Methyl Methacrylate is a word you may or may not have heard mentioned on the news. When acrylic nails were first introduced to the public, methyl methacrylate (MMA) was a commonly used ingredient. The chemical causes significant damage to the women that come into contact with it, from simple skin allergies to permanent loss of the nail plate to permanent loss of sensation in the fingertips…and those are just the mild reactions.
The molecules in MMA monomers are so small that they penetrate the pores of the skin and nail plate, hardening underneath and effectively “sandwiching” the natural nail. The MMA enhancements harden significantly and are more rigid than the natural nail plate can handle. So, when you catch or jam a nail made with MMA it resists breaking to such a degree that your natural nail will often rip off completely. This type of breakage of the nail plate near the eponychium is not only extremely painful, but may result in severe infections and permanent nail damage.
Over time, the problems associated with the use of MMA in nail enhancements became more serious and the FDA started taking action against the product manufacturers. They warned that further use of the chemical in the product was unsafe. They declared the liquid products formulated with MMA were too dangerous for use in the beauty industry, stating that they were now classifying MMA as a “poisonous and deleterious substance.” It was around this time that they began taking regulatory and legal action against any companies manufacturing beauty products containing the chemical. Anyone who manufactures, sells or distrubutes these potentially dangerous substances is breaking the law and endangering your health.
Nail technicians are legally liable if they knowingly use products containing methyl methacrylate. (That’s right cheapo nail techs, you may lose you professional license, be subject to criminal penalties and fines, and/or be sued by injured clients.)
Let me make this clear to you: I don’t give a shit if your nail technician supposedly doesn’t speak English, they know better. That is why none of their products have labels listing their ingredients on them. Unfortunately for them, the state inspectors will not accept their (often feigned) lack of ability to comprehend English. They are responsible for knowing their state regulations and adhering to them. By choosing to use these dangerous, cheap products, not only are they showing a disrespect for you and your health, they are endangering our entire profession. Clients that are negatively affected by MMA may be turned off to the beauty industry forever.
Now, nail techs, don’t get it twisted, MMA isn’t all that bad–when used in a polymer. Polymerized MMA (PMMA) is used in acrylic powders. PPMA will not cause adverse skin reactions or other problems because the polymer is thousands of times larger than the original MMA molecule and therefore, cannot penetrate the skin. So don’t toss your powders. That stuff is supposed to be in there.
Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA) is what the good acrylic monomers are formulated with. It has been declared safe for use by trained nail technicians by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Board. It is twenty times more expensive than MMA products, which is why your quality nail technicians are charging (at minimum) $25 a fill. These nail technicians will have MSDS sheets available for you to review. Their products will be labeled and in their original packaging. These nail technicians will not shy away from showing you their product literature and letting you read their bottles. (Personally, I love it when a client asks what products I use.)
So how can you tell the difference?
It really isn’t hard to tell if a product contains MMA.
1.) MMA products stink. The smell is strong and sticks to everything. It can be described as fruity or sour.
2.) Your MMA nails are usually cloudy. They look grayish. You can’t really see your nail bed through them unless they’re very thin…and even then, it’s difficult.
3.) MMA enhancements are extremely difficult (and sometimes impossible) to soak off with acetone or file off, even with coarse abrasives. The dust from the enhancements also smells strongly when filed.
4.) When soaked in acetone, MMA enhancements will absorb the acetone (rather than break down in the acetone) and turn sticky and gummy.
So how do you handle a new client that has MMA nails? First of all, tell her that you will NOT fill nails that were constructed using that chemical. Explain to her the dangers of MMA. Let her read this article. Whatever you do, let her know that the chemical she has on her fingertips is extremely dangerous and needs to be removed immediately.
There are many ways you can remove MMA nails, but I’ve found that the best method is this:
1.) File the nail down a bit. Don’t go crazy here or the friction could cause the natural nail to lift from the nail bed. Just try and thin it down as far as you can, safely.
2.) Invest in a SalonTech SonicTouch 3 Nail Remover. Fill it halfway with acetone, plug it in, and turn it on. Have your client soak in there. Make sure they DO NOT remove their hands from the soaker for any amount of time. Exposing the product to air, even for a few seconds will cause the acetone to evaporate and the MMA to bond even tighter. Trust me on this. I recommend buying your SonicTouch from here. I didn’t make it and unfortunately I don’t profit off the sales. I’m recommending you buy this because it is a lifesaver. I love mine dearly.
3.) Using a pusher, periodically slide off the layers of enhancement product (gently) without removing the client’s hands from the SonicTouch.
4.) Repeat until the enhancements are gone.
5.) Remove client’s hands from the SonicTouch. Dry them. Buff off the remaining product with a yellow buffing block. Some of the product may remain. Remember that this garbage seeps into the nail itself and may be impossible to completely remove. The only solution here is to wait until it grows out.
6.) Perform a natural nail manicure. Make sure to use a lot of oils and heavy creams to restore moisture to the nails and the hands.
7.) Recommend that the client take a break. Tell the client to take a few days to let her nails heal and moisturize. Recommend a hair, skin, and nail supplement that they can include in their routine. Make an appointment for them to return to have their enhancements put back on later in the week. If the client refuses to take a break (or her nails are in decent condition) go ahead and put another set on her. Be careful not to be too rough with the natural nail when prepping or finishing. Use your judgement. Inform the client that her fingertips will probably be sore for a day or two after, so she should plan on investing in a bottle of Motrin (or an OTC pain reliever of her choice).
Clients, be aware: when you pay less than $25 for a fill, you are getting what you pay for. Drop the extra couple of bucks on a LICENSED professional that uses familiar products formulated with EMA (CND, OPI, Tammy Taylor, etc.). Is risking your health worth saving about 10-15 dollars every month?
Professionals: Clients are trusting you with their health and wellbeing every time they sit in your chair. Make keeping them safe a priority. Practice proper disinfection and sanitation procedures. Use products that won’t cause them harm. Inform them about the darker side of the beauty industry and how you’re different. Educate them regularly about how to recognize unsafe, unhealthy salons and salon professionals and how to report those individuals that give all of us a bad name.
If you suspect that these products are being used or sold, report your suspicions to your local State Cosmetology Board immediately. If you know anyone engaged in selling or distributing liquid monomer products formulated with MMA please report this information to the Nail Manufacturers Council at 800.868.4265. You will be doing everyone in our industry a tremendous favor.