Why does Gel Polish Burn?


The Shocking Reality of Gels That Burn!

Shedding Light on a Burning Question

As the demand for gel nails continues to rise, it’s essential to address the burning sensation that some individuals experience during the application process. If you’ve ever wondered, “Why do gel polish burns?” or “Why do my gel nails burn under UV light?” you’re not alone. In recent months, there has been a significant increase in interest in this issue. This surge can be attributed to the growing number of individuals who are either doing their nails at home or seeking professional services, and leaving confused if this is a normal phenomenon or not. 

In this article, we will explore the reasons behind these burning sensations and provide insights into how to prevent them. Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a professional nail technician, understanding the science behind gel burning is crucial to ensure a comfortable and safe nail coating experience.

Let’s try to understand why this happens, and how to prevent it. 

The Exotherm reaction: Understanding the Release of Heat

Every artificial nail coating product, such as UV gels and L&P systems, can sometimes become warm during the application process. While a certain level of warmth is normal, excessive heat can cause discomfort – and potentially lead to serious nail bed damage.

To comprehend why gel polishes can cause a burning sensation, it’s important to understand the chemical reactions that occur during the curing process. Gel polishes and other similar products undergo exothermic reactions, meaning they release heat as they cure. 

The term “exotherm” refers to the release of heat during a chemical reaction. In the context of artificial nail coatings, these reactions occur when millions of tiny molecules in the liquid or gel product join together, creating the solid polymer chains that make up the finished nail coating. When two molecules react and join, a minuscule amount of heat is released.  The heat of one such reaction  is undetectable, however the cumulative effect of trillions  of molecules quickly reacting can lead to a substantial release of heat onto the nail plate which in turn heats the underlying nail bed. This phenomenon is typically observed during the curing process of all artificial nail coating products.

UV Light and UV Gel Burning Sensations

Many individuals have reported experiencing burning sensations when their nails are exposed to UV light during the curing process. The heat they experience does not come from the UV lamp, rather from the hardening process of the nail coating.  It’s essential to note that UV lamps are designed to emit specific wavelengths of UV light to facilitate the curing of UV gel polishes and other UV gels nail products. However, if the UV intensity is too high, this can cause excess heat that can become intense, leading to burning sensations. Using the correct nail lamp recommended by the UV gel manufacturer and proper positioning of the hands inside the lamp, and avoiding overly thick applications.

Overheating and its Consequences

Under normal circumstances, properly formulated and applied nail products release a minimal amount of heat that goes unnoticed. Reputable manufacturers conduct quality control tests to ensure controlled heating, avoiding excessive heat spikes, which highlights the importance of purchasing products from trusted manufacturers. However, some products may have a tendency to overheat, even when applied correctly, and the condition of the nail bed may be a contributing factor.

Excessive heat can cause several problems, particularly when the nail bed is injured or the nail plate is overly thinned. The nail plate acts as an insulating barrier to protect the nail bed from excessive heat. However, if the nail plate is excessively filed, in its thinner condition, the plate becomes a poor heat barrier- allowing heat to quickly flow through the nail plate and to the nail bed, potentially causing injury. 

Injuries to the nail bed, such as friction burns caused by aggressive filing, can significantly increase the sensation of heat. When the nail bed is damaged, it becomes super-sensitive, making it more susceptible to even normal levels of warming. It is essential to exercise caution while filing the nail plate, ensuring that you apply gentle pressure and avoid using coarse abrasives that can thin the nail plate. By maintaining the nail plate’s health and integrity, you can reduce the risk of heat-related discomfort. 

Apart from discomfort and pain, this excess heat can burn the nail bed, causing the nail plate to detach from it, and opening the nail bed to pathogens, and the risk of infections – which should be avoided at all costs.

How to Avoid Causing a Heat Spike 

To avoid overheating, it is crucial to use nail coating products that are properly formulated, applied, and cured; and always on healthy nails. It is also important to ensure that UV lamps has been approved for use by the UV gel manufacturer.  The UV gel manufacturer should tell you which UV nail lamps they have tested and approved, as well as how they determined the nail lamp were properly curing the UV gels.  

Careful manufacturers design their products to release heat gradually during the curing process to avoid  sudden heat spikes. By following the recommended application techniques and using a full system as designed by the manufacturer included the proper nail lamp, you can minimize the risk of overheating.

This is particularly important when working with thicker viscosity gels, such as builder gel (called BIAB by many –  short for ‘builder in a bottle’).  Avoid apply these in thick layers, their thick consistency makes it easy to overapply them in layers that are too thick.

UV Gel – Avoiding Friction Burns

Friction burns occur when heavy-handed filing techniques are employed and are normally caused by either excessive downward force exerted on the nail file, or the wrong grit being used on the natural nail. Nail technicians should adopt gentle and careful filing practices, treating the natural nails with care. Always opt for a higher grit file (240 and above) when filing the natural nail. 

The Role of Product Thickness

The thickness of the nail coating product can also influence the release of heat. For that reason, applying UV gels in thin layers and curing them with the appropriate UV nail lamp ensures a proper cure and minimizes the risk of burning sensations. Generally, larger nail plates, such as thumb plates, tend to feel warmer compared to smaller nail plates. This is because more heat is released when a thicker layer of the coating product is applied. By avoiding excessive product application, especially with UV-curing gels, you can prevent this problem.

This issue occurs especially when applying builder gel, as most people believe it needs to be applied thickly – which is the fastest way to get a burning sensation.

Guidelines to Prevent Overheating and UV Gel Burning Sensations

  • Avoid friction burns by filing the nail plate gently and using proper techniques and file grit.
  • Maintain the health and thickness of the nail plate, avoiding excessive thinning.
  • Be cautious when using fast-setting nail coatings, especially in warm salon environments.
  • Use the UV nail lamp recommended by the UV gel manufacturer.
  • Apply the product in thin layers to ensure proper curing.


Understanding the reasons behind excessive heat and UV Gel burning sensations during the application of nail coating products is crucial for both professionals and DIY enthusiasts. Proper formulation, application techniques, and curing methods play a significant role in preventing discomfort and potential nail bed damage. By following the recommended guidelines, such as avoiding friction burns, maintaining nail plate thickness, and using good quality products and full systems, you can enjoy beautiful nails without the fear of burning sensations.

Remember, knowledge and care are the keys to a safe and enjoyable nail service experience. By staying informed and practicing proper techniques, you can maintain healthy and stunning nails while minimizing the risk of overheating and its consequences. So, take the necessary precautions, choose reputable products, and you can achieve stunning gel nails without the fear of burning sensations.


Q: If UV gels “burn like crazy” under the UV lamp, students are told that it is because the gel is “bad”? What do you think?
A: I do agree with this to an extent. When UV gels are properly applied and cured, they can become warm, but they are not supposed to “burn like crazy.” Excessive heating is often the result of improper application or curing, e.g. using the incorrect UV nail lamp. High-quality UV gels from reputable manufacturers are formulated to minimize heat spikes during the curing process. But on the other hand, it could be just misuse –  or too thick coatings , and/or the use of mismatched nail lamp  could be to blame.

Q: What are the common reasons for excessive heating of UV gels?
A: Excessive heating of UV gels can occur due to incorrect application techniques, such as applying the gel too thickly. It can also be a result of using an unsuitable UV nail lamp that emits excessive UV energy during the curing process.

Q: Can nail bed injuries contribute to the sensation of burning?
A: Yes, nail bed injuries, particularly friction burns caused by aggressive filing, can increase the sensitivity of the nail bed to heat. Damaged nail beds are more likely to perceive even normal levels of heat as burning sensations.

Q: Are gel nails supposed to burn?
A: While a slight warming sensation is normal during the curing process, gel nails are not supposed to cause intense or prolonged burning. If you consistently experience excessive heat or discomfort, it’s important to reassess your application techniques and the products you’re using.

Q: Why do gel nails hurt under UV light or LED light?
A: LED light is the same thing as UV light. LED nail lamps produce higher amounts of UV to cure the gels more quickly.  Faster curing causes the heat to be released more quickly to caused a heat spike.  Excessive heat can be caused by other factors such as , applying the product too thickly.  Following proper guidelines and using the right products can help alleviate this discomfort.

Q: How can heat related onycholysis be prevented or treated?
A: Onycholysis can have many causes. In general onycholysis is the  the separation of the nail plate from the nail bed. To prevent heat related onycholysis  is essential to avoid overheating the nail bed. This can be accomplished by using proper application techniques, quality  products and the proper nail lamp.  If onycholysis occurs, it is recommended to keep the nail plate short, maintain cleanliness and dryness, and avoid any activities that may further damage the nail bed. The condition often aa resolves itself within one to two months on the hands.

Q: Are heavy-handed filing techniques sometimes responsible for heat spikes in UV gels?
A: Yes, heavy-handed filing techniques can sometimes lead to friction burns on the nail bed, making it far more sensitive to heat. By practicing gentle and careful filing techniques, you can minimize the risk of heat-related discomfort and minimize the potential for friction burns to the nail bed