A chemical banned decades ago in Arizona nail salons is still turning up in some Pima County beauty shops, public records show.
Ten local nail salons were cited in the first nine months of 2021 for having methyl methacrylate on the premises — a substance described by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as “a poisonous and deleterious substance that should not be used in fingernail preparations.”
Arizona is one of 30 states that banned the chemical compound, commonly called MMA, since the FDA raised an alarm in the early 1970s after receiving “a number of complaints of personal injury” related to its use in nail products.
Experts say MMA can cause severe allergic reactions such as blistering, peeling and cracking and rashes on the hands, nails or on the face if someone touches their face after getting a set of acrylic nails made with MMA. The Arizona Daily Star obtained salon inspection data through a public records request to the Arizona Barbering and Cosmetology Board.
In the 1970s, the FDA cracked down on MMA at 100% strength but did not impose an outright ban, prompting many states to pass their own laws against using the substance in nail salons.
MMA still turns up quite regularly in nail salons around the state, said Isabella Neal, spokeswoman for the board that regulates the industry. “MMA citations are extremely common and have always been since the FDA prohibited the use,” she said.
MMA products typically cost far less than legally-approved alternatives, a financial incentive to operate outside the law. For example, directnail.com, a Florida-based wholesaler, charges $70 for a gallon of MMA nail solution and $126 — 80% more — for a similar product without MMA.
In Pima County, all of last year’s MMA violations came to light during board inspections, Neal said. None were due to complaints of injury, which isn’t unusual, she said, because consumers generally are not aware of a potential link between acrylic nails and medical symptoms.
“The public doesn’t typically know about MMA or the signs relating to the use of MMA, so it is not that common to receive complaints about injuries as a direct result from using MMA,” Neal said in an email.
Doctors at the Banner-University Medicine Dermatology Clinic in Tucson, many of whom also teach at the University of Arizona’s medical school, say it’s not unusual to see local patients who developed severe skin conditions after acrylic nails were applied.
“We see it commonly in the fingers and the face or anywhere the nails touch. Hand dermatitis, itching, scaling and rashes,” said Dr. Rebecca Thiede, an assistant professor. Sometimes there’s permanent damage to a patient’s natural nails, she said.
The fine for having MMA in a licensed Arizona salon is typically $250 if there are no other violations at the time of inspection and no previous violations in the last three years. Neal wouldn’t comment on whether a fine of that level is sufficient to deter the use of MMA.
To file an online complaint about a licensed nail salon, go to https://boc.az.gov/complaint-form-0 and scroll down to Page 3.
The following Pima County salons were cited and fined for MMA violations:
Bella Nails & Spa
An inspector found a gallon of nail solution with MMA on site on May 18, 2021. The inspection also found towels and wet disinfectant were improperly stored and a container of paraffin wax was “contaminated with debris.” The operator had no previous violations in three years and paid a $750 fine. Management did not respond by deadline to a voicemail seeking comment.
Diva Nail Spa
A board inspector found two gallons of MMA nail liquid on the premises on Jan. 14, 2021. The operator also was cited for dirty conditions (dust, nail clippings, trash) at seven of eight stations and for reusing items such as nail files and pumice stones that are supposed to be thrown away after each client. The salon, which had no violations in the previous three years, paid a $500 fine to settle the allegations. Manager Simon Tran said the salon no longer uses MMA.
An inspection on March 29, 2021 found a gallon of nail liquid with a “very strong smell of MMA” and no ingredients label. The inspector also found two employees illegally performing manicures and pedicures on clients without a required state license. The salon, which had no other violations in the previous three years, paid a $750 fine to settle the case. Manager Lien Trinh told the Star the MMA solution was left behind by a previous salon owner.
A state inspector found a gallon of MMA nail solution on site on Feb. 9, 2021. No other violations were found and the salon had no history of violations in the previous three years. The operator paid a $250 fine. Management could not be reached for comment because there was no answer and no voicemail at the phone number listed on state licensing records.
Hollywood Nail Spa
4016 N. 1st Ave., Tucson.
An inspector found two gallons of nail liquid with MMA on the premises on March 29,2021. No other violations were found, and the salon has no previous violations in the last three years. The operator paid a $250 fine. A man who answered the phone number listed in state records but would not identify himself declined to comment.
Latrice Nail Salon & Spa
202 W. Calle De Las Tiendas, Suite C, Green Valley.
The operator paid a $250 fine after gallon of nail solution with MMA was discovered on site during an Aug. 12, 2021 inspection. It was the second fine since 2019, when the operator was fined $250 for not properly disinfecting salon tools and for having a “soiled work area.” Management did not respond by deadline to a voicemail seeking comment.
A gallon jug of MMA nail solution “was the only nail liquid in the salon,” when an inspector visited on Oct. 12, 2021, state records show. The inspector “educated the owner” about the ban on MMA products, the report said. The salon, which has not had any other violations in the past three years, paid a $250 fine. Management could not be reached for comment. There was no answer and no voicemail at the phone number listed in state licensing records.
Nails 2001 By Sam
A board inspector found a gallon of MMA nail liquid on site on Jan. 19, 2021. The salon also was cited for having no manager on duty, for having contaminated jets in three of four pedicure basins due to lack of proper disinfection; and for reusing nail files and other single-use tools that are supposed to be disposed of after each customer. The operator paid $850 to settle the allegations. Management did not respond by deadline to a voicemail seeking comment.
Tip Top Nails by Tony
A gallon of nail liquid with “a strong MMA odor” was “the only nail liquid they had in the salon,” said an March 8, 2021 inspection report which did not find any other violations. The salon, which has not been previously cited in the last three years, paid a $250 fine. Management could not be reached for comment. There was no answer and no voicemail at the phone number listed on state licensing records.
6811 N. Thornydale Road #155, Tucson.
An April 26 inspection found a gallon of nail liquid with MMA on site. The operator had no violations in the previous three years and paid a $250 fine. Management did not respond by deadline to a voicemail seeking comment.
Regulators and consumer protection agencies say there are often tell-tale signs when nail salons use MMA products:
1. A distinctive chemical odor often described as a fruity or skunky smell.
2. No ingredients labels on bulk containers of acrylic nail solution. If in doubt, ask to see the container your technician is using.
3. Unusually low prices for acrylic nails, bargains made possible because MMA is much cheaper for salons to use than legal alternatives.
4. MMA nails are extremely hard and are difficult to cut, file or remove even if soaked for hours in remover solutions.
Sources: Arizona Barbering and Cosmetology Board and staff research.