It was a common salon practice that this time resulted in tragedy. On January 9, Debra Greenwood, owner of Nails Desire in Knoxville, Tenn., was heating acetone in a glass bowl in the salon microwave when the acetone ignited. The pressure blew open the door of the microwave and engulfed Greenwood in flames.

According to the January 11 edition of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, Greenwood ran from the salon with her face, hair, and clothing on fire. Employees pursued and extinguished the flames, but not before Greenwood had suffered third-degree burns over 15% of her body.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported that Greenwood’s employees told the fire department that they regularly heated acetone in the microwave. And other nail techs NAILS asked say it’s not an uncommon practice because heated acetone removes acrylics faster.

According to chemist Doug Schoon, the explosion was not a fluke. A chemical’s volatility is determined by its evaporation rate. Heating the solvent speeds its evaporation rate, raising its volatility. Factor in the small, enclosed space of a microwave (which traps the vapors) and the sparks that naturally occur when a microwave is in operation, and the stage is set.

“Adding warmth does make acetone work faster,” Schoon agrees. He recommends the following techniques to safely heat acetone:

Put just the amount of acetone you need to heat in a loosely capped glass jar. Then fill another container at least twice the size of the bottle with warm water. Set the bottle of acetone in the bowl and let it heat.

Put cotton balls saturated in acetone on the nail, then wrap the fingertip in aluminum foil. “The body heat warms the acetone and removes the product much faster without any hazards,” says Schoon.

As of NAILS’ press time, Greenwood’s family said she was still in critical condition and heavily sedated. A trust fund has been set up to help Greenwood, who had no medical insurance, pay her medical expenses.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.