Warning: Many Nail Salons Are Using This Cancer-Causing (and Widely Illegal!) Ingredient

Updated: Jun. 30, 2017

You need to be aware of some serious dangers in the nail industry.

Too-Many-Nail-Salons-Are-Using-This-Cancer-Causing-(and-Widely-Illegal!)-Ingredient-124048657-wavebreakmediawavebreakmedia/shutterstockA nail salon excursion with the gals is typically a jovial, carefree experience, but recent information has shown that it may not be time to let down your guard just yet. Further investigations have revealed a less glamorous side to manicures that is hushed by many salons worldwide due to the fact that it’s highly illegal in several states across America.

The substance is called methyl methacrylate liquid monomers, more commonly known as MMA. The dangerous chemical is deemed as poisonous by the FDA, yet despite it being banned in 30 states, it is still widely present in cosmetic nail preparations throughout the country.

MMA is a bonding agent used in artificial nail products. In the early stages of the professional nail industry, MMA (referred to as “dental acrylics” or “porcelain nails”) was commonly used in professional nail products. By the end of the 1970s, however, the FDA had received so many complaints that it was forced to take action against several manufacturers.

In a review, Allen R. Halper of the FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors stated that the FDA considers MMA “to be a poisonous and deleterious substance and may take regulatory action against any products containing methyl methacrylate monomer and may take legal action against those involved.”

However, because it sets much faster and sticks better to the nail for long-term use, it is still a popular choice in comparison to other products today. As an added bonus, it’s the cheapest option (approximately one third the price of other alternatives). Nail kits sold at retail outlets were also found to contain the chemical.

The use of MMA is not illegal for no reason; according to the United States Department of Labor, the industrial use of MMA has been associated with adverse health effects in some people, including irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and respiratory tract. Repeated exposure resulted in drowsiness, dizzy spells, and trembling of the hands.

As if that’s not bad enough, prolonged usage may contribute to nail damage and deformities in nail growth. Permanent loss of the nail plate and loss of sensation in the fingertips have also been reported. (See what your fingernails reveal about your health).

Worst case scenario? It can incur potential miscarriages, kidney lesions, liver problems, and permanent respiratory issues—including cancer.

Know that as a consumer, you have the right to ask the nail technician what product they are using. If a nail salon has suspiciously discounted prices, be wary of its ingredients. MMA has a strong irritating chemical odor (sharp and fruity) that does not smell like other acrylic liquids. As such, the nail technician will often wear a mask to prevent inhalation. Keep a watchful eye out for warning signs after application; the product will set much harder, feel less flexible, and be very difficult to file. The nail extensions are virtually impossible to remove with normal solvents, so you may have to pick or drill it off.

Luckily, there are a number of alternatives for MMA — methyl methacrylate (EMA), light cure gels, wraps, and natural nail manicures. Most quality professional manufacturers will formulate their liquid monomer with ethyl methacrylate. These products have been declared safe for use by trained nail technicians, so stay on the safe side and opt for these carriers instead (it’s for your own good).