“OMW, why are my nails burning?!” Your clients may ask you this, or you may experience it yourself while having your nails done.

What is a heat spike?

This is known as a “heat spike” and occurs as part of the polymerization process. ALL acrylates create heat while they cure, so this doesn’t only happen with UV curing products. It is perfectly normal for some warmth to be felt during the curing process, but it is usually not uncomfortable, nor is it meant to be.

Why do heat spikes happen?

Before polymerization can start, acrylates need to become exposed to some kind of catalyst, or jump starter that makes them change their form from liquid to solid. In the case of light cured products, it’s the UV lamp; in liquid and powder systems, it’s typically Benzoyl Peroxide found in the polymer powder that reacts when it comes into contact with liquid monomer; with most wrap systems, it’s usually the combination of ingredients used in the resin activator.

The product in its container as you see it with the naked eye is made up of millions of tiny molecules that make up the acrylate. Before the acrylate is introduced to its catalyst, the molecules in the formula are pretty much just milling about in their liquid (or semi-liquid form), minding their own business.

As soon as the catalyst comes into the picture, everyone gets excited, and a burst of energy is released. Molecules in their excited state rub up against each other really fast causing friction, which produces heat. In chemistry terms, this is referred to as an “exotherm” – exo = outside; thermos = heat. The type of reaction is called an exothermic reaction.

The reaction only stops when all molecules that were at the party have used up their energy and have bonded with each other. The heat stops when the reaction does.

Not only are heat spikes uncomfortable, but they can be very dangerous, as some exotherms can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees Celcius! Repeated exposure to such high temperatures can cause severe burns and even onycholysis (nail lifts away from the nail bed).

A painful, burning sensation is only experienced when the reaction is forced to happen really quickly, or an a large scale. In nail salons this is usually when:

  • product is applied too thickly;
  • the incorrect lamp is used to cure UV curing gels; (not matching the UV lamp to the gel  used)
  • chemicals used in the reaction are incompatible with each other; (when you mix brands)
  • nail damage from previous services has thinned the nail plate, making the protective barrier between the nail enhancement product and the nail bed too thin to protect against the heat. (incorrect e-file use, overfilling with hand files, peeling enhancement products off).

What you can do to reduce or prevent heat spikes:

Avoiding heat spikes is 100% possible in most cases! The abovementioned points are the most common “DONT’s” in the salon environment. The most surefire way to avoid heat spikes is to do the exact opposite of each, which translate to the following “DO’s”:

  • apply several thin layers of product instead of one or two thicker layers;
  • use the UV lamp that is matched to the UV product you are using. NO, there is no such thing as a universal UV lamp that cures all gels – despite what anyone may tell you.
  • only use products that are designed to work as part of a system – the base coat or primer from one brand should not be applied with colour from another brand’s line, nor should you mix powder from one brand with liquid from another. EVER.
  • make sure that you maintain the integrity of the natural nail at each service. Modern professional nail products no longer require you to rough up the surface of the natural nail to ensure good adhesion – that’s why we prep correctly.

I’ve followed all the above instructions, but my clients still complain about the heat, what now?

  • If your client has thin nails, or if you have removed a nail enhancement service by soaking in acetone or with an electric file, natural nails may be sensitive and more prone to experience a heat spike. You can try giving the nails a few days to recover from the trauma before applying a new enhancement.
  • UV Light Cured products: Avoid the “zing” by placing nails under the lamp for 1 second and remove immediately. A warm  sensation will occur for a few seconds afterwards. Wait for the heat to dissipate before placing nails under the lamp again. Repeat this process 3 to 4 times, or for as long as your client notices the heat before placing the nails under the lamp for the full cure time.The objective of doing this is to try and avoid a heat spike altogether – don’t let your clients feel the burn and then remove their hand – the reaction continues to produce intensifying heat even after the UV exposure has been stopped. Don’t ever try and encourage your client to “man up” and endure the pain.
  • Liquid & powder systems: Make sure you have the correct mix ratio when you create your beads. If the bead is too runny or too dry, it’s likely you’ll need to apply more product in an attempt to “cover your mistakes”. More product = thicker enhancement = more heat produced.Practice getting the balance right for the amount of liquid and powder you need. If necessary, start out your practice sessions using 3 small beads of product to create your enhancement, and gradually working with bigger beads as you become more confident at judging how much product you need, and how to control it.
  • Wrap systems – Silk / Fibreglass: Avoid spraying the resin activator on too soon, and make sure you are only misting the activator over the nails instead of drenching the nails with a shower of spray. I find it helps to coat 4 fingers with resin, wait about 10 seconds, and then spray the activator on all 4 at once. Repeat for the thumbs. Make sure that your activator has all evaporated before applying the next coat of resin.

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Image from MilesMagic – it’s not ours but it explains the sensation perfectly!