"Acrylic" (liquid & powder) Nails are the most common form of nail enhancements in the salon due to their ease of use, strength and durability. When a nail tech uses a file or drill that is too coarse for the natural nail, this removes nail plate layers, resulting in a sensitive and thin natural nail. When a nail tech misuses 'primer' - a bonding agent used with acrylics, this can cause sensitivity if exposed to the surrounding skin (burning sensations) and possibly allergic reactions.
"Primer" - a corrosive chemical which may burn the skin. When a salon uses (prohibited) MMA liquid monomer instead of approved EMA liquid monomer when doing acrylics, this can cause several possible complications (see EMA/MMA information below). When a nail tech removes the artificial product by mechanically forcing it from the natural nail using a pair of acrylic nippers, this unnecessarily removes nail plate layers, leaving the natural nail sensitive and thin
WHAT IS MMA?
Methyl Methacrylate (MMA) is an ingredient that was commonly used in early “acrylic” nail services. In the early 1970's, the FDA received numerous complaints of personal injuries associated with the use of acrylic monomer formulated with MMA. The reports included serious nail damage or loss, contact dermatitis, soreness and infection due to breaks caused by the rigidly adhered MMA acrylic. By the end of the 1970's, the FDA had taken action against several manufacturers that marketed MMA liquid monomers. Most professional nail manufacturers use a product called EMA or Ethyl Methacrylate- which has been declared safe & approved for use in the beauty industry.
What are the health risks associated with MMA products?
MMA-related complaints range from skin allergies to permanent loss of the nail plate. Here are the most common complaints that prompted the FDA to take action:
Nail Infections- The surface bond of MMA acrylic is so strong that even a slight trauma causes the nail to break and lift off the nail bed; which may result in infection and/or loss of the nail plate. Ironically, it is the strength of the “acrylic” that attracts some users. While MMA used in the medical and dental industries provides superior adhesion to bone, it is not appropriate or safe for use on the softer nail tissue.
Respiratory problems: eye, nose & throat irritations- Without proper extraction ventilation, MMA vapors may cause sinus problems, as well as pins & needles in the extremities.
Permanent Nail Deformities- The extreme damage that may occur as a result of trauma can affect the matrix (where the nail plate comes from), and cause full or partial permanent loss of the nail plate.
Severe Allergic Reactions- Repeated exposure to MMA can result in severe allergic reactions. Redness, swelling, numbness and itching are common symptoms which may lead to blisters/open sores, resulting in a permanent allergic reaction.
Is EMA really safe?
You will be happy to know that ethyl methacrylate is one of the most studied monomers on Earth. There is a huge amount of scientific literature that backs up the safety of this important substance. It is used in everything from household plastics to medical devices that are implanted in the body.
There is no evidence that EMA can affect or harm unborn babies. The strange odor of the substance concerns people and makes them fearful. But odor has nothing to do with safety. Some very dangerous chemicals have no odor or even smell sweet and wonderful. For example, the vast majority of cosmetic related allergic reactions are caused by fragrances in products. This is why it is foolish to assume that odorless or odor free= safe. It does NOT! (For example- BENZINE smells wonderful, yet it is LETHAL!)
Of course, you should still take care and work safely. Working safely is important no matter what your profession. Nail techs should make sure they use proper ventilation to control both dusts and vapors. Nothing in the world is 100% safe. Millions have died from over exposure to water. Even so, we know that water can be used safely. The same is true for nail enhancement products.
How Can I Tell?
Since MMA is prohibited, you are unlikely to find it on the ingredient label. Still it is usually not difficult to tell if aproduct contains MMA. Here are three simple things to watch for:
1. Unusually strong or strange odor which doesn't smell like other acrylic liquids.
2. Enhancements which are extremely hard and very difficult to file even with coarse abrasives.
3. Enhancements that will not soak off in solvents designed to remove acrylics.
Discount pricing can also be an indicator of MMA usage. MMA costs several times less than EMA.
The last sign in the list above is the most important indicator. Nail technicians who come across artificial nails made with MMA-containing ingredients are usually surprised to hear how difficult it is to remove the product. The only way to remove the products is by filing with a very coarse abrasive or drills, which usually results in further damage to the client's nail plates and nail beds.