For more than 20 years, manufacturers using methyl methacrylate (MMA) in their nail products have risked and injunction by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would force them to cease shipment. The FDA recently reasserted its position against MMA usage (the chemical is banned in liquid monomer, but is acceptable in some other non-nail-related products such as plexiglass and medical devices), in a letter written to the Nail Manufacturers Council in September 1996. Although no specific law was enacted prohibiting the use of this chemical, the letter states that the FDA is “prepared to consider regulatory action against fingernail products formulated with liquid methyl methacry-late monomer as one of its ingredients.”

The agency’s firm stand originally caused most manufacturers to voluntarily ban MMA. Most liquid and powder manufacturers use that is considered safe if used by trained nail technicians under safe conditions, in their liquid monomer products. However, there are still some companies that continue to use MMA in their liquid monomers, a fact that has caused the NMC to emphasize the FDA’s position to the entire industry.

“There were many differing opinions on where the FDA stood on this issue,” explains Paul Dykstra, executive director of the Chicago-based NMC. Since no specific law was enacted, some considered the FDA’s stance only a recommendation to cease usage, instead of a demand. “We’re trying to make sure the information is consistent throughout the industry,” Dykstra continues. “But there’s still some work to be done.”

Until the early 1970s, methyl methacrylate, derived primarily from the dental industry, was commonly used in nail products. But when reports of nail injuries and allergic reactions started emerging, the FDA issued its first ban.

When MMA comes in contact with the skin, it can cause a severe allergic reaction. Other dangers of MMA include the fact that the product is so rigid and adheres so tightly to the natural nail that it can literally rip the nail off the nail bed if hit hard enough. Unfortunately, these very properties (an acrylic nail that doesn’t lift and is tough to break) are touted as benefits by companies that continue to sell MMA.

What you can do

Many nail technicians have already witnessed the dangerous after-effects of MMA-based acrylic nails. According to Denise Brown, secretary for the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology in Sacramento, reports of MMA being used in nail products or in salons can be sent to the board. “We’ve gone into salons and we do cite people who are using it,” she says. Nail technicians should provide the board with information on where they’ve seen evidence of MMA usage, and someone from the board will investigate. Check your own state’s board to see if they accept and investigate MMA usage reports.