Instead of keeping up with those Kardashian’s, why not keep your nail game strong and healthy? Don’t get caught in the streets with broken nails and missing eyelashes! And if you’re going to truly indulge in some self-care, why not take the opportunity to educate yourself about the chemicals that go into making you feel and look beautiful?

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Photo: Suzy Hazelwood

Personally, ever since I switched nail techs, my nails have been in better shape. When she first laid her hands on my nails, she said she had to start fresh because she didn’t want to work over anyone else “work.” Fair enough. So we started with a blank canvas, which in the nail world means soaking off the acrylics and shaving off the tips. Unfortunately, the nail salon I’d been frequenting for years was using bootleg products, even though I was paying top dollar (insert emoji steam face).

Methyl methacrylate, or MMA, is the liquid acid used to activate the acrylic powder to make it melt onto your nails — and it also happens to be super dangerous for your nails. However, many salons are still using MMA and customers have NO idea. Here’s what you need to know about MMA acrylic powder, and its safer alternative, EMA.

1. MMA acrylic is dangerous to the nail and skin around the nail. When used, it can turn the natural nail yellow, lead to permanent nail loss, numb the nail and skin around it and can lead to irritation and air blockage. MMA creates super hard nail enhancements that don’t break. However, when the nail is jammed, the natural nail breaks first, under the MMA acrylic causing even more painful damage.

2. MMA was introduced to the nail industry in the 1970s when dentists used the same powder to form porcelain dentures. It can also be found in plastic. However, by the end of the 1970s, numerous complaints were filed to the FDA about the horrible effects of this powder to the skin and thus it became "somewhat" illegal. I say somewhat because nail salons still use MMA today, as this is the cheaper route.

3. MMA acrylic powder reacts differently to each person. For example, when I get my nails done with MMA, my nails feel super tight and mildly swollen, like tight braids aching to be loosened up. Why did I let someone who may not even have a license put this on my nails? I didn’t know any better!

The tightness I used to experience with each fresh set was my skin reacting to chemicals that don’t allow your nails to breathe, which are the strong chemicals used to form plastics. This is a common side effect that most people put up with regularly. Another side effect includes swelling so bad that your cuticles can easily become infected with puss build up if you are highly sensitive. My nail tech actually told me that a young girl she knew of didn’t know she was allergic to MMA and as soon as the acrylic hit her nail beds, the reaction took its course and she had to be hospitalized. Moments after her nails were done, they had to be cut off while the ambulance rushed to the hospital.

4. According to the FDA, MMA is a dangerous chemical that can lead to miscarriages. Even the dust from the acrylic powder is a problem. MMA is hard to file and mold which produces a lot of dust when the nail tech goes at it with a drill. This is what makes MMA unsafe to use due to its inability to adhere well to the nail plate, often causing dents and thinning, or no natural nail at all.

6. When MMA soaks off your natural nails, it looks like gooey, melted glue and smells so bad. The smell lingers even when it’s exposed. That’s why when you walk past some of these hood salons, you can smell what’s cooking from a few yards away.

6. Unfortunately, and for cheap reasons, a lot of nail salons found in lower-income areas are still using MMA acrylic and nobody seems to care. The fact that nail suppliers are still selling MMA is ridiculous. It poses risks for the nail tech (who usually wear a mask to prevent inhaling the smell) and the nail wearer (damaging the nail beds and turning nails yellow).

7. EMA (Ethyl methacrylate) is a much better type of acrylic liquid. In 1999, Cosmetic Ingredient Review approved the use of EMA as safe in nail products. The difference between MMA and EMA products are in the smell, the way they soak off your nail beds, the damage to your natural nails and the overall reaction.

If you are concerned that you have been exposed to MMA, the first step is getting it removed from your nails immediately. Proper nail maintenance requires a fresh set every month, so get with EMA, or get a regular manicure.

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