EMA vs. MMA: Is your full set actually bad for you?

Many people like to tell others that getting acrylics is a bad idea. You’ll hear horror stories of broken bleeding nails or swollen red cuticles that would hurt for days after getting them done, and these people will tell you they never ever want to get nail enhancements ever again. You’ll also hear stories from women who swear by acrylics and say that they would’ve been unable to grow their nails without getting them. They say they’ve never had a bad experience with pain or breakage that had anything to do with their nails. So what exactly is the difference?

As you may know, acrylic nails are created using a mix of acrylic powder (polymer) and a liquid called a monomer. The molecules of the powder and monomer form a bond to create a solid structure that will serve as your artificial nail. Acrylic powders differ across the board due to the trade secret additives and proprietary blends that companies use in their formula, but there are two standard types of monomer available: EMA (ethyl methacrylate) and MMA (methyl methacrylate). All the bad experiences you’ve heard about in regards to acrylic nails are most likely because of MMA.

Methyl methacrylate (MMA) in liquid form is a substance regarded by FDA’s Office of Cosmetics and Colors as “a poisonous and deleterious substance,” which is why it was made illegal for use in the end of the 90’s. When used during a nail service, it can cause yellowing of the natural nails, air blockages, and irritation and numbness of the cuticles and the skin around the nail. It also requires an excessive roughing up of the nail bed because it does not adhere so well without grooves and texture that can only be created by thinning out the nail plate. Nails made with MMA are rock hard and usually shrink slightly when they set, which is why sometimes your nail beds will feel very tight and swollen when you get acrylics. MMA liquid is commonly used as dental acrylic for crowns and bridges, and is made to be as hard as bone—this is why most sets made with MMA last somewhere between two to six weeks. Yes, they last long and are virtually unbreakable, but the bond between your natural nail and the acrylic is so strong that when they do break, it’ll hurt like no other and take your natural nail off as well. And all you’re left with is a jagged half of a nail and a bleeding nail bed on a hand that can’t grip a door handle without any pain. Yikes!
But what about the people who rave about their acrylics? They probably have EMA acrylics.

Ethyl methacrylate (EMA) is a substance that has the same purpose and does the same job as MMA liquid, and its use has been approved by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review in 1999 as the best alternative to MMA liquid. EMA nails adhere better to the natural nail as compared to their MMA counterpart, meaning there isn’t a need to rough up the surface of the nail and thin out the nail plate. Although not as sturdy and durable as MMA acrylics, EMA helps the nail enhancement to be much more flexible, and therefore becomes more prone to lifting. However, an EMA acrylic set feels much more comfortable than MMA acrylics. A full set of EMA acrylic nails will last you two to four weeks if taken care of and are properly fitted to your nail, as compared to the four to six weeks with MMA. It’s a lot easier to get fills more often (twice a month instead of once) than it is to wait for a nail that was ripped off with your acrylics to grow back to its normal length—if that’s the only damage you get.

So, you might be wondering: with an alternative like EMA available, why do so many salons still opt to use MMA? The answer is simple: prices. MMA is significantly cheaper than EMA, at only a third of the price for the same amount. When salons buy cheaper product, they’re able to charge less, and this will get more people through the door.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when you get any acrylics done, or if you want to make sure your current set is MMA liquid-free:

How much does a full set cost?

If the prices are unbelievably low, it’s because they can afford to make their prices unbelievably low. Low prices means cheap products—this means they’re more likely to be using MMA than EMA, as it is a much cheaper alternative. Full set for $15? Count down from three and say it with me. One.. two.. three.. NO THANK YOU! Save money elsewhere! Your nails are important!

How do they take acrylics off? Do your acrylics file away easily or soak off in solvent? How long does it take for your acrylics to soak off?

When getting a new set, look around the room and see if someone is getting an old set removed. If they’re soaking off the nails, you’re probably going to be fine, but if they have to rip them off with nippers or a nail tip, get out of there ASAP. Most of the time, a nail technician will use rough and forceful methods to take off MMA acrylics to save time because they really won’t budge. They are very difficult to soak off, and when they do, it can take between one and a half to two hours to remove.

Are the monomer bottles labeled?

If their bottles are labeled, ask to see the ingredients list. Any salon using EMA will most likely be willing to show you their bulk product, and you should see “ethyl methacrylate” as the main ingredient on the list. If you see “methyl methacrylate” as the main ingredient, or if they refuse to show you their product, something sketchy is probably going on. The Nevada Board of Cosmetology actually encourages people to report salons that use MMA liquid in their products. RUN!

At NEST Nail Wellness Spa, we refuse to cut corners. We want our guests to feel like they are being taken care of and we would never risk anybody’s health over saving a few bucks. Ask us anytime about our products, as all our technicians are knowledgeable on the safety precautions and sanitation standards we uphold. It’s possible to do things right and keep services safe, healthy, and sanitary without asking guests for an arm and leg. We want to treat you well, and make you look your best and still feel your best. Being #WellNested is leaving with good looking nails, knowing you are well taken care of and given the best treatment possible.