What Are Heat Spikes?

Three scientists and one veteran nail tech explain what heat spikes are, why they happen and what to do about them.
Three scientists and one veteran nail tech explain what heat spikes are, why they happen and what to do about them.

Every gel client knows of them and fears them: heat spikes.

Here, three scientists and one veteran nail tech explain what they are, why they happen and what to do about them.

Jim McConnell, President of McConnell Labs/Light Elegance

Heat spikes are scientifically called exothermic reactions. (Exothermic literally means ‘to give off heat.’) The total amount of heat that’s generated is directly related to the number of bonds that are formed during the polymerization reaction. Each bond that is formed will generate a specific amount of heat. The more bonds that are formed, the more heat is generated.

Here are a few tricks to reduce clients’ discomfort:

  • Use less gel. The more gel that’s applied to the nail, the more heat is generated and thus an increase in the heat experienced by your client. A thinner layer of gel will result in less heat.
  • Use an LED lamp that has a setting for hard gels. These lamps have less output and will reduce the amount of heat experienced by your client.
  • Use a gel that generates less heat. This is achieved by altering the resins and photoinitiators in the gel so that less heat is experienced. These gels are often softer and more flexible.

Doug Schoon, President of Schoon Scientific

Heat spikes are often caused when nail techs use the incorrect nail lamp to cure their UV gels. A small amount of warming is normal, but if so much heat is generated that it burns the client’s nail beds, then something is wrong. Using the wrong lamp can cause heat spikes, potentially leading to onycholysis and nail infections. This is why it’s so important to use a nail lamp that has been tested, verified and recommended for use by the manufacturer of the UV gel. There’s no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ nail lamp that will properly cure all UV gels.

Paul Bryson, Principal Scientist OPI

The curing reaction that hardens gels and liquid-and-powder acrylics always releases some heat. (Technically, this is called the ‘heat of polymerization.’) If the cure is slow and controlled, the heat has time to dissipate, and the client will feel little or no warming. However, if the cure is very fast, the heat is released all at once, and the client will feel a heat spike. 

Nail chemists work hard to avoid heat spiking—after all, the product often goes on our own nails first! To avoid heat spiking, be sure to use a lamp that’s matched to your product, and don’t apply gel too thick, especially on clients with thin or damaged nails, as their fingertips are less protected. If necessary, you can spread out the curing process by partially curing the gel with short flashes of UV light before doing the final full cure.

Yvette Holt, International Educator LeChat

Clients will most likely experience a heat spike when there is a large amount of gel applied to the nail. To avoid this reaction, I recommend using a smaller amount of gel at a time, putting it on in layers. I also tell my clients that if they do experience any heat to pull their hand out of the light and push down on the top of the lamp with their fingertips. This will relieve the burning sensation and they can then go ahead and put their hands back in the light.

This article was first published in the July 2018 issue of Nailpro.

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