UV vs LED Lamp: What’s the Difference?
While the UV and LED lights may seem interchangeable at first, they are two different lights with their own pros and cons. Knowing what sets UV and LED lamps apart when curing your gel nails could be a game-changer for you. Keep reading to find out which lamp is better for you.
This Little Light
If you’ve been in the nail game for any amount of time, whether as a nail tech or a personal lover of a fresh gel set, you’ve undoubtedly heard the words UV and LED thrown around once or twice. These are small but essential cogs in the process of getting long-lasting gel or acrylic nails.
They can easily be overlooked as just that, a small piece. However, knowing what exactly is happening whenever you tuck your little fingertips under each curing light could help you elevate your experience. Or it could simply help you choose the light you find better overall.
The UV or LED refers to what kind of bulb is used in each curing lamp. UV stands for ultraviolet light. It's the light we all know and love as the kind that can give you that sought-after summer tan.
LED stands for “light-emitting diode,” which is a fancy way of saying “light with less electricity.” These lights are the kind your landlord might favor you using in your apartment or dorm room as they run less risk of overheating, breaking, or causing a fire hazard.
There is a lot that goes into the workings of light in different situations. Nail salons everywhere have implemented the use of these lights to fully cure gel polish and completely bypass that pesky drying period regular polish makes you sit through.
The good news is if you’re tired of dealing with all the hullabaloo of the salon, you can buy your own nail-curing light. The following information will allow you to make an informed purchase to satisfy all your at-home needs.
But how does it work? Is one better for you and your nails overall? We’ve got answers to all your burning questions. So, let’s dive in.
What Is UV?
UV light, or ultraviolet light, is the light we’re exposed to on a daily basis. It comes from the sun and is the main reason we wear sunscreen. The sun emits three types of UV lights, which are invisible to the eye. However, if we could see it, it would fall right after violet on the color spectrum — hence its name.
Of the three kinds of ultraviolet (UV-A, UV-B, and UV-C), UV-C light is the only one that has been discovered to have germicidal properties. This means that this type of light is highly effective at killing off and stopping the spread the various bacteria. Since this effect was discovered, it has been used as a disinfectant and sanitizing aid.
It kills off living cells, making UV-C light highly useful and highly dangerous if used in excessive amounts. Believe it or not, UV is commonly used to rid bacteria buildup from HVAC systems in air conditioning to purify air quality.
UV lamps are an artificial replication of this. When a UV lamp is plugged in, the mercury stored inside reacts with the electricity to create the UV light. This allows UV lamps to be used for whatever purpose.
However, not all lamps are used to emit the germ-killing UV-C wavelength. You might wonder why you would lather on sunscreen to protect your skin from the same light that you’re paying top dollar to soak your digits beneath.
Don’t panic; the wavelength that cures your nails into chip-free perfection is UV-A. It doesn't have anywhere near the same exposure risk that sunburning UV-C does.
The chance that anything dangerous would happen to your fingers under a nail lamp is little to none unless you’re letting your fingers take hours-long tanning-bed trips under there.
What Is LED?
UV might be a more commonly encountered natural light, but LED has been implemented through the years as a safer alternative in many circumstances. It has often replaced the incandescent light bulbs you might've popped once or twice, turning on the light switch.
Light-emitting diodes are longer-lasting, lower-risk, more energy-efficient, and durable than your average incandescent light. Although, they do require a slightly altered hardware setup to ensure the right amount of energy and heat is reaching them.
Since their implementation, they’ve become so widely used and popular because LED lights are incredibly innovative and fit a wider variety of fixtures and situations. These lights also save a tremendous amount of energy by dissipating heat into something called “heat sinks.” Heat sinks are helpful in avoiding burnout or overheating.
In LED lamps, these same principles of energy efficiency and longer-lasting durability carry over. The lights in these lamps will last you for a longer period of time and maintain a safer and more efficient experience no matter the situation. They also work faster than other options in regards to gel nails.
However, LED nail lamps can be a bit pricer because of all of these seemingly superior stats. LED has a longer, more visible wavelength on the spectrum that specifically targets things called photoinitiators. These are molecules within the gel that release something called a free radical, which react together within gel polish. These radicals can harden faster and more effectively under LED light than a UV light might be able to.
If you’re someone who values more bang for their buck, a quicker experience overall, durable and higher-quality equipment, and little to no exposure to your skin from UV light radiation, choosing something with LED is our recommendation.
Which Nail Lamp Is for Me?
So how does each light affect your gel experience in the salon or at home? When it comes to UV and LED nail lamps, we’ve mentioned a few key differences, not just in the light themselves but in how the lamps work.
Here are some reminders for you as either a nail tech or salon-goer:
- Some polishes or extensions can call for different lamps — there isn’t a “cure-all” if you will
- LED lamps and lights are longer-lasting than their UV counterparts
- LED cures gel faster than UV
- LED is more expensive than UV in most cases
Yes, there are indeed nail enhancements out there designed to be specifically cured with a certain kind of light. If you’re looking for nail extensions that cure right over the top of your natural nail, then the UV gel extensions would fit that bill.
These types of nails are cured with the shorter wavelength of ultraviolet, while a simple gel polish that is painted directly to your natural nail can be cured with the longer wavelength of LED as well. We talked about how UV gel contains photoinitiators that react with molecules in gel to bond into a stiff final product that mimics a real nail.
The different nail lamps also provide different curing times. The choice between a 30-second curing time and a whopping 2 minutes is up to whoever is doing the nails and how quickly you want them to stiffen.
The higher the wattage of a lamp, the faster that time becomes. Another reminder to keep in mind is while UV light in the nail salon has little to no risk to the skin at such low exposure, LED has even less. So if you want to play it safe, sticking to LED might be the best move.
When choosing the right lamp to use regularly, the main question to be asked is what is the end goal? Do you want highly convenient gel extensions, or maybe you prefer the convenience without the UV exposure? If you're not sure what you want, that's okay. It’s a lot to think through.
But we can assure you that if you’re in any way a connoisseur of nails, taking the time to understand everything you put your fingertips through is just as important as the final product.
If you didn’t think we could make it any easier for you — surprise. We’ve got the perfect at-home LED lamp to try for yourself right here at ohora — and for a fraction of the price of other curing lamps out there.
Also, for the entire month of June, with any 3 semi-cured pedicure sets you purchase, you get to pick out another pedicure set for free. That's plenty of toe-rrific nail sets to mix and match yourself or to share with friends and wear out on the town all summer long.
And the best part is that our gel lamp works for gel manicures and pedicures alike, so this is the perfect time to test the effects of LED curing for all your future designs.