Why Do Gel Nails Burn? [And How To Stop Them From Doing So]

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Getting gel nails done is an exciting time. Besides, they can look amazing when done right and gel nails are typically, very resilient. But what does it mean when your gel nails burn? Is this something that we should look to expect during the application or beyond? I spent some time researching into the causes to find out for good¬

So, why do gel nails burn? The most common reason that gel nails burn is due to how they were applied – with the gel being applied too thickly and too quickly. Burning sensations can also be caused by the type of lamp, the products used, and the health of the nails in which they were applied.

Just like with any manicure; the correct application is essential for the look, feel, and long-term resistance of the nails.

We’ve all had those manicures that do not last as long as advertised, peeling off far too soon, or nails that lose their shininess too quickly.

And then there is the burning! Its a common but highly unnecessary issue that many of us face when heading to the salon.

Let us now take a closer look at why this can happen, and more importantly what can be done to stop it for good!

Is Gel Nail Polish Supposed To Burn?

Gel nail polish is not supposed to burn if applied correctly.

As long as the gel is applied in thin layers, one on top of the other, and cured under the lamp after the application of each layer – there should generally be little to no discomfort.

So, if you do feel a flash of heat during the curing process, it usually means the gel has been applied to thick!

This is very common in nail salons because technicians usually do not have enough time to apply layer by layer due to tight schedules – and a lot of customers waiting for their treatment!

That being said, burning is more common that you would expect and unfortunately, everyone seems to experience it at some point.

Usually, the burning is relatively harmless, however, in extreme cases, it can cause damage to the natural nail plate.

So, it is important that you only visit reputable nail salons and ensure that burning does not become a regular occurrence.

Why Does It Burn When Getting Gel Nails?

There are several different reasons that can contribute to the burning sensation of gel nails.

Let’s look at each one, a little closer!

Use of Certain Products

Nail enhancement products and adhesives release small amounts of heat when they cure or polymerize.

This is normal and it called “heat spike”.

This is all due to the chemiclas that make up the products. They often contain methacrylates.

It is the methacrylate that creates the burning sensation as it sets.

So, this is why some gel nail mani’s may burn and others may not.

It depends on the products used and the levels of methacrylates involved.

Transition From Liquid To Solid

Before the polymerization process starts, acrylates have to be exposed to a catalyst that forces them to transform from a liquid to a solid-state.

In the case of gel curing, the catalyst is the UV light.

This process can actually emit heat, at a by-product.

The Way The Gel Is Applied

Ideally, the gel is applied layer by layer.

Each one is thin and all of them make a thick layer in the end.

Each layer is cured separately.

If done this way, there should not be a burning sensation because the heat is released slowly.

When the gel is applied as one thick layer however and placed directly for curing, the chemical reaction is much more powerful and creates a burst of heat.

The faster the gel hardens, the more likely it is to create excessive heat.

Type Of Lamp Used

The lamps usually used in salons are designed to cure very fast (in under 30 seconds). As such, they create a lot of heat as the process and reaction happens all at once.

In other lamps, that cure for around 2 minutes, the chemical process is much slower and does not create as much heat that can cause the burning sensation.

The longer curing lamps are often used at home and are available on sites like Amazon.

This is why you may find your gel nails burn when you go to the salon, but not if you were to do your own gel nails.

Generally, there are two types of curing lamps for curing nails: LED and UV.

Both lamps emit UV waves and work in the same way.

LED Lamps

LED lamps produce narrower, more targeted number of wavelengths (the wave and its reach) and cure gel polish much faster than a UV light (30 seconds).

Therefore, it is more painful when curing with LED.

UV lamps

UV lamps emit a broader spectrum of wavelengths and cure much slower (2 minutes).

That is why there is from minimal to no burning sensation when curing because the chemical reactions are much slower when curing happens within 2 minutes.

UV lamps are also cheaper and need bulb replacing more often.  This type of lamp is more popular for home use if you do your own gel manicure.

To sum up, burning sensation can be brought down to a couple of reasons:

  • Fast chemical reaction
  • The thick application of gel
  • Too thin or brittle nails that are too sensitive to external interactions

Can UV Nail Lamps Burn Skin?

UV nail lamps cannot burn the skin. However, there have been some concerns over the effect these lamps can have on the skin, with prolonged exposure, use of unsafe products, and incorrect usage.

It all comes down to exposure to UV radiation.

Thankfully, curing lamps have been classified as low risk.

Still, there has been some evidence that exposure to UV nail lamps does bring some changes to the skin’s natural genetic code and makes it age prematurely.

A study conducted in 2014 found out that the UV emitted radiation varied from lamp to lamp and the intensity also varies.

So, its essential to only use reputable products and to only visit well-respected salons.

How Do I Stop My Gel Nails From Burning?

Truth is, it is a bit of a challenge to prevent gel nails from burning at a salon.

Technicians want to work as fast as possible and not all of them will be willing to take into account your discomfort.

So, there are generally a couple of options here.

For one you can find another salon.

Or, you can try to go when the salon is less busy, or at a time when there are less people in the queue.

Another option is to talk to your manicurist and explain to them your nails are burning.

This is usually enough for them to stop and at least slow down a little.

Still, if the burning sensation is unbearable, you can always do your gel nails at home.

Working with your own lamp gives you much better control of the process, and you can stop when the burning gets too much.

Here are some general tips to stop or limit the burning:

  • Application of thinner gel layers
  • Longer curing time
  • Pulling out your hand when burning begins
  • Application of antiseptic
  • Application of over-the-counter antacid product
  • Lessening the level of nail filing before applying the gel

The best measure to take is to ensure that only thin layers of gel are being applied at a time and that they are being cured separately.

You want to limit the chemical reaction of the products, and this is the best way to do it.

Secondly, if the gel is applied gradually, the chemicals have the chance to settle

Professionals do tend to avoid this method because it takes a lot of time, which they usually do not have.

If you ask for it, though, they should not refuse.

Another way to avoid burning is by applying longer curing time. This largely depends on the lamp used – LED lamps are much faster and take 30 seconds to cure completely.

Also, the wavelengths are much more direct and more concentrated in one direction, which makes them more intense. 

UV lamps take up to 2 minutes to cure, spread the wavelengths more evenly and thus create much less of a burning sensation.

You can always ask the technician what type of lamp they use, and see if they can offer you the UV option.

However, bear in mind that most salons prefer LED lamps.

The burning is usually the worst during the first 3 to 5 seconds of curing.

If it is too much, quickly pull back your hand when you feel it. Let the nails cool down and then place your hand back in the lamp. The burning will not happen again.

Remember your safety comes first, so do not feel embarrassed with your technician to do this.

If the nail bed continues to burn, be sure to ask your nail technician to apply an antiseptic to the nail.

Sometimes, burning happens after applying the primer. The primer is part of the prep process for applying gel.

It is not cured and is needed to take away the natural shininess and oiliness of the nail to help the gel stick better later on.

The primer is in no way applied on the skin or cuticles. Only a very small amount is placed on the nail plate.

If your nails are too thin, though, or it accidentally falls on the skin, it will cause a burning sensation.

In case your nails are too thin, brittle and sensitive, and you can feel the primer, ask your technician to stop using it.

However, this is normally not recommended as the primer helps the quality of the gel and the time it lasts.

Application of over-the-counter antacid products may be applied to the cuticles if burning persists.

Every client’s nails are different – some have naturally thin and sensitive nails and even having an ordinary colorless polish might be painful.

In some cases, technicians file the plates too much and in time they become too thin.

After that, every visit to the salon becomes more and more painful.

So you may need to look after your nails and even stop filing them so much!

Other tips and tricks that can be applied to prevent burning include:

  • Matching your UV lamp with the UV product you are using. There is no such thing as a universal UV lamp that cures any kind of gels.
  • Use only products that are from the same brand. This includes the primer, the base, the color gel and the top coat. Do not mix brands and never mix powder from one brand with liquid from another.
  • Maintain the natural nail and keep it healthy. Make sure its integrity is sustained as much as possible when filing it and preparing it for gel.

Conclusion

Gel polish is not supposed to burn. But it can do, and it does for many people all too often.

It’s mostly due to incorrect application – whether this is through the use of inappropriate products, applying too much product at a time, or through using a fast-curing lamp.

Thankfully there are many things you can do and try to stop the burning.

From finding a better salon, to only using longer curing UV lamps, to not mixing products and to pulling out your hand from the lamp when it gets too much.

So, give them a try and see if this solution works, for you.