The Gel Manicure Lowdown UV vs. LED

The Gel Manicure Lowdown: UV vs. LED: While I was getting a manicure a few weeks ago, I placed my freshly lacquered hand under the light to cure the polish. I was immediately taken aback by how quickly the machine beeped to notify me it was done. It couldn’t have been more than ten seconds. I don’t get gel manicures that often, but I remember the curing process taking at least a minute or two (nothing compared to time spent waiting for nails to dry the old-fashioned way). My manicurist, responding to the confused look on my face, explained that this salon uses LED lights to cure the gel polish, and I must be used to getting my gel manicures with UV lights. Say what?

Turns out, I’m not the only one that has some lingering gel-mani curiosity. As I was complimenting beauty assistant Irma Elezovic’s mani, still intact fresh off a California vacation, she mentioned that her manicurist had her wear fingerless gloves before her nails cured to protect the skin on her hands from the UV light being used.

Ultraviolet Light

Cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson of broke down the difference for me. “UV light, or ultraviolet light, is the mostly invisible form of light that is present in sunlight, tanning lamps, and nail-polish lamps,” he said. “LED light is a light source that is visible and can contain invisible forms of light, such as UV.” He explained that gel nail polishes are formulated to harden when exposed to different types of light. So what does that mean for our manicures?

For one thing, using an LED light to cure your gel will speed up the process significantly. Elle, a manicurist whose work can be seen on the hands of Blake Lively, Jennifer Lopez, and Emma Stone, prefers the convenience of the LED option. “I do not use the UV so much anymore because I don’t have time to wait for the two-minute light,” she said. “UV is almost obsolete at this point.” In comparison, LED lights take anywhere from 5 to 45 seconds to harden polish.

Nail Longevity

The good news for gel connoisseurs, according to Elle, is that using UV or LED shouldn’t affect the outcome of your manicure. “I always say you chip beforehand. How you prep the nail, how you take care of the nail, that is going to determine the longevity…and who’s applying it.”

One thing to keep in mind when determining which route to go is how fresh the bulb is. UV bulbs need to be changed based on hours of use. “A lot of salons don’t know that,” explained Elle. “They’re not changing it, so they’re getting a bad output.” A less-than-fresh UV bulb can mean a duller outcome and faster chips. LED bulbs, on the other hand, never need to be changed.

We don’t like to take sides, but you can bet our next gel manicure will be cured with our new BFF, LED light.

–By Maddie Aberman for

The Gel Manicure Lowdown UV vs. LED