Beauty comes for a price

Oct 072003
Authors: James Baetke

A local Fort Collins woman is voicing her discontent toward

discount nail salons who use a harmful chemical known as methyl

methacrylate, a substance linked to miscarriages and allergic

reactions, Tiffany Welborn said.

Better known as MMA, methyl methacrylate is a liquid adhesive

used by some shops to cut back costs. The chemical is still used

today by auto shops and dentists offices, but was banned by the

Federal Drug Administration in the early 1970s as poisonous if used

in the making of acrylic nails.

Welborn is the owner of Essence of Beauty, 503 Remington St.

Suite 105, and is sure MMA is still locally being used. Welborn

said she is a self-proclaimed advocate and insists she has done a

lot of research on the chemical.

“I’m confidant MMA is being used and in most of the discount

shops in Fort Collins,” Welborn said.

The Collegian contacted six local nail and beauty shops. Regal

Nails, located in the Super Wal-mart, denied currently using or

ever using the product. Nail Focus, 215 E. Foothills Parkway, Nice

Nails, 3700 S. Mason St., and Rose Nails, 4212 College Ave., all

claim they don’t know whether or not they use the chemical.

Salon West, 2190 W. Drake Road, said they could neither confirm

nor deny whether they use MMA because they contract out their nail

technicians who all use different chemicals.

Classic Nails, 304 W. Prospect Road, did not know what chemical

they used in nail adhesives.

Currently, the Board of Barber’s and Cosmetologists has no

records of shops using MMA. The board only inspects shops when a

written complaint is filed and even then, the proper equipment

isn’t available for detection of the chemical.

Heubal said that the board will begin investigations in about

two weeks in Colorado shops. Investigations will take place using a

new MMA detection kit. The idea was borrowed from officials who

have a similar system in Ohio.

According to the American Beauty Association’s Web site, “Anyone

who manufactures, sells or distributes these potentially dangerous

substances is breaking the law and endangering your health.”

Welborn said she has many new and old clients coming into her

nail salon suffering from complications of MMA. Some clients say

they become sick from visiting discount shops or can’t remove their

acrylics, she said. One client, Welborn said, may even suffer a

miscarriage after visiting a discount nail salon.

“If (nail technicians) are wearing masks, chances are they are

using MMA,” Welborn said.

Kevin Heupel is the program director of the Colorado State Board

of Barber’s and Cosmetologists and said nail technicians who wear

masks are not necessarily using MMA. He said many who wear the mask

are protecting themselves from nail dust from electric filing.

Heupal said the sure way to discover if a nail salon is using

MMA is by noticing the sweet potent smell omitted from the bottle

of acrylic when first opened.

“You can only smell the odor when the bottle s first opened,”

Heupal said. “(Salons) use MMA so the acrylic nail won’t come off

and because it’s shiny,” Heupal said.

Nancy King is an industry consultant who is an expert on MMA and

other issues surrounding the world of cosmetology who currently

lives in Arizona. King said the substance is very difficult to

recognize and is a “highly sensitive product.”

“When MMA is in liquid form by skin contact or breathing in

vapors, there is a possibility to harm,” King said.

There are even some customers who might suspect the harmful

adhesive is being used, but don’t mind because their nails won’t

lift up, King said. King tells these people that the chemical is

still harmful and that if cement were to be used, the nail won’t

lift either.

King said the state and local authorities must regulate MMA

usage and “consumers need to know” the risks.

King has written many pieces of cosmetology legislation, and has

appeared on ABCs 20/20 and is a former chairman of Maryland’s Board

of Cosmetology.

Breakout Box:

Signs a nail salon might be using methyl methacrylate

Since MMA is prohibited, you are unlikely to find it on the

ingredient label. Still it is usually not difficult to tell if

aproduct contains MMA. Here are three simple things to watch


1. Unusually strong or strange odor which doesn’t smell like

other acrylic liquids.

2. Enhancements which are extremely hard and very difficult to

file even with coarse abrasives.

3. Enhancements that will not soak off in solvents designed to

remove acrylics.

Discount pricing can also be an indicator of MMA usage. MMA

costs several times less than EMA, a legal and safe adhesive.

The last sign in the list above is the most important indicator.

Nail technicians who come across artificial nails made with

MMA-containing ingredients are usually surprised to hear how

difficult it is to remove the product. The only way to remove the

products is by filing with a very coarse abrasive or drills, which

usually results in further damage to the client’s nail plates and

nail beds.

Information pulled from the American Beauty Association’s Web

site @




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