absorb light and convert it into the energy needed to drive the polymerization process. When the light from the UV waves bond with those molecules, it activates them making the gel “cure” into a hard plastic.
LED lights work similarly, but they emit narrower UV wavelengths with higher concentration and more energy. These light emitting diodes target specific photoinitiators in the gel polish which enables the gel to cure much faster than UV.
What are the benefits and disadvantages of each?
For the distinct reason that LED nail dryers offer a faster drying time compared to UV lights, they are said to be safer than UV lights. A faster curing time equals less time one is exposed to harmful radiation, so this is a definite advantage for clients. It takes UV lights anywhere from 8-10 minutes to cure gels, while LED lamps take 30-45 seconds.
Second, LED bulbs last much longer than UV bulbs. Typically, UV bulbs must be changed after about 10,000 hours of use. If they are not, they could impede the overall quality of your gel manicure. Additionally, if broken they could emit harmful mercury vapors.
LED bulbs however, last for up to 50,000 hours and they use less electricity. Many salons and techs do not know when to change the bulbs, and since they're not changing them, they're causing bad output and subsequently bad curing jobs, which results in a duller finish and faster chips.
Although LED lights are more expensive than UV lamps, you will get a safer and more economical product by choosing an LED lamp in the long run.
Decide what benefits are important to you before you purchase
When you do decide to choose between a LED and a UV nail lamp, you should focus not only on your budget, but also on what you want to accomplish. Why are you choosing one over the other? Are you using it for gel manicures only or for gel overlays etc.? If you buy a LED nail dryer for polish or gel nails, make sure you buy the correct gel system that was created specifically for that dryer. It will make a great difference in your finished product as gels are created to work to the specifications of particular formulas.
Though great in many ways, the bad news is LED lamps cannot cure all gel brands, but UV lamps can cure all LED polishes. If you decide to use a UV dryer to cure LED polishes, It may be necessary to decrease the amount of time you cure. Be sure to check the gel manufacturer’s website recommendations for how long to cure various polishes under LED or UV lamps.
Still think you want to stick with UV dryers? As an additional safety precaution, you can cover the tops of your client’s hands with sunscreen or allow them to wear UV protective gloves that are only around $7.
No matter which you choose, make sure it’s the best fit for your business, your clients, and your team!
Photo: Shutterstock Oleksii Biriukov
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Tiffani Douglas is an author, speaker, beauty-marketing consultant and licensed nail technician with over 20 years experience in the beauty industry.
A graduate of the University of Kentucky, Tiffani worked her way through college as a manicurist to obtain a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism, with a concentration in strategic marketing. After college, she went on to work in corporate America as a marketing and media maven, but ever passionate about the beauty industry, she founded her own mobile spa.
During that time she also began consulting other beauty professionals in the areas of marketing and branding, which sparked an idea to write two e-books, Social Media Marketing: A Guide for Beauty Professionals and Are You a True Beauty Professional– 7 Practical Steps to Being More Professional, Upgrading Your Business and Increasing Your Revenue. She recently released her first published book, Straight Outta Beauty School - 10 Things You Need to Know and Do After You Graduate.
Tiffani resides in Dallas, Texas where she continues to inspire beauty pros young and old by offering them the tools they need to grow personally and professionally.
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