Hidden ingredient in artificial nails can cause allergic reactions, other problems

If you want longer, thicker nails, Elaine Sterling Institute nail care instructor Elle Jay says you have lots of options, from acrylics to gels. But, Jay says, there is one ingredient you won't find used here at her school, a chemical known as methyl methacrylate, or MMA.  She says most salons no longer use the chemical, for good reason.

"It causes the nails to be rigid and hard," Elle Jay says.  "A lot of times. when you bump the nail, there is a good chance you're going to lose your nail with the enhancement, which is very dangerous."

Then, there are the allergic reactions, typically a red, angry skin rash.

"You can actually get breakouts," Elle Jay says. "You can get a bacteria, it's called Pseudomonas aeruginosa, from getting MMA on your nails."

That bacteria can thrive in the moisture underneath artificial nails, leaving you with an antibiotic-resistant infection. So, how can you avoid MMA?

"I would say the best thing to do is go to your nail salon and ask, 'What product is being used on my nails,'" Elle Jay says.

And, she says, watch for some MMA red flags, like a strong odor when you enter the salon.

"When you walk in and that acrylic hits you right away, I would turn around," Elle Jay says.  "Because, more than likely, that is the wrong acrylic or the wrong products they are using."

MMA tends to have a sharp, fruity smell. It's normal, she says, to have some chemical odor at a nail salon, but it should be overwhelming. Next, she recommends looking at your natural nails.

"I would check the color of your cuticles, look for sensitivity," she says.  "A lot of times, when it comes down applying MMA, they have to really rough up the nail plate, which will burn and will cause aching."

Artificial nail application or care should never hurt, Elle Jay says.

If your acrylic or gel nails are irritated or itchy, she recommends taking the entire set off. 

But, if those nails have MMA in them, they're not going to come off easily.

"You have to actually soak those nails in acetone," Elle Jay says.  "But, the problem is, in dealing with the MMA product, in taking those nails off. So, you can look at a couple of hours of soaking your nails in acetone to get that product off."

Bottom line?  Elle Jay says to ask your question before you get your next nail treatment.