UV LED Lamps demystified

48W CCFL-LED Nail Lamp. Cures both UV/LED

UV LED Lamps demystified It seems strange, that Nail Techs do not mind spending loads of $$$ on UV LED Gel Polish but are always trying to use the cheapest lamp they can find.

Imagine buying an expensive luxury car and paying top dollar for it? Then asking for the cheapest, “no name brand” engine? Seems awfully funny when you think of it that way right? In fact Gel polish and UV LED lamps have the exact same relationship. Gel polish is the gorgeous, externally visible part however the lamp is really the engine.

To understand why this is, the best thing as always it to know more about lamps and how gel polish cures. This may seem boring but knowledge is power, so please don’t stop reading now.

Is UV visible to us?

First off, we cannot see UV light, some animals such as bees can but humans cannot. The purplish light you do see in your lamp, is in fact not the useful UV light at all. It is the invisible UV that cures the gel. It is a good thing though that lamps produce some visible light, or we would never know if the light was really onJ

What‘s with these terms “UV” “LED”?

May I give you a definition of a “LED lamp”? This lamp has UV LED bulbs. UV LED bulbs are called ultraviolet light-emitting diodes (ULEDs), their wavelength range is10-400nm. We usually use them for curing gels at 340-380nm (“UV”) and 395nm (“LED”).

Huh??? So in other words LED bulbs can cure both “UV” and “LED”??? How confusing is that! Or is it?

It’s not really so complicated!

The use of the terms “UV” nail lamp and “LED” nail lamp is actually somewhat bizarre. This would be like comparing an apple with the colour red! You get red apples but apple is a fruit, not a colour. Similarly you get UV producing LED’s but LED is type of light bulb, not type of light. UV though is a type of light.

The only confusing thing is why the names “UV” and “LED” were used in nail lamps in the first place? Please forgive me but for ease of explanation I must refer to “UV” and “LED” type curing, even if it is actually incorrect. Just as long as we all understand that both types are really UV curing.

What actually is the difference between “UV” and “LED” lamps then?

The older type lamps have UV bulbs, which includes fluorescent lamps. They give off UV but a very wide spectrum somewhere between 330 and 410 nm. “UV” nail gels cure, at anywhere between +/- 340 to 380 nm. The newer LED bulbs may be manufactured to gives a much more concentrated 395nm.

Can you see that the “UV” is much wider and the “LED” much more focused? 

How to understand this simply

So imagine you have a 2 litre cola bottle. You want to fill it with water using a bucket. You put water in the bucket and throw it over the bottle. Sure plenty will go inside but most will be wasted on the floor. The bottle will of course eventually be filled, it is just not a very efficient method.

Now imagine you have a nice wide funnel. You place it in the mouth of the bottle. Then you again take your bucket and empty it over the bottle. Definitely some will fall on the ground but most is going straight into the bottle!

The bottle with funnel is “LED”. The one with no funnel is “UV”. Clearly the “LED” will be quicker and more powerful.

How does the gel cure in UV LEV lamps?

All UV LED Gel nail polish use little things called photo initiators. A photo initiator is a chemical compound used to activate the drying process (curing) for inks, coatings, and adhesives.  They are designed to react to specific wavelengths of light, primarily in the UV range.

Very simply when you mix photo initiators and UV light, the photo initiators simply absorb energy from the light and activate other molecules. This cause a reaction, making the wet gel polishes into a hard, plastic-like substance.

Why you should always check lamps with your gel polish supplier

A gel which cures at say 395nm in a UV led lamp emitting 365nm, would be like trying to get a square peg into a round hole, it simply will not work. This is why each brand has a lamp that they know works. It does not mean a gel polish brand makes their own lamp, which is highly unlikely, they do though order from a factory that does make lamps, and specify a frequency.

Will my gel cure in another brand of lamp?

In a perfect world the gel polish manufacturers would all have a single type of initiator, for instance curing at only one frequency of light. Wouldn’t that be awesome? The gel would for example cure in seconds! The world is not perfect sadly and even the same manufacturer would be forced to use different photo initiators. In light and dark colours of gel polish for example, in light colour polish certain initiators may cause a yellow tone, whereas in black this is not an issue.  Similarly in different gel products such as builder gels, art gels and so on, different initiators work best.

This means that nail UV LED lamps all work within a spectrum of light. For this reason often a lamp will actually cure other brands as well. Ultimately you are best off using the lamp recommended by the gel polish brand.

Does your lamp cure through gel polish?

You all know that UV LED lamps cannot cure what they cannot penetrate. Think of the sun, the most powerful UV light source, if you sit under an umbrella, it will not burn you. So how can a thick layer of gel be cured even by a great lamp? A not so good lamp will struggle to penetrate even a thin layer. Answer, do not apply gel too thick rather do more thin layers and cure each layer. Don’t use a weak, poor quality lamp!!!!

A few words on the real cheap ones.

Without mentioning any brands, there is one much beloved lamp. It was initially not terribly cheap but still half the price of a good lamp. They have come down subsequently to about the price of one 15ml bottle of gel polish! These use inferior technology, they do not work well and they do not last long. Worst of all they cannot be easily repaired. This lamp was designed for home use or when studying nail technology but not salon use. All the inside parts, every single one could fit comfortably into a small bank bag!  

The bulbs they use are touted as being some sort of miracle product because it is 2 in one, curing everything! Sorry to say, as you now know they are just a LED emitting UV at a very wide range. How can that ever be a good thing? The cheapest possible, little bulb, in other words, cannot possibly give enough power at every UV frequency.  Cheap is ok but nasty is quite another thing!

My lamp is a million watts but my friends’ 12w cures better why?

Another misconception sadly perpetuated by manufacturers of cheap units, is that a 48w is very powerful and cures great! This may often be true! Be aware though that the wattage specified, is how much power the lamp uses not how much it puts out! You may have a R700 unit that is 48w and your friend a R7000 unit also 48w. They are unlikely to work equally well. In fact we can assume they definitely will not! 

The different lamps available

We can split the available lamps into 4 types;

  • Old fluorescent type lamps curing only “UV” gels
“UV” only lamp
  • LED types curing only “LED” gels
“LED” only lamp
  • Bulbs curing both “UV” and “LED” gels with a single large spectrum LED.
2 in 1 “do it all “bulbs
  • LED utilising two totally different kinds of bulbs, one for “UV” and another for “LED”
    • These can be further divided into lamps utilising two dedicated and distinct UV LED lamps one for each curing type
  • The final one which is a combination of LED bulbs for “LED” and CCFL bulbs for “UV”.

Which are the best UV LED lamps?

Of course this is subject to opinion. We think the UV type is the worst, it is out dated and as we learned covers such a wide spectrum that it works very slowly above all if it feels very hot!

The two in one types also are just trying to do too much at a large frequency of light. This is going to cause uncured gel polish under what appears to be a fully cured layer. Lifting, allergy, dermatitis and a multitude of other ills will likely be the result.

UV LED lamps just for “LED” gels will work well; problem is you need a gel that will cure at a precise frequency.

For us the best is a lamp with two dedicated types of bulbs. This allows very accurate curing of “LED” gels plus extra “LED” curing power from the CCFL lamp. It also allows curing of “UV” types using the CCFL. Therefore these will work great and will cure a multitude of different brands too.

Hopefully you now have a lot of knowledge which will help you not only buy the right lamp but furthermore explain why some gels just do not seem to cure in certain lamps.

In conclusion

Again I want to ask a question. If your husband bought you a gorgeous 2 carat diamond you would be so happy, if he set it in a cola tin ring-pull, you would think he had lost the plot!

UV LED Lamps

You do get what you pay for, you can find great deals on UV LED Lamps out there as well as overpriced units that are simply charging a premium for brand name (remember the gel polish company never made it anyway). Choose carefully and be sure to ask the supplier lots of questions. Do not skimp on what is in fact your most used and important tool.

Happy nailing. Cheers! Till next time.

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2 thoughts on “UV LED Lamps demystified

    • Gary Davidovitz says:

      Hi Liz and thank you so much for your comment. That is a tough question. The short answer is that you would need to buy a lamp and see exactly which gels it cures. It is impossible for me to advise you on which lamp may cure all your gels. The reason for this being that each company would use different photo initiators. However the good news is that they are all likely to be within the bandwidth mentioned in the article. I can say though, that the QD ccfl/led should cure the majority, if not all of them.
      I do hope the answer helps you.
      Thanks again!

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