MMA - Methylmethacrylate

What is MMA?
Methyl Methacrylate is an ingredient that was commonly used in early "nail porcelains."
In the early 1970’s, the Foo
d and Drug Administration received numerous complaints of personal injuries associated with the use of acrylic monomer formulated with MMA.
The reports included serious nail damage or loss, contact dermatitis, organ damage from long term use, soreness and infection due to breaks caused by rigidly adhered acrylic.

By the end of the 1970’s, the FDA had taken action against several manufacturers that marketed MMA liquid monomers. Since the FDA does not review or approve cosmetics before they go to market - only taking legal action if a product poses a safety problem - certain disreputable manufacturers continue to formulate products with MMA.

Most main stream acrylic manufacturers use a product called EMA or Ethyl Methacrylate which has been deemed much safer for use in the beauty industry.  With the surge in salon growth and many salons looking to cut costs of supplies MMA has shown it's ugly head again. (MMA is 1/6th the price of EMA.)

Recently articles have appeared in newspapers and industry gossip has said that if consumers want the salon to use MMA on their nails because it will last longer.... what is the big deal?  Well the big deal is...we do not know how much internal organ damage, respiratory, eye damage & allergic responses etc... MMA does and at what speed it happens....but it does happen...make no mistake about it.  I was outraged when I read an article from a consumer in a New Hampshire newspaper claim it was her right to have MMA applied to her nails if she wished it. How irresponsible of her!

Getting MMA out of the salons and off clients hands will take the combined effort of state regulators, salons and consumers. In lieu of federal intervention, there are steps salons can take to discourage the use of products formulated with MMA. While the industry waits for the FDA to put more force behind the MMA issue, many manufacturers are addressing the dangers.

What are the health risks associated with MMA products?
MMA-related complaints range from skin allergies to permanent loss of the nail plate.  Here are the most common complaints that prompted the FDA to take action:

Nail Infections
The surface bond of the MMA acrylic is so strong to the soft tissue that even a slight trauma to the nail can cause the nail to break and lift off the nail bed. This can result in serious nail breaks, infection and loss of the nail plate. Ironically, it is the strength of the acrylic that attracts some users of the product. While MMA used in the medical and dental industries provides superior adhesion to bone, it is not appropriate or safe for use on the softer nail tissue.

Respiratory problems and eye, nose and throat irritation.
MMA vapors are toxic even in small doses and can cause lung, liver and heart valve damage, especially with long term exposure. This has been documented in laboratory animals as well as in lab technicians from dental labs where crowns and dentures are made. Wearing a mask does nothing to prevent inhalation of MMA fumes. Masks only reduce the inhalation of acrylic dust.

Permanent Nail Deformities
The small molecular structure of MMA makes it possible for it to be absorbed through even unbroken skin. It can also actually do permanent damage to the matrix of the nail and further absorb into the body. While MMA will not store in the tissue, it is stored as methanol in the blood and urine.

Severe Allergic Reactions
Repeated exposure to products containing MMA can result in severe allergic reactions. Redness, swelling and itching are common symptoms which can lead to the development of tiny blisters around the cuticles and fingertips. These blisters can develop into open sores, and the fingertips may become numb or feel itchy under the nail.

MMA sticks better the EMA products?   FALSE
When EMA Acrylic products are applied properly they should adhere as well if not better than MMA products.  It is not true that MMA has better adhesion.  It is just that MMA users, use drills  or very course files to prep the nail and this is what causes superior adhesion (and severe nail plate damage).  MMA in fact does not adhere well to natural nails at all if it were to be applied in the same manner that we apply traditional acrylics. NOTE: Drills must be used in salons that use MMA a regular file can not quickly file the surface of an MMA nail. 
However... Please note... that NOT all salons that use drills...  use MMA, many do not. 

If my acrylic products don’t contain MMA, what ingredients do they contain?   
Are they harmful?

All of the traditional acrylic liquids that are available through main stream sources contain EMA Ethyl Methacrylate, which is free of the hazards associated with MMA. While it is true that both EMA and MMA can also be found in the powder phase of acrylic products, this is a form of co-polymers. The co-polymers, Polymethyl Methacrylate and Polyethyl Methacrylate, are completely harmless in the powder because the molecules are already polymerized and too large to evaporate or penetrate the skin. EMA was developed for use in the nail industry for application of acrylic nails, and works much the same as MMA in process only.

What’s the difference between EMA and MMA?
In chemistry, one small alteration such as adding an extra Carbon or Hydrogen atom can mean the difference between making a potentially harmful poison or something that is not harmless when used by the professional. Although close cousins, EMA has a slight, but significantly different molecular structure than MMA. This gives EMA the desirable acrylic qualities without the undesirable side effects so often seen with MMA.
Only three atoms distinguish the difference between EMA and MMA. However, this small chemical difference makes EMA much safer. An example is the difference between poisonous wood alcohol (methanol) and beverage alcohol (ethanol). Again the difference between the two molecules is only three atoms. Yet wood alcohol is deadly if consumed. Beverage alcohol is considered safe (if not used in excess!).

Why is it safe to use MMA in the dental and medical industries?
The dental industry makes dental composites sometimes using MMA as a monomer. However, teeth are a much harder substance and less penetrable than the softer, keratin protein of nails. Additionally, most dental prosthetics are made outside of the mouth. And, like nail acrylic, once polymerized and cured, dental composites are safe when placed in contact with human tissue. The exposure rate is also completely different. A client who wears acrylic nails may have a fill every two weeks. The same client may only have a few dental prosthetics throughout a lifetime.

How do I know if a salon is using products containing MMA?
MMA Acrylic nails are difficult or impossible to remove.
Once hardened through polymerization, acrylic nails made with MMA monomer are solvent resistant. It can take two hours or more to dissolve when immersed in a solvent, whereas nail products made with EMA take only 20 to 30 minutes to dissolve. To speed up the removal process, the salon may choose to use an electric drill or extremely coarse file to remove the MMA acrylic. Since it may be difficult to see where the nail has grown, the chance of filing into the natural nail are great, often leaving behind a damaged, thin nail plate leading to permanent nail deformities. I would recommend filing the product thin and leave the remaining layer on until it grows out. Once the product is cured there is no danger to the client and would create less damage to the nail in the long run.
An unusually powerful, noxious odor.
Volatility is what gives acrylic products their characteristic odors. Smaller methacrylate molecules are more volatile, producing a much stronger odor. MMA is the smallest methacrylate molecule used, hence the powerful odors associated with these illegal nail products. The safe Ethyl Methacrylate (EMA) used in many of today’s mainstream acrylics are also has small molecules and a strong smell, though not as small as the MMA variety.
Low priced full sets and fills
The cost of a gallon of MMA liquid monomer ranges from $9.00 to $22.00. The cost of EMA liquid monomer ranges from $189 to $219 per gallon. For discount salons, cost outweighs the safety factors. While MMA monomer may cost less to buy, the health risks are more costly in the long run. The sad thing is many times the salon techs have no idea that the MMA liquid is dangerous or that is, in fact, what they are using. The owner normally pours the gallon into yorker bottles with no labels or they pour them in name brands like OPI or Creative Nail that way the techs, inspectors and clients don’t know what kind of product they are using.
What happens when a salon tests positive for MMA containing products?

Salons that are identified as using MMA products are at risk for citation, fines and even loss of licensing. However it is extremely difficult to cite salons unless inspectors can find "dental monomer: containers. Many salons hide the containers in the back, or refill brand containers.

The following is Reprinted with permission from Nails Magazine.  It is a grass roots campaign aimed at consumers....It was started by salons that are concerned about their industry.

Are you concerned that you have been exposed to MMA?

MMA (Methyl Methacrylate) is a liquid monomer deemed poisonous and dangerous by the FDA and is now being used improperly in the beauty industry for artificial nail applications in some salons.

Indications that MMA has been used on you:

  • Operators Most Often Wear Masks (FDA has deemed this substance poisonous)
  • Drill Use should never be damaging or painful. Drills are always used with MMA.
  • Operators/Owners/Management are secretive about product brand names
  • Distinctly different odor from regular nail acrylic
  • Usually low service pricing  (MMA Liquid costs $20 a gallon. Industry approved Acrylic Liquid cost $200 a gallon)
  • Artificial Surface will not release under extreme pressure  (MMA nails rarely lift or break and will take the nail plate off the nail bed if enough pressure is applied to break it.)
    Other Important Factors to Consider when choosing a Salon
  • All operators must be licensed and the license should be visibly posted
  • Proper Sanitation Methods should be used
  • Inquires should be answered in a professional and educated manner

    Salons using MMA will probably not inform you of the potential dangers. We the professional salons in your area want you, the consumer to understand the importance of this issue.