The Grand Forks Herald

Published: Monday, February 7, 2000

Fighting for safe nails

Grand Forks nail technician warns of problems with lower-cost chemical applications

By John Kjorstad

Herald Staff Writer

A Grand Forks woman is spreading the word -- some acrylic nails can be harmful.

Jessica Zastoupil, a local nail technician, is bringing an industry battle over a chemical known as MMA (methyl methacrylate) to North Dakota and trying to create awareness about the potential damage it can cause.

"It's my crusade," Zastoupil said. "I've been trying to educate my clients about the harm it can cause, because I doubt they would look for it on their own."

MMA, also known as dental acrylic, was phased out by the beauty industry over 25 years ago but has recently been popping back up at salons across the nation.

Declared poisonous

In the early 1970s, the federal Food and Drug Administration declared the chemical to be poisonous when used on nails. However, because the chemical is so cheap, some discount salons have gone back to it rather than use safer, more-expensive products such as ethyl methacrylate (EMA).

"This is my industry," Zastoupil said. "(The salons that use MMA) are giving the rest of us a bad name. I just think the consumer should be informed."

Acrylic nails are sculpted when a nail technician combines a liquid monomer, such as MMA, with a powder to build up the nail.

"I used to use a very good product that contained MMA, but now that product has been discontinued," said Janna Johnson of Josef's School of Hair Design in Fargo. "I now use Tammy Taylor products that I know don't contain MMA."


According to Johnson, most nail technicians are aware of MMA. The chemical has been widely documented within the nail industry's trade magazines. However, Johnson herself isn't completely sure about all the problems associated with MMA.

"There's something harmful about the smell of (MMA)," Johnson said. "What else, I'm not really sure. I just know that it is harmful. It's not good stuff."

The FDA's reasons for initially banning the chemical were reports that said MMA can rip nails off fingers, cause nerve problems and severe rashes. Over time, its effects could include damage to kidneys, livers and fetuses. In addition, manicurists who use MMA can cause problems before even applying the chemical. Coarse files and drills used in the application of these nails can cause irreversible damage.

"I've heard a lot of complaints (about discount salons)," Zastoupil said. "People, teen-agers especially, go to these places because they offer a lower price. Then they'll come to me and tell me things like 'I left there bleeding.'

"Getting nails should not be painful. I don't think $10 saved is worth your health."

Zastoupil suspects some salons in the Grand Forks area are using MMA for acrylic nails. However, local beauty salons undergo frequent inspections by the North Dakota Board of Cosmetology, and MMA is not illegal in North Dakota. Therefore, it's not a concern during inspection.

"(MMA) is not outlawed in North Dakota," Zastoupil said. "The FDA has banned its use on nails, but they can't police it and have left it up to the states to police it."

According to a nationwide survey by a Muncie, Ind., salon owner, 30 states, including South Dakota and Montana, have laws that do not allow the use of MMA on nails. Minnesota officially warns its salons about the dangers of MMA, but does not have any laws against it.

Board studies issue

"Other states have brought up this issue," said Bert Knell, president of the North Dakota Board of Cosmetology. "We're looking into it."

Zastoupil sent Knell a letter in January asking her and the board to outlaw the use of MMA in North Dakota. While Knell hasn't directly responded to Zastoupil, she said the letter has been forwarded to the board's lawyer, who advised board members not to talk about it until after the letter has been reviewed.

Until the state board acts, Zastoupil said, it's up to consumers to protect themselves.

Awareness is important, and consumers should always ask their nail technicians what kinds of chemicals they use, she said.

How to tell the difference

Some ways of telling whether a manicurist is using methyl methacrylate (MMA):

Because safer chemicals are more expensive, acrylic nails should cost between $35 and $60 a set. MMA nails usually cost $25 or less.

MMA has a super-strong, sweet, fruity smell that is distinct from other acrylics, causing some salon technicians to wear a mask.

The manicurist has to severely abrade the surface of the nail until it is rough enough for the MMA to stick.

MMA nails are almost impossible to get off, even after soaking them in acetone for hours. Often, the manicurist has to grind the MMA nail down to the real nail.

MMA nails are very hard and difficult to file.

Reprinted by without permission, only because there is no direct link to this !! and I'm afraid they will move it

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