Some Nail Salons Still Use Dangerous Liquid

ByABC News
April 11, 2002, 2:02 PM

April 12 -- Carol Webb's nails were her pride and joy: long, strong and beautiful.

"That was my jewel. I mean, I loved my nails," she says.

But then, like millions of other women, she decided to try an artificial alternative that promised nails that could be longer, stronger and more hard-wearing than natural nails: acrylic nails.

She visited a salon in Roanoke, Va., that was offering a full set of acrylic nails at a discount price.

Within two days, she says, she started feeling pain and pressure under her fingernails, along with some numbness. She had the acrylics removed, but then, to her horror, watched as her own nails started to turn black and come off in layers.

Webb was one of many women who had an adverse reaction to an adhesive that many nail salons use as a cheap alternative to safer nail treatments, despite a decades-old warning from the Food and Drug Administration that it is "a poisonous and deleterious substance that should not be used in fingernail preparations."

The substance, methyl methacrylate, known as MMA, makes an inexpensive adhesive that bonds very strongly and dries quickly. However, in some women it can cause adverse skin reactions wherever the nails touch, and damage or destroy nailbeds, sometimes permanently. The substance can cause nerve damage and exacerbate allergies in some women, according to Dr. Shelley Sekula Rodriguez, a Texas dermatologist who is a consultant for ABCNEWS.

The FDA first issued its warning about MMA in 1974, and most salons and manufacturers switched to adhesives containing ethyl methacrylate, or EMA, a substance that is safer than MMA but costs several times as much.

Today, six years later, Webb's nails are still short stumps that doctors say will never grow back. Ashamed to show her nails in public, she regrets the day she decided to try the salon's offer. "When you go cheap, that's what you get," she says. "And I shouldn't have done that."

Webb is now suing the salon. The salon's owners deny any responsibility.