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Acrylic Nails

I have recently trained and received a qualification in applying, maintaining and removing acrylic nails. Inevitably, conversation regarding Chinese nail salons and their code of practice surfaced whilst on the course. So for the benefit of my readers, I thought I would amalgamate the information I’ve collected, along with some research, to let you know some facts. 

Firstly, for any of you who do not know, acrylic nails are nail extensions that are held on by
a mixture of monomer and powder that combine and solidify on top of the nail. Extensions can be filed to create a variety of nail shapes. With regular maintenance and correct aftercare they will last for months. Acrylic is a porous product which enables you to soak extensions off
using 100% acetone.

There are a large number of acrylic nail shops in the UK, whose workers are predominantly of asian heritage. They are known for being cheaper, quicker and there is one in almost every town in the UK. There have been growing concerns about the materials these salons are using. There are 2 types of acrylic liquid monomer used by nail salons around the world – Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA) and Methyl Methacrylate (MMA).

MMA(Methyl methacrylate) liquid monomer – is a chemical compound that is mainly used in the dental industry for the production of bridges and crowns. It’s a flammable liquid that serves as bone cement – after it solidifies – during joint replacement surgical operations by orthopedic surgeons. MMA also found extensive usage in the production of resins, Plexiglas, and some flooring products.

When used on nails, MMA monomers – composed of tiny molecules – penetrate both the nail plate and skin pores, consequently hardening underneath and sandwiching the natural nails. MMA monomers are extremely hard when they solidify and are significantly more rigid than your natural nail.

When you accidentally jam a fingernail made with Methyl methacrylate, its resistance to breaking is so enormous that your natural nails can rip off completely. This brings about excruciating pain, especially if the breakage occurs near the eponychium. Permanent loss and damage of natural nail, numbness of the fingers, and severe infections are the outcomes of such an occurrence.

MMA is also resistant to solvents, thus it takes an unbearably long time for users to remove MMA acrylic after soaking their fingers in acetone. If you don’t have the luxury of time, the nail technicians will suggest to drill it off. Some nail techs may even decide to forcefully remove the MMA acrylic by forcing the tip of a nail between the enhancement and the natural nail. This can be an agonizing experience that you should not have to go through. What is more, some nail techs don’t care about preserving the natural nail underneath the enhancement product.

MMA cannot stick well without grooves, so nail techs proceed to create them with drills, thus damaging the nail plate in the process while prepping for the enhancement. MMA was not designed to be handled by novices or used outside the confines of a laboratory, but by well-trained professionals within a heavily controlled lab environment. Even though MMA is only dangerous in its liquid state and less dangerous when hardened, it is still not considered safe to use by non-professionals.- UV Hero. (2019). MMA vs EMA Acrylic. Confused? Here’s What You Need to Know!. [online]

A little bit of History

Back in the early 1970’s the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began receiving complaints about injuries caused by nail products containing Methyl Methacrylate (MMA). They began investigating these complaints of fingernail damage and deformity as well as dermatitis. After lots of research and many discussions with medical experts, the FDA filed several lawsuits and injunctions against companies in the US. The FDA made it clear to the public that MMA was not to be used in nail products. Despite internet rumours, MMA is not completely banned  in the US (read about nail products from the FDA site). It is however banned by over 30 states in the US that chose to take action themselves. It is also banned in Canada and New Zealand. MMA is not “banned” in Australia either. Why? Because it “can be used safely in other areas” (eg. dentistry).

Ok, so EMA is Good, MMA is Bad – remember that.

Why do some salons use it?

NSS or unsafe nail salons use MMA because it is much cheaper than the safer alternative EMA. It also sets harder and stronger – which may appear to be a good thing, but it isn’t (see below). They think that it will last longer on your nails.

What MMA really does to you

Exposure to MMA can cause:

  • Irritation
  • Redness and Swelling
  • Skin Sensitisation (tingling or numbness)
  • Respiratory problems or eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Fungal or bacterial infections
  • Discolouration of the nails (yellowing)
  • Nail damage or deformities
  • It’s not really known for certain whether or not MMA can cause problems in a human fetus. However, it is known that inhaled MMA can reach an unborn child.

What to be on the lookout for?

    • Unusually low prices – MMA costs about a quarter of the price of EMA and is found in discount salons
    • Nail Technicians wearing masks – certainly not an immediate indication of MMA use (many employees wear masks), but all the clues will start to add up
    • Vague description of brand and products – unlabelled containers and technicians who won’t (or can’t) tell you what they are using. (No recognisable brands such as The Manicure Company, CND or Star.)
    • Much stronger odour – acrylic nails do tend to have a distinctive odour, but MMA has a much stronger and unpleasant fruity odour
    • The acrylic nail turns yellow over time
    • Electric files used on the natural nail – very dangerous and a big warning sign
    • The acrylic nail is very hard and not flexible
    • They will ask you to pay in cash so that there is no record of you attending that nail salon should anything go wrong.

-Polished Beauty. (2019). The Dangers of Cheap Nail Products (MMA) in Cheap Nail Salons. [online] 

“BBC Inside Out has discovered that many budget nail salons are using methyl methacrylate (MMA) which can cause permanent nail damage and severe allergic reactions. 

When reporter Amy Harris visited one nail bar for an undercover manicure she was told they did not use MMA. But when the air sample was tested at the University of Leicester’s laboratories, she discovered MMA had been used.”- BBC News. (2019). How safe is your manicure?. [online]

Legally, only one person needs to be fully qualified in a nail salon if the other people in the salon are ‘training’. They can be in ‘training’ for 1 year before they must get their acrylic nail qualification. Conveniently, once the year is almost up, these unqualified nail technicians then are moved to another franchised nail salon in a different area where the process starts all over again. These workers often don’t get paid fairly for their work, they don’t get to keep their tips and there are rumours that large groups of them are forced to share overcrowded accommodation all in the name of cheap labour. 

If you suspect that you have been exposed to MMA acrylic during your last visit to your local beauty salon, there is no need to fret. The first thing you should do, however, is to remove the nails immediately. If you can’t do it without hurting your natural nails, pay a visit to a reputable salon to get it done for you. Since proper nail maintenance requires getting a fresh set of nails regularly, switch over to EMA-based acrylic nails as soon as possible, and your worries will be over.

*Read on for definitions of the ingredients and processes used in acrylic nails.*

And in short, be aware of the products you are exposing your body to. Do your own research and be educated on MMA and the problems it can cause. Always go to a qualified nail technician who uses branded products from their original packaging. Be aware that some of these nail salons are not what the are cracked up to be!!

The Science

LIQUID (MONOMERS)​ – these are liquids that are used in liquid and powder nail extensions. They ​are a molecule that can mix chemically to other molecules to form a polymer. Monomers consist of one basic molecule, whereas polymers are made up of many monomers. Billions of molecules must react to make just one sculptured nail.

POWDER (POLYMER)​ -​ ​Polymers are very long chains of molecules linked together. Polymers can be liquids but in the nail industry they are usually solids in the form of a powder. The name Polymer comes from two words poly = many, mer = units.

INITIATOR- is an ingredient within a product that will start a reaction in the liquid and powder system. The initiator is present within the polymer (usual Benzyl Peroxide).

CATALYST- is a chemical that speeds up or slows down a chemical reaction. In the instance of applying acrylic nails the catalyst is the heat in the air and the heat in your clients hands.

POLYMERIZATION- is the setting that takes place when a monomer and a polymer are mixed together. To control this reaction an Initiator is needed to start the reaction and a catalyst to control the reaction. – Capital (2019)

References

BBC News. (2019). How safe is your manicure?. [online] Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-30541017/how-safe-is-your-manicure [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

Capital (2019). BEGINNERS ACRYLIC NAIL EXTENSIONS. Faceforward Ltd, p.4.

Polished Beauty. (2019). The Dangers of Cheap Nail Products (MMA) in Cheap Nail Salons. [online] Available at: https://www.polishedbeauty.com.au/safe-salons/mma-dangers-of-cheap-nails-and-cheap-salons/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

UV Hero. (2019). MMA vs EMA Acrylic. Confused? Here’s What You Need to Know!. [online] Available at: https://uvhero.com/mma-ema-acrylic/ [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

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