Why Does My Nail Drill Burn?

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So you’ve decided to take the plunge and treat yourself to Insta-worthy nails. But after checking out your options and reading stories about people who feel like they’ve had their fingers slammed in the car door after getting or doing their own gel, acrylic, or dip powder nails, you’re having second thoughts. 

Though there are other reasons that any one of these manicures may make cause a burning sensation, from an incorrect mix ratio when applying acrylic products, to heat spikes on gel nails, to incorrect timing of the UV lamp, the most common cause of a burning sensation is attributed to the use of a nail drill.

Does a nail drill burn? Why does my nail drill burn? Do you really want to subject yourself to pain in the name of vanity?

The good news is that a nail drill (aka file), if used properly, is not supposed to burn.

However, whether it be because of inexperienced DIYers or untrained salon staff, the nail drill can cause nail damage and burning. In this article, we are going to look at nail drills, why they can cause a burning sensation, and how to avoid the pain.


What is an Electric Nail Drill?

Nail Drill

A nail drill (also called an e-file), is an electric-powered rotary tool used for doing manicures and pedicures. They’re awesome, and safe a great deal of time. You can see several of our favorite electric nail files here.

To do specific jobs, a nail drill has “bits”. These coated drill bits are made of different materials and come in different grits, shapes, and sizes.

They’re great, but you need to know how to use them!

What should nail drills be used for?

What nails drills are often used for and what they should be used for are two very different things.

Unless you are a trained nail technician who has learned how to properly use a nail drill and the dozen or so available bits or you’ve been working with nail drills for a while, the only thing you should be using your own nail drill for when doing your own manicure is shaping and buffing your artificial nails.

That’s to say: to shape the product on the surface of the artificial nail, to shorten tips to get your desired nail shape, and for buffing down your artificial nails before applying a sealer.  

An experienced nail technician may also use a nail drill for other things, such as nail prep as well as part of the removal process of artificial nails.

Does a Nail Drill Burn?

It can burn if it’s not being used properly.

Should you experience burning while doing your own or getting a manicure done at the salon, stop immediately. 

If you are doing your own manicure, then you should not continue with the nail drill until you’ve learned to properly use it and all its bits.

If it’s burning, you are not using it properly.

If you are experiencing burning while you are getting a manicure at a salon, stop the technician and let her know.

Don’t keep a stiff upper lip and just grin and bear it.

Why Does My Nail Drill Burn?

Using a Electric Nail File

The burning sensation comes from the friction of the bit on the nail. If you are doing your own manicure, then you most likely are using the wrong bit and/or the wrong pressure for the job at hand.

If you’re at the salon, your nail technician may not be properly trained and could be using more pressure than she realizes, if she is using the wrong bit.

Why Is My Nail Drill Getting Hot?

Oils on the nails can potentially increase the amount of heat flowing through the bit, which can make it feel hot while in use.

It could also be technique and materials, though.

Carbide bits, for example, are more aggressive and need less pressure than sanding bands to do the same job.

The burning could also be due to using the wrong technique. Be sure you or the nail technician are not using the drill in a back-and-forth motion across the nail.

They should be one-directional smooth strokes, from base to tip.

Is an Electric Nail File Safe?

A nail drill is perfectly safe in the hands of a properly trained user. It’s not the drill that’s not safe, but the person operating the nail drill.

Nail drills require training, learning safety measures, and (lots of) practice. The proper and safe use of an electric nail drill and the bits is especially important to avoid nail damage.

If you are using a nail drill at home, this cannot be stressed enough – NEVER use a nail drill on the natural nail.

The natural nail should only be filed with a light hand and 180-grit file or higher, otherwise, you run the risk of damaging, splitting, or cracking the nail, as well as potentially removing layers of the nail plate causing thin, damaged nails.

Repeated improper nail prep by removing layers of the natural nail plate can actually damage nails to the point that coatings will no longer adhere.

The purpose of filing the nail bed is to remove oil and rough the surface up so that the artificial nail is able to properly adhere to the natural nail.

But you don’t need to use a drill to do that; you can get the same results — minus the damage and soreness — by gently using a regular fine grit nail file.

How to avoid burning from a nail drill

A properly trained technician using an electric file will NOT cause you pain. If the technician using a nail drill, if you’ve already brought it to her attention the first time, repeatedly causes a hot burning sensation, get up and leave.  

If you’re doing your own manicures and a nail drill newbie, we recommend sticking with manual nail files. But if you think you are ready to power up your nail care routine with a nail drill, it cannot be stressed enough how important it is to learn as much as you can before even attempting to use one.

Refer to your electric nail file’s manual.

Read up on how to set up electric nail files, including safety tips. There are also nail drill (or e-file, as they are sometimes called) classes you can take to learn how to use your nail drill and bits safely and properly.

You can also head over to YouTube and watch “how to use a nail drill” instructional videos.

But don’t just watch one video – watch lots of different videos. It’s also important to be mindful of who is making the video you are watching. YouTube can be a fantastic source of learning information, but it can also be a minefield of completely unqualified YouTubers making “instructional” videos of things they know nothing about because it’s trending.

Just because someone made a video, doesn’t mean the information is correct. We’ve all seen the tutorial video of the girl showing people how to use a curling iron and burning off a big chunk of her hair!

Look for videos made by professional, qualified nail technicians.

A thorough understanding of how to operate electric nail drills will prevent burning and damage to your nails.

Best nail drill for DIY manicures

Just remember: while a nail drill can facilitate your at-home manicures, if you’re inexperienced using one or and haven’t learned to use it properly, you can end up not getting your desired result or worse, damaging your nails and hurting yourself. 

Our list below features the most highly rated nail drill sets that are priced for the at-home user:

Take Away

If you were wondering – does a nail drill burn? – it’s not supposed to.

At the end of the day, although many professionally trained nail technicians prefer a nail drill because it’s a faster way to prep and shape your nails when used correctly, you don’t really need a nail drill to get the perfect manicure.

You can get the same results with the right manual nail files and buffers.

But if you are thinking about incorporating a nail drill into your manicure bag of tricks, then make sure you learn how to use it properly to avoid burning or damaging your nails.

See also:

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).