LED vs UV Nail Lamps: Which One To Buy?

If you are keen on doing your own gel nails at home, the first thing you’ll need to buy is a nail lamp to cure the nail polish. But should you buy a LED or a UV nail lamp? What is the difference? And which one should you choose? With the resurgence of DIY gel manicures, many brands are launching at home kits that include a lamp. There are even tiny ones that can be carried in your bag so you can apply gel nail polish anywhere. So before you buy a gel nail lamp, read on to know what is the best one for you.

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LED vs UV Nail Lamps: What’s The Difference

UV lamps are the original gel nail lamp technology: they are less powerful than LED lamps but they work with a wider range of nail polishes. This means you need to keep your fingers under the lamp for longer to cure each layer. 36-WAT UV lamps will cure nearly all gel nail polishes, but you will need to change the bulbs regularly to ensure the lamp is actually effective. If your gel nail polish is still tacking after curing it and feels soft to the touch, your lamp is not doing its job correctly.

LED lamps bulbs last longer, and dry gel nail polish quicker. They are however a bit more of an investment, so if you are just doing a gel manicure at home to keep you going until nail salons re-open you may want to stick to a cheaper UV one. Also, LED lamps will restrict which nail polishes you can use. Not all gel nail polishes will cure under a LED lamp, as they have a smaller spectrum.

Can You Use Gel Polish Without a UV or LED Lamp? 

No, gel polish won’t harden (cure) without exposure to particular wavelengths of UV light. Unlike regular nail polish, it doesn’t dry when solvents evaporate. Instead, chemical reactions prompted by the UV light change the structure of the polymers in gel nail polish and harden it to its glossy, chip-free finish.

Can You Use LED Polish with a UV Lamp? 

Yes, LED gel polish will cure under a broad spectrum traditional UV lamp with the correct wattage. However, you will need to adjust the curing time accordingly because LED gel polish is designed to cure quicker than regular UV gel nail polish. Fortunately most manufacturers will specify how long you should cure gel nail polish under both LED and UV lamps.

Can You Use UV Polish with a LED Lamp? 

Many gel nail brands will work with a LED lamp, but if you are partial to a brand that only cures under UV light then you should get a suitable UV nail lamp. LED lamps have more intense but also more specific wavelengths and some polishes won’t react to them.

The following is a list of salon gel polish brands and the type of lamp they need.

Salon Gel Polish Brands That Work With Both UV and LED Lamps

  • Artistic Colour Gloss
  • Bio Seaweed 3-STEP Colour Gel
  • Bio Seaweed Gel Unity
  • Cacee
  • China Glaze Gelaze
  • Couture
  • Cuccio Colour
  • Daisy Gel
  • Entity One
  • Essie Gel
  • EZ Flow TruGel
  • Fingerpaints
  • Gel II
  • Gellux
  • Gels in Action
  • Glam & Glits INK
  • IBD Just Gel
  • Indigo Nails Lab
  • Jessica GELeration
  • Kiss
  • Kiara Sky
  • Light Elegance
  • ManiQ
  • NSI Polish Pro
  • OPI GelColor
  • Orly GelFX
  • Perfect Match
  • Red Carpet Manicure
  • Sally Hansen Salon Gel
  • SensatioNail
  • Bio Seaweed Gel
  • SuperNail ProGel

Salon Gel Polish Brands That Require UV Lamps

  • Artisan Gelefex
  • CND Shellac
  • Gelaxy
  • Light Elegance
  • Star Nail Eco Gels

Best LED Nail Lamp

A Note On Skin Damage From Nail Lamps

UV light exposure is a huge factor in skin ageing and the appearance of certain types of skin cancer, but are nail lamps safe? Generally speaking and with proper usage, gel manicures are perfectly safe because you are only exposing the top of your nails. However, you should always apply sunscreen before a gel manicure to protect skin from accidental exposure. If you are doing your own gel nails at home it’s worth buying a pair of protective fingerless gloves that will physically block UV light from reaching your skin.

The majority of the UV light emitted by nail lamps is UVA which is less dangerous to your skin than UVB, but to be on the safe side don’t expose your fingers unnecessarily. Sticking to the correct timing and possibly investing on a LED lamp with shorter curing times are good measures to reduce your UV exposure. But overall, unless you are doing your nails very very very often this kind of device is considered safe for home use. So far, the rumours that surface regularly about nail lamps and gel manicures causing cancer are unfounded. 

Mini Gel Nail Lamps

There are gel nail polish systems such as Le Mini Macaron with very small lamps, that only cure one finger at a time. They are very portable, and marketed to people who want to do a gel manicure on the go. However, they only fit one nail at a time, which means a full manicure will take 5 times longer than using a regular, 5 fingers lamp. They use LED lamps, so they are not so terribly time consuming, but still slower than your average gel manicure.

Does UV or LED make a difference in how long the gel manicure lasts? 

The only factors in how long gel manicures last are the quality of the polish, the quality of the application and how much you use your hands, so your choice of lamp won’t affect this. However, it’s very important to keep in mind that a gel manicure that hasn’t been cured properly won’t perform nearly as well. So a weak lamp, or a LED one being used with UV only gel nail polish won’t give you the results you expect.

LED vs UV Nail Lamps: Which One To Buy?

It really depends on your budget, and which types of gel nail polish you like the most. Generally speaking, LED lamps are more expensive but they are also more durable because you won’t need to change the bulbs regularly. So they are a good investment, provided your favourite gel polish is not designed to only work with UV lamps. If you are, for example, in love with Shellac, you won’t be able to use a LED lamp or one of the mini ones.

Do you need to buy the same brand lamp as your gel nail polishes? The jury is out on this one. Most people will buy a gel manicure kit, which often includes a lamp. But generally speaking you can use any UV lamp or LED nail lamp with any compatible polishes, provided the specifications have the right intensity.