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MMA & EMA Facts

What is MMA?

Methyl Methacrylate is an ingredient that was commonly used in early "nail porcelains." In the early 1970's, the Food 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, soreness and infection due to breaks caused by the 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 acrylics use a product called EMA or Ethyl Methacrylate, which has been deemed much safer for use in the beauty industry.)

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; eye, nose & 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.

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.

What’s the difference between EMA and MMA?

First, 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!).

Another difference, and one that is most relative to consumers, is PRICE. MMA is much less expensive (about 1/16th the cost!), compared to EMA - this may explain the difference in prices at different salons.

Is EMA really safe?

You will be happy to know that ethyl methacrylate is one of the most studied monomers on Earth. There is a huge amount of scientific literature that backs up the safety of this important substance. It is used in everything from household plastics to medical devices that are implanted in the body. Recently, the prestigious Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel (CIR) reviewed all of this literature and determined that this ingredient is so safe that it can be used in retail nail products.

EMA acrylic liquid monomer has an 'odor'. Is this harmful in any way?

Vapors are created when liquids evaporate. Now, to answer your question- EMA is one of the most studied monomers in world. It is used in thousands of applications and by hundreds of different industries, including the nail industry. Over the last twenty years there have been many dozens of scientific studies performed on this monomer. Every one of these studies were evaluated by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Board (CIR), a group of world leading medical experts in cosmetic ingredient safety. EMA has been exhaustively reviewed TWICE by this prestigious board, during the last seven years.

In the first review, the CIR expert panel determined that EMA was safe as used by professional nail technicians. During the second review, (completed this last Dec.) the CIR determined that EMA was even safer than originally thought. They now believe EMA is SO SAFE, it can be used in retail nail products, as well. John Bailey (the Director of the FDA's Color and Cosmetic Division) sits on the CIR expert panel. Eric Schwartz from OPI and I spoke with him personally and asked him what he thought of the CIR ruling. He absolutely agrees the scientific information shows that EMA is safe for use on fingernails. To reach this conclusion, the CIR considered the effect of long term inhalation and skin contact. They looked at both scientific studies, as well as, medical reports and studies done on workers in factories that make and use EMA.

I completely agree with the FDA and CIR. In my opinion, there is no doubt that EMA is safe for use by nail techs. BTW: the CIR also determined there is no evidence that EMA can affect or harm unborn babies. The strange odor of the substance concerns people and makes them fearful. But odor has nothing to do with safety. Some very dangerous chemicals have no odor or even smell sweet and wonderful. For example, the vast majority of cosmetic related allergic reactions are caused by fragrances in products. This is why it is foolish to assume that odorless or odor free= safe. It does NOT!

Of course, you should still take care and work safely. Working safely is important no matter what your profession. Nail techs should make sure they use proper ventilation to control both dusts and vapors. Nothing in the world is 100% safe. Millions have died from over exposure to water. Even so, we know that water can be used safely. The same is true for nail enhancement products.

**Credit for answers to these questions go to Doug Schoon. He has an MS in Chemistry and is currently the Director of Research and Development for Creative Nail Design Systems, Inc., a California nail art company. He is also the Executive Director of Chemical Awareness Training Service.

Hazard Summary from the:
Materials Data Safety Sheet

** MMA has a strong, sharp, fruity odor and can affect you when breathed in

** It may damage a developing fetus

** Exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, nose, and throat

** MMA can cause skin allergy

** Exposure could damage the nervous system. Symptoms may include pins and needles, numbness, weakness, and changes in the ability to remember and concentrate

** Severe side effects may include abnormal liver or kidney function, nervous system damage and reproductive problems


Here are some signs that your acrylic nails may contain MMA products:

Low pricing for acrylic service - not a special sale or offer

Acrylic difficult or impossible to remove with acetone

Techs or management that are secretive about brands used. Just because they have a name brand polish in the salon does not mean they are using that brand of acrylic. ASK to see original containers!

Technicians often wear masks to prevent inhalation of the powerful distinct odor- noxious, sharp and fruity

You experience headaches when you visit the salon


And to reassure you that I


I strictly adhere to all rules and regulations of the

Florida State Board of Cosmetology.

For more information on MMA and related articles, go to www.beautytech.com/info


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