I remember when I began my career as a nail
technician - it was during the middle 1970's when artificial nail
products were first introduced to the Beauty Industry. We had
no education, no product chemistry education, no educators, and no
proper procedures to help us. The product most of us learned
with was MMA. What is MMA? The correct terminology is
Methyl Methacrylate - MMA for short. MMA has been
prohibited for use in the nail industry since the late 70's.
Why? The following excerpt from Doug Schoon will explain MMA
and why it has been prohibited by the FDA and most State Cosmetology
The Truth Behind the Controversy
Doug Schoon, M.S.
Vice President of Science & Technology
Creative Nail Design Systems
One of the most controversial topics in the
professional beauty industry involves a monomer liquid called MMA or
methyl methacrylate. Unfortunately, there are many myths and
misunderstandings surrounding the use of this ingredient. Most
nail technicians know they should not use products containing this
ingredient, but they don't know why! This lack of proper
information opens the door for speculation and rumors.
Generally, when you ask someone why MMA should
not be used, they will immediately respond that MMA is toxic.
Although it is true that you should not drink MMA liquid, the same
holds true for salt water and rubbing alcohol. MMA is not a
human cancer causing agent and it does not absorb through the nail
plate to affect the health of clients or nail technicians. Nor
is it dangerous to inhale in the salon environment. Scientific
information collected about MMA shows that toxicity is NOT the
reason MMA makes a poor nail enhancement ingredient. In fact,
for many years MMA has been safely implanted in the body as a bone
repair cement - so it is not a dangerous toxin, as many imagine.
Then why should MMA not be used? There are
four main reasons:
MMA nail products do not adhere well to the
nail plate. To make these products adhere, nail technicians often
shred up (etch) the surface of the nail. This thins the nail
plate and makes it weaker.
MMA creates the hardest and most rigid nail
enhancements, which makes them very difficult to break. When
jammed or caught, the overly filed and thinned natural nail plate
will often break before the MMA enhancement, leading to serious
MMA is extremely difficult to remove.
Since it will not dissolve in product removers, it is usually
pried from the nail plate, creating still more damage.
The FDA says don't use it! This is
clearly the most important reason. The FDA bases their
prohibition on the large number of consumer complaints resulting
from the use of MMA nail enhancements in the late 70's and they
continue to maintain this position today.
For these reasons, the Nail Manufacturers Council
and the American Beauty Association have also taken a stance against
the use of MMA liquid monomer as an ingredient in artificial nail
liquids. Not because MMA is toxic, but because it is an
unsuitable ingredient. Creative Nail Design (and Hooked on
Nails) agrees with this position. MMA is a widely used monomer
with a long history of safe use in medical and dental products.
It is fine for making bulletproof windows and shatterproof
eyeglasses. However, we believe that artificial nails should
not only be beautiful, they should not damage the natural nail.
They are enhancements, not replacements! We also believe it is
the responsibility of all professional nail technicians to protect
the health of their client's natural nails. A good place to
start is by using responsibly formulated products and to learn safe
and proper techniques. (Douglas D. Schoon)
So, what are we using to create artificial nail
enhancements? EMA or Ethyl Methacrylate. What is
the difference? The following is an explanation of the
differences between MMA liquid and EMA liquid from Paul Bryson,
Co-Director of Research & Development for OPI Products.
Chemically speaking, sometimes a very small
difference in a molecule's structure can make a big difference in
its effects. Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) has a slight, but
significant, difference in molecular structure from MMA that makes
EMA much safer to use. More specifically, EMA has a carbon
atom and two extra hydrogen atoms compared to MMA. This may
not seem like much, but the effects are large.
An analogy is the difference between Methanol
(wood alcohol) and Ethanol (beverage alcohol). As with MMA
versus EMA, the difference between the two is just one carbon and a
couple of hydrogen atoms; yet one is a deadly poison and the other
is safe if used moderately.
Experience has shown that MMA is strongly
sensitizing and has a high potential to damage nails and surrounding
tissue. Some people may use it and be OK, but that is just
luck. Enough people were harmed by MMA, that is why the FDA
prohibited the material from nail use 2 decades ago.
EMA has a somewhat larger molecule, and is less
able to penetrate body tissue. Many years of salon experience
indicate that this material is safe for most people. Of
course, just as with any food, drug or cosmetic, there are always
going to be a FEW people allergic to it. And long-term
overexposure to ANY acrylic - even odorless or gels - can cause
sensitivity to gradually develop.
This is why EMA, and all acrylic or gel products,
should only be applied by trained professionals who can minimize the
skin exposure that a client experiences. (Paul
Methyl methacrylate monomer: The subject of a court ruling
U. S. Food and Drug Administration
Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Office of Cosmetics and Colors Fact Sheet
March 30, 2000
In the early 1970s, FDA received a number of complaints of
personal injury associated with the use of fingernail extenders
containing methyl methacrylate monomer. Among these injuries were
reports of fingernail damage and deformity, as well as contact
dermatitis. On the basis of its investigations of the injuries and
discussions with medical experts in the field of dermatology, FDA
concluded that liquid methyl methacrylate was a poisonous and
deleterious substance that should not be used in fingernail
preparations. The agency chose to remove products containing 100
percent liquid methyl methacrylate monomer through court
proceedings, which resulted in a preliminary injunction against one
firm as well as several seizure actions and voluntary recalls.
Although there is no specific regulation prohibiting the use of
liquid methyl methacrylate monomer in cosmetic products, FDA
continues to believe that this substance, when used in cosmetic
fingernail preparations, is a poisonous and deleterious substance.
How do you know if your salon or technician is
MMA has an unusually strong or strange odor which
doesn't smell like other acrylic liquids. Odor is present during
application and when filing cured product (for fill-ins or
Enhancements which are extremely hard and very
difficult to file even with coarse abrasives.
Enhancements that will not soak off in solvents
designed to remove acrylics.
Cloudy or milky color when cured.
Additional warning signs though less definitive:
Low price of fills and full sets (MMA cost 1/3 of
Dust or ventilation masks used (many technicians
use dust masks today who do not use MMA)
Unlabeled containers - technician will not show or
tell the client what brand of product is being used.
For more information on MMA, please visit this site:
This site has many articles relating to nails for the consumer, and
is very informative.