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"I have no real nails now as a result of it"
By Jim Strickland, Channel 2's consumer investigator

Bad nails


Nails & MMA:
The MMA controversy
Fact Sheet: What you should know

Warning Signs:
Is the price super-cheap?
Is the brush almost as white as your nails?
Is the paste very thick?
Does the container have a "No MMA" symbol?
February 18, 2002 -- A Channel 2 consumer investigation uncovers how women across Georgia are being exposed to a potentially dangerous chemical each time they get their nails done.

The substance is called MMA. The nail industry admits its unsafe. Federal regulators call it hazardous, yet Channel 2 found evidence that the chemical is a mainstay in Georgia's discount nail salons.

The feds have known of the danger for 25 years. That's when they first took action against methyl methacrylate (MMA), an acrylic bonding agent so strong it's perfect to make dentures and to adhere to artificial limbs...

But use it to make fake nails -- that's risky. Just the ask the woman who found out too late. Her beautiful discount manicure would cost more than she ever imagined.

"I was like, hey, I'll have beautiful, long, perfectly smooth nails," said Randi Shuford. "Pure vanity."

She is a writer. She says her experience with methyl methacrylate would be a horror story. You can see why.

It makes beautiful acrylic nails, but there's a big cost to it. Shuford says the problems started soon after she got acrylic nails at a discount salon.

"My nails started hurting and my skin was getting sore and was turning white," she said.

After two months of pain she had the fakes pried off. Her real nails had become paper thin and brittle.

"I have no real nails now as a result of it," Shuford said.

Acryllic nails start as a paste made of powder and liquid chemicals. Nail technician Barbara Patterson says when the liquid is MMA, the resulting nails bond too firmly.

"The acryllic nail won't release," Patterson said. "If this were an MMA nail when she catches a nail, it will stay there and pull the nail itself away from the nail bed."

The result would be very painful.

MMA nails can leave deep ridges in the natural nail below.

"And it is a very dangerous chemical and a lot f people don't know they're using it," said Shuford.

The FDA first warned about MMA in 1974, calling it a poisonous and deleterious substance. The industry quickly responded with new, safer chemicals, so the feds never issued an outright ban.

But the safer chemical Patterson uses is $300 a gallon compared to the MMA product at $50 dollars per gallon.

"I went for the easiest and the cheapest, and that wasn't a very good idea," said Shuford.

Salon owner An Thung was so confident that he doesn't use the cheaper MMA, he gave us a sample to prove his chemical was MMA free.

Methyl methacrylate is so nasty, scientists at Georgia Tech wouldn't even test for it, for fear it would contaminate their equipment. They sent us to a sophisticated testing lab in St. Louis, Mo.

Scientists needed less than a drop. It took only moments in their high-tech furnace to separate and identify what it was.

Methyl methacrylate was found.

The chemical was traced back to a supply house on Buford Highway.

The owner says he's trying to wean hundreds of salons off MMA, but makes no apologies for selling it.

"I can tell you it's not good for you to use it, but if you choose to, who am I to stop you?" asks Long Truong La City Nail Supply.

The number of licensed nail salons in Georgia has now skyrocketed to more than 1,700. All that competition makes a cheap chemical like MMA very appealing.

Still, some states, including nearby Tennessee, have passed their own rules against MMA. So, where does Georgia stand?

Even though the FDA has called it a hazardous substance, it's not been banned. Tomorrow, learn why MMA is still legal here and what regulators are waiting for. Also, learn some of the MMA red flags to look for in your favorite salon.

Dangerous nail liquid is widely used in Georgia
By Jim Strickland, Channel 2 Action News consumer investigator

Bad nails
Nails & MMA:
The MMA controversy
Fact Sheet: What you should know
State boards crack down on MMA
American Beauty Association warning
Nail Manufacturers Council warning
NMC safety steps

Warning Signs:
Is the price super-cheap?
Is the brush almost as white as your nails?
Is the paste very thick?
Does the container have a "No MMA" symbol?
February 19, 2002 -- A Channel 2 consumer investigation discovered those long and lovely acrylic nails may come with a heavy price.

The investigation found evidence that discount nail salons across Georgia are using a chemical deemed poisonous by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Why won't state regulators do anything about it?

It's not like the state isn't trying. Part of the problem is that MMA, deemed to be a poison, looks and smells a lot like another chemical, which is perfectly safe. Channel 2 had to go half way across the country just to tell which was which.

At the La City Nail Supply store on Buford Highway, salons from Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, even Virginia, stock up on equipment and chemicals. Channel 2 visited the store.

Asked if he knew the product used to make acrylic nails is made from the chemical methyl methacrylate (MMA), the owner, Long Truong, said "Yeah."

"My nails were produced with MMA," said Randi Shuford. She says the ruby liquid in her fake nails destroyed her real nails. "You're stuck with nails that look even worse than when you got the acrylics." Shuford said she did it out of vanity.

The Nail Manufacturers' Council says use of MMA is unsafe and unwise. The FDA calls it a poisonous and deleterious substance. Yet, in Georgia, sources say its use is widespread and it's legal.

"Even though the FDA has called it a hazardous substance, it's not been banned," said Molly Fleeman, who directs the state responsible for regulating 1,700 Georgia nail salons. She says state inspectors who routinely check sanitation can do little about MMA.

State regulators say they can't crack down on methyl methacrylate until they come up with a way to prove salons are using it.

To get proof, Channel 2 had to go to a sophisticated testing lab in St. Louis.

"Basically, the only component we found in your sample was methyl methacrylate," said Dr. David Dowell. He says his test is fool proof, but also expensive. Testing an eyedropper full of ruby liquid cost $800.

"Everybody doesn't have access to instruments like this so I'm not sure if there is a spot test," Dr. Dowell said. "I would be surprised if there is an accurate spot test for this type of thing."

At the salon where Randi Shuford got her nails, the owner said he didn't know what was in ruby.

So, how are you supposed to know?

Ask to see the original container and look for the ingredient ethyl methacrylate. EMA is the safer cousin to MMA.

Bobbi Trauner's been getting EMA nails for 18 years. Yet in a pinch, she went to a suspected MMA nail shop, and saw another telltale sign.

"The first thing I noticed was everyone was wearing masks and it made me wonder why I wasn't wearing a mask," Trauner.

MMA nails are so hard, nail technicians commonly use drills to shape them and wear masks because of the dust. EMA nails are easily hand-finished, leaving the natural nail unscathed.

That's a stark contrast to Randi Shuford's fingers.

"It's horrifying to think people are using something that's turn your nails into jelly," said Shuford.

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