Lamps for curing gel products are extremely diverse. If you’ve looked at LED-curing lights recently, you’ll find nearly 100 different ones that seem to make similar claims. These include wattage; type of bulb (LED or UV); light wavelengths/energy that is generated; battery powered or powered by a cord; one- or two-hand curing; flashlight style, full-size or four-finger curing; with or without a visible timer read-out; timer settings ranging from 10 to 120 seconds; and the list goes on. But at the end of the day, the most important feature is that it properly cures the gel product. If the light fails to cure the gel, then the rest of the features simply aren’t important. Here, we take a look at the important functions of curing lights and what to look for when investing in a new one.
Bulbs, Wattage & Wavelength
The first UV-curing light was supplied by a gel manufacturer in Florida. It was a large, single bulb curing light that stood very tall on the nail station. The next phase of curing lights was much smaller and used two 4-watt fluorescent bulbs that emitted UV and visible light. New developments in curing technology made the 9-watt compact fluorescent (CFL) UV bulb the technology of choice in the early 1990s. The 9-watt CFL UV bulb emits UV light above 340 nanometers (nm), and the light generated continues into the visible spectrum. However, these bulbs need to be replaced roughly every six months.
Today, very few nail professionals continue to use the 9-watt CFL bulbs, thanks to the invention of LED-curing lights in gel nail technology. The first LED lights generated 420 nm and 405 nm wavelength light. These wavelengths are in the visible spectrum and have a violet color. LED-curing technology has changed significantly in the past 15 years, and you can anticipate that the technology will continue to change and improve. For instance, many of the curing lights available now are using two types of LEDs. One type emits a longer wavelength of 405 nm; the other emits a shorter wavelength at 365 nm, 375 nm, 385 nm or 395 nm. The advantage of the curing lights that emit the shorter wavelengths is that the gels that cure in the UV range will cure much better.
The quality and completeness of the cure is a function of the wavelength of energy (or light being generated) and how that energy or light reaches the fingernails in order to cure the gel. The wattage is the amount of electricity consumed to power the bulbs. It’s important to note that not all lights are the same and are not guaranteed to produce the same amount of curing energy. Likewise, the type of LED emitters (bulbs) within the curing light can vary as well as the placement of them. Additionally, the distance the LED emitters are from the fingernails is also critical in how well the curing light will perform.
With all of the options available, it can become overwhelming to figure out what you need. But the best way to choose a lamp is by following what’s recommended by the gel manufacturer. After all, it’s the responsibility of the gel manufacturer to determine the proper light unit that is required to cure their gel adequately and sufficiently, not yours as the nail technician.
It should be noted and stressed that some curing lights look the same, but come from different manufacturers. These two similar lights may not be the same even though they look identical. For example, if the gel manufacturer states that a 48-watt light is needed to cure their gels, then they should recommend the correct 48-watt light. Always use the light that is specified by the gel manufacturer in order to get the fullest cure required.
With all of the features advertised on the box, how do you know what to buy? As I mentioned before, first and foremost, find what light is recommended by the gel manufacturer. After that, look at how tall the interior of the curing light is. The taller the light, the less effective the curing will be. It’s also a good idea to look inside. How many LEDs are located inside the light? The fewer the number of LEDs, the less even the curing will be. Take note if the interior of the light is reflective. If it’s not, then the light that is generated by the LEDs will be absorbed by the interior of the light and will decrease the curing efficiency.
LED curing lights are an investment. They can cost upwards of $200 and need to be replaced every two or three years. While this sounds expensive, think about it compared to the 9-watt CLF UV bulbs: While the cost of the UV light itself was less expensive, remember that the bulbs need to be changed every six months. Most of the older style CFL curing lights used four bulbs at a cost of $15 per bulb, which means it cost $60 to change all of the bulbs. Over the course of two years, that’s $180 in bulbs, in addition to the cost of the light with its original four bulbs. This means it costs roughly $300 per curing light.
While there are less expensive curing lights that can be sourced on the internet ranging from $5 to $200, it’s important to note: You’ll get what you pay for. Many of the less expensive or cheap curing lights will not produce the proper wavelength or intensity to appropriately cure a gel nail product. Under-cured gels will increase the potential of the nail professional or client to develop an allergy to the products being used. I also don’t recommend purchasing a used curing light. There is no way to know how much use the curing light has had, and this makes it nearly impossible to determine when it should be replaced.
Finally, take care of your investment. In addition to keeping the exterior clean, keep the polished metal interior protected from cured gels by using automotive car wax. Apply the car wax to the interior of the light on all of the metal surfaces, and then remove the residue after the wax dries. The cured gel can then be wiped off using window cleaner. Avoid using solvents like acetone on the interior of the curing light.
Jim McConnell is the president of McConnell Labs and Light Elegance, and is a NAILPRO advisory board member.