Gel Nail Lamps: UV vs LED | How to know which one to buy?

Curing units, is there a universal one that cures all gels? Should you buy one for every brand, you own? 

The answer to those questions and more are coming up in today’s Episode #4 of our current Japanese Gel Fundamentals Series.

Let’s begin.

So this topic of curing units is slightly controversial. The experts say Yes, you need to use the lamp sold by the brand of products you use. On the other hand, the nail tech is like, well, I use several brands, and the DIYer says I use a ton of different brands, and I also don’t want to spend over $50 on one…

So what do you do? Yes, you! Here’s what I do and what I recommend those who contact me to do also.

Before our curing unit talk, let me go on this tangent a little bit. It’s super beneficial.

First and foremost… please, please, please narrow the number of brands you use. YOU HAVE TO. This will save you money and headaches trying to troubleshoot what went wrong in your application with all the different variables of mixing brands.

If you’re a licensed nail tech, you’re supposed to keep Safety Data Sheets for all your products. Can you imagine the work putting all those together and then imagine the thick binder of SDS you’ll have to collect? 

And here is the thing… I think it is fantastic to be selective. When you are, you’re also sending a message to brand manufacturers that they need to earn your business. You’re saying… Hey, I don’t buy into it all so easily. How is your product different? Why should I buy it?

My recommendation?

Use no more than three brands! (For some, this may be the easiest thing to do as they only have a brand or 2 they are interested in; for others, it may be a tough decision. (Kind of like choosing a nail color, lol)…

OK, and of those three brands, choose the one whose clear gels you will use regularly. 

For instance, say you chose Leafgel as your primary brand for clear gels, then you can use color gels from any of 3 similar brands. Since I stick to soft potted gel, my colors can come from Leafgel, Kokoist, or Vetro.

If you’re unsure which brand of clear gel to start with… literally just pick one, and use it for 1 or 3 months. If you’re a busy or fully booked nail tech, you can figure out which one worked best for you in a month. But if you’re DIY or just filling up your books, feel out your clear gel of choice for about three months and decide if you want to test out a different brand.

You don’t want to try a brand once and say, it sucked; I didn’t like it. Always give things a fair shot before moving on. It’s life, right?

Protect your skin…

Now, I just want to lightly touch on something in regards to DIY, keep gels and other products off of your skin at all times. Allergies are ever so prevalent because of constant contact or overexposure to effects on the skin. If you need a little help with the application, check out the details of my DIY course and see if it is a good fit for you. I’ll link it here for you.

Once you’ve narrowed the number of product lines to one, two, or maybe three, it is time to choose your curing unit. You will select your curing unit after doing your homework of narrowing down brands, not by price or looks.

I hope it is within your price range and looks gorgeous indeed. Still, the decision on what unit to buy ultimately should come down to the number one product line you use the most, with your plan B being the second brand you use the most. This way, you take out the guesswork of being your electrician trying to figure out the wattage, power input, output, or wavelength range you should look out for.

Say you do your part and buy the unit you’re supposed to; you can confidently contact the manufacturer for support if it’s not curing correctly. If you mixed brands in your application, do a test cure of each gel separately to ensure it’s their product that seems to not be curing. You’ll just take a little dollop of gel and ensure that even the underside has cured.

Now let’s just say that for whatever reason, you’re like… Paola, that way of buying my unit doesn’t work out for me.

Either you don’t like the unit your leading brand uses, or you’ve already had a bad experience with it, whatever the case may be. 

Then there are three things you should consider before buying a unit. At least, these are the three guidelines I would use right now to buy one if I was going outside of my leading brands.

#1 Power

I’m going to leave this topic of power to the pros to dissect because it is more technical than just, Oh, use a 36-watt instead of a 9-watt curing unit. So I’ll put a couple of links here to learn about this topic.

I think, in general, most of us understand that we will not be curing nails in the salon with a little handheld lamp but rather with a full-size, full-power unit. That said, yes, the minimum average power wattage you need is 36 watts when buying a unit. But as I understand it, the quality of parts plays a significant role in that power variable. For example, the quality of the AC adapter, the circuit board, and wires, among other features.

If you think about it, this is the case for all of our electronics. You can only imagine that our television, microwave, cars, etc., all have competitors that source their parts from different places. The same is true with your curing unit.

#2 Wavelength 

Nowadays, lamps are created or designed to be UVLED. What does that mean, you may be wondering? It means that it will cure gel whether it has a UV spectrum photoinitiator only, which is in the vicinity of 365-380 nanometers. Or photoinitiator emits deep violet or violet spectrum light higher than 380 up to 420 nanometers. Some gels only have UV spectrum curing photoinitiators, and others only have deep violet spectrum curing photoinitiators. By the way, if deep violet spectrum light sounds foreign, we’ve mislabeled these gels for years by simply calling them LED gels. 

At least for Japanese gels, 405 nm is the photoinitiator used to stop calling gels LED. I’ll be using Deep Violet or DV in the rest of this reading.

Now in today’s day and age, some gels have both UV and DV. While generally, the correct thing to say is that there is not ONE curing unit that will cure all gels. Having a dual wave unit, so one that cures both photoinitiators UV AND LED will cure most of the gels in the market so long as it is a quality unit. Again you have to assume that the power is there via the quality parts of the unit. 

Hopefully makes more sense why a $50 unit online vs. a manufacturer’s choice at $200 has such a price discrepancy. It could be that one took the time, money, and energy to high-quality source parts, including the type of LED bulbs, to ensure you’re getting a consistent, powerful cure for the next 203 years. 

Simply put, I recommend buying from pro brands, especially if you are already a licensed pro or planning on becoming one. Remember your quality unit should come from the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd brand you’ve chosen to work with.

I work with Leafgel, Kokoist, and Vetro, so I have two units, the Kokoist one and the Leafgel one (btw, you can use PPN10 for a 10% discount on both of them.

And just know, on a bit of side note, that a gel is not cured entirely just because it has hardened.    

#3 The number & position of bulbs.

This is literally a visual inspection of where the bulbs are at. Is there enough at the front and back of the lamp? Is there one by the thumbs? Are there a lot of bulbs? Period. Because LED bulbs are explicitly positioned, you can test that your bulbs are at a prime location where your fingernails will sit. Simply put your hand inside and ensure a bulb is right over the nails.

So after narrowing down my brands, those are my three buying factors power, wavelength range, and amount and position of bulbs.

After these three factors, I would look at the esthetics of the lamp, if they are essential to me, and my budget. Sometimes you buy a unit, and it feels cheap, it doesn’t feel durable, it’s not acetone resistant, etc., etc…


On another little side note, before wrapping up. Now that we’ve clarified what we mean by LED gels let me briefly talk about bulbs just so we’re fully cleared up on UV, DV, LED, or CFL.

So, LED refers to the bulb emitting the LIGHT, not the type of light that is being emitted. Suppose you’ve been around the industry for a while and may be familiar with long lamp bulbs. In that case, these kinds of long bulbs are called CFL, and in our curing units, way back when they emitted UV spectrum light. An LED bulb in our modern dual wave units emits both UV & DV light.

I’ve said this for years, and based on my research, it has some validity. If you have indeed bought a quality unit, either because you trust the manufacturer or paid “good money” for it. When using it on products that are not the same brand, fully cure each layer for 60 secs. 

And unlike when the LED units first came out, we were told they would last about five years. Manufacturers have now learned that, for whatever reason, lamps, the whole unit, in other words, should be switched out every 2-3 years. So if you’re a fully booked tech, go for that 2-year mark.

While I’d like to say that choosing a lamp is super easy, I think you need to use a few or all of the factors covered today to make the best decision on a curing unit.

Sometimes you may be able to find a replica of your manufacturer’s unit, say on Amazon. Still, just because the shell of the machine is the same, it does not mean the hardware inside is quality or even the same. Just like the parts in your vehicle, your refrigerator, and other electronics vary in quality, so do the ones in your unit.

If you’re interested in the Kokoist or Leafgel units I use, I have made separate video reviews on each. I’ll also pop those links here for you, along with other videos directly from the pros on this topic of lamps and also any current active product promo codes.

I hope this Episode 04 of our Japanese Gel Nail Series helped you tremendously, and if it did, do me a big favor and give this video a thumbs up.

Find me again next week for Episode 5 of this series, all about nail prep products needed with JG. That’s Monday @ 4pm EST. Mark your calendar, or join our email club to get a notification as soon as it goes LIVE.

Thank you for watching, and bye for now.

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Content written by Paola Ponce

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2 thoughts on “Gel Nail Lamps: UV vs LED | How to know which one to buy?”

  1. Excellent detail oriented educational information! I hope to become a licensed nail tech in Florida. Most classes are focused on acrylic and my asthma HATES the stuff. I hope to specialize in gels. Any suggestions for Central Florida based classes? I would happily get certified in Japanese gel.

    1. No suggestions on JG classes in that area of Florida from the top of my head! You may want to go to the Leafgel USA site and see what educators are near that area.

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