I’ve recently started getting gel manicures as one of my 2018 steps into the world of being a hot gyal a.k.a. a Goodie. Last week, as my girl at @GetnailedJA was sorting me out and I had my fingers under the UV lamp, I started to wonder what it was about the UV lamp that made my nails dry so pretty and perfectly. I knew quite a bit about UV light, but admittedly, very little about nail polish, so I decided to do some research to solve this mystery, once and for all.
So of course, I must share this newfound knowledge with you.
Making Plastics in the Nail Salon?
Both gel and acrylic nail polishes are made up of components called polymers. Polymers are compounds which are formed from a number of single building blocks (monomers) linking together to form one long chain molecule.
Essentially, the process entails building hard plastic coatings for your nails (either gel or acrylic) from smaller sub-units. When the nail polish is the bottle/tube, the polish is separated into individual monomers, hence the gel is liquid. Once the monomers join up to form the long chain polymers, the nail polish will harden and voila! your beautiful nails will be ready to go.
Ok, but what about the UV light?
Well, gel polishes also contain these cool molecules known as photoinitiators. These are compounds which only undergo reactions when exposed to light at a specific wavelength. The photoinitiators added to nail polish react at a wavelength of 340-410 nm. Once exposed to light at this wavelength, the molecules are activated and emit a particle known as a free radical. Free radicals have many many roles in chemistry and daily life, but in this case, the free radical initiates the polymerization reaction of the polish. This is why UV light at wavelengths between 340-410 is used to harden or “cure” gel nails.
So, expose the polish to UV light at the correct wavelength –> free radicals start polymerication of gel –> gel hardens and dries
The same principle applies to acrylic nails, however instead of UV light, acrylic nails are usually cured with peroxide. The powdered peroxide plays the same role of the photoinitiator, and activates polymerization of the monomer in the liquid polish.
So which one is better?
Well I definitely didn’t write this post to be a plug for either method, but it’s probably important for you to know the risks associated with each method.
Let’s look at gel polishes first. Of course, any method that requires UV light carries some risk, as it is well known that exposure to UV light can cause skin (and other types of cancers). That being said, the couple minutes your fingers spend under the UV lamp will probably have a negligible effect on your cells. We still walk in the sun every day, which is a huge ball of UV light, and most of us are fine.
Nonetheless, if you’re scared of the exposure, you can simply apply a SPF sunscreen to your fingers/toes before your nail appointment, to reduce the impact of the UV light on your skin cells. And nails techs should wear soft gloves if they’re going to be working with the UV light very often. Some gel polishes also contain a compound called butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), which can also be cancer causing, so it’s best to choose polishes that state that they’re BHA-free.
Acrylic polish also carries a fair bit of health risks with it. We can all attest to walking into a nail salon and being taken aback by the smell of the acrylic polish. That’s because some of the chemicals used in application are formaldehyde (used to embalm the dead if you need some reference here) and resins which are actually pretty bad for your nails and can cause them to split and break. This is why your nails feel so soft after you take off an acrylic set. Additionally, some acrylic polishes contain a poisonous chemical called MMA (Methyl Methacrylate). MMA is illegal in many countries because it can cause serious damage to your lungs from the fumes it gives off. Unfortunately, MMA is still widely used on many unwitting customers.
Also for both methods, soaking your nails in acetone to remove the polish can weaken your overall nails.
All things being considered, gel polish seems to be the better bet for you health-wise, but whatever beauty method you’re using, it’s always best to do your research and know what chemicals you’re being exposed to.
Leave your comments, suggestions, questions, below. And don’t forget to be join me on my #Goodie journey by visiting the Be A Goodie page and ordering your products!