Thursday, October 27, 2011

MMA Is Not For Nails

MMA is an abreviation for Methyl Methacrylate Monomer. It is a chemical compound. MMA makes acrylic. But NOT the kind of acrylic you want on your nails!

MMA is dental acrylic. It's what they make fake teeth and crowns out of. And even dentists are starting to use other chemicals now because MMA is just so gosh-awful bad for you!
It's also used in industrial applications-- they use it to hold concrete together and to glue tiles to cement floors. This stuff is STRONG.

Back in the early days of acrylic nails it was the only stuff available. We got it from the dental industry. But it didn't take very long at all before it started causing problems and by the early 70's (that's right, acrylic nails have been around THAT long!) so many women had suffered allergic reactions to it and/or had major trauma to their own nails because of it that the FDA got involved.

The FDA reviewed the complaints it was receiving, did some research and declared MMA to be a "poisonous and deleterious substance" under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (which was initially put in effect in 1906.)

So the FDA said, "This cannot be used for nails" (well, I paraphrased that actually) in 1974 and it was supposed to be taken off the shelves!

By that time a lot of companies had already figured out that acrylic nails were going to be BIG and they didn't want to lose all the money that was sure to be had in the industry-- and they didn't want to see the industry fail either-- so they found alternatives.

Now we use EMA (ethyl methacrylate monomer: one letter makes a BIG difference in the molecule!)

EMA creates a more flexible acrylic that is more likely to break under stress. The molecule is WAY huge compared to the MMA molecule-- which means it can't penetrate the nail plate and is far less likely to cause allergic reactions.

Unfortunately, MMA is still available because it gets used for so many other things than nails. And it's cheap. CHEEEEEEAAAAP. A gallon of MMA can be found for about $15 where a gallon of cosmetic-grade EMA goes for over $200. That's a big difference!

So if you've ever looked around and seen those banners for full sets at $15 and wondered why they were so cheap when the nice salon up the street is charging $65 for a full set? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that one out.

So what's so bad about MMA?

Well, I really didn't know much about MMA until I got fired from a job back in 1995 for refusing to use it. I ended up down at the library for hours researching and making photocopies. And let me tell you-- this stuff is illegal for GOOD reasons!

First off, if you work with it long enough you will inhale a lot of the vapors that evaporate off the liquid. This gets into your body and slowly poisons you. Possibly to death, since it can cause pulmonary edema-- build up of liquid in your lungs. Now that IS a worst case scenario and to my knowledge no one has ever died from MMA poisoning in a salon environment.

But what it DOES do is cause a bunch of problems with your brain and central nervous system that is classified as "brain dysfunction."

It can cause loss of memory and dementia. It can cause nerve damage that will make your fingers and toes go all numb and tingly. It causes birth defects-- specifically causes spinal cord issues in fetuses.

Most clients will never have to worry about these things because they just aren't exposed to MMA often enough or long enough to inhale that much of it. But if you ever wondered why all those people are wearing masks?

Sadly, wearing a paper dusk mask will NOT prevent you from being poisoned. The vapors penetrate those masks and go right into your lungs. The masks just keep the dust out. (and, btw, a lot of techs wear dust masks because of the dust, so don't jump to conclusions! But if EVERYONE in the salon is wearing one AND their acrylic nails are dirt cheap? Get suspicious!)

What YOU (the client) have to worry about is the chance of developing an allergic reaction. The molecules in the monomer (remember! Monomer is the liquid-- and it's the only place where MMA is a problem) are so tiny that they can get into your skin and soak through the nail plate. This means your body is more likely to notice the foreign substance and revolt! Which is essentially what an allergic reaction is.

I see a LOT of people who develope allergies to acrylic. And what kills me is that so many people working in my industry don't have a CLUE about chemistry. So almost everytime they assume the problem is caused by the primer and will try to switch products.

This doesn't work. Sometimes it helps for a fill or two, but eventually I end up with a new client who can't wear acrylic and thinks I'm a goddess because I have stuff that is hypoallergenic.
Allergic reactions show up as itching, swelling, redness, and little blisters all around the nail.

Take a look at that photo.

That's a nail with MMA. OUCH! Notice how the nail itself is still in excellent shape? But the natural nail has been torn off the nail bed? That's the big problem with MMA. It's so strong it doesn't always break, that's why the FDA got so many complaints!

Women were getting their nails torn off their nailbeds! Then they were getting infections, some of those infections were going all the way down to the bone in the finger and then they had to have part of their finger amputated!

This is all the more a problem in salons that don't bother disinfecting properly. They just keep using the same drill bit and the same files and the same buffers over and over and over until they wear out! They don't even bother WASHING them between clients! Let alone DISINFECTING them according to the LAW!

(did you know that California does not recognize disinfectable buffers and files? They make us throw them out after each client! No. It is NOT legal in California to keep files and buffers to reuse on the same client! It's like a Q-tip-- once it's been used it has to be thrown out! You can't wash it, and you can't even use it on the same person again!)


You can show this blog entry to as many people as you can! The more people understand about getting their nails done safely, the better!

Written by Maggie Franklin, posted at 


  1. wow this is some real crazy stuff ..

  2. 100% agreed..I am a nail tech and would NEVER use MMA and urge anyone getting their nails done by a salon or at home, to use only techs that gaurantee using quality products containing only EMA. Its shocking how some so called professionals would risk harm to a client just to save a few pounds!

  3. my wife is a nail tech,and it is so true that the chemical mma is a harmful product to the human body,iam a construction worker,they use this stuff as a rapid harder in concrete and screed,its also used in apoxy resin and glass fibre harder for the use in car body repairs,so useing it in the beauty industry is just stupid.

  4. Hi,
    As a leading beauty industry scientist and a nail salon product expert, I can tell you that a lot of what is said here is incorrect. It is true that MMA is not a good nail product and can lead to nail damage, but the health effects have been greatly exaggerated. MMA is regularly implanted in the body as bone cement, so clearly it is not inherently dangerous. If you want the facts, I've posted an article on my website called "What Every Salon Professional Should Know about MMA",
    There are valid reasons for not using MMA. Everyone should know the proper reasons and avoid spreading incorrect information that can potentially unfairly harm this industry.
    Doug Schoon

  5. Thanks for posting this Maggie, maybe some people will better understand it now.

  6. Doug:

    You're going to have to go through it with a red pen and point out specifically what you disagree with, because I think I was pretty careful to point out that most of the really scary things are "worst case scenarios" that aren't scene in a salon environment. But I assure you, all that stuff about memory loss and nervous system damage IS correct. It's not difficult to look it up.

    YOU are the one who taught us all that it's important to differentiate between "exposure" and "OVERexposure;" I didn't say there weren't appropriate uses for MMA, I said nails wasn't one of them.

  7. maybe she shouldnt have had fake nails


  8. Thank you for this informative blog! I couldn't have said it better myself and as you said "You can show this blog entry to as many people as you can!" I have linked to you in my own blog

  9. How would you know if mmm is being used at a local Nail Salon like in the Bronx?

  10. I. Always try to educate people on this! They just compare the prices....
    Thank you for this as explains it very well.
    Can I share on my fb?
    Thank you
    nail Karma

    1. Sure! Please share, just tag/link back/or give credit please.

  11. how we can make difference betwen mma and ema except price?

    1. When you buy it? Ask for an MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet.)

  12. Yeah, let's scare the living crap out of people so they don't go to the more affordable salon down the street, but come and spend money in your expensive salon instead. Brilliant!

    1. Nope. Go to the place that's affordable for you. Just make sure it's operating safely. Or don't, if your safety isn't important to you.

    2. Sir, with all due respect, it isn't about affordability. It's about safety . If I can't afford to have it done safely, I can't really afford to have it done. Because I certainly can't afford to risk an injury or illness and I do believe that ya get what us pay for.

  13. I appreciate the info, but «i am one of those nail techs that only charges $25 for a full set and it is not because I use cheaper products. I work from my home and do not have the overhead of a salon, so before the writer of this goes and slams nail techs that are making their prices so that anyone can afford a nice set of nails...I am one nail tech that takes offense to her lumping all low cost nail tech into a class of less than desirable!


      "Lowcostnailtech" is right! I apologize for not including an exception in the original post to account for things like this...

      Just because a service has a low cost, doesn't immediately indicate the use of sub-standard products! There are a lot of factors that contribute to the cost of a service-- as this comment points out, a low overhead can allow a perfectly legit tech to keep prices down.

      That's why it's important to read the whole post and understand that there are several factors to consider before concluding that MMA is afoot.

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