MMA, the FDA and You

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 Commission boards.

Technote #4

MMA
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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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 nail damage.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Paul writes:

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 Bryson)

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 using MMA? 

  • 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 repairs).

  • 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 EMA)

  • 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: http://www.beautytech.info  This site has many articles relating to nails for the consumer, and is very informative.