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Nail Time!
by Jonna Crispens, LamasBeauty Correspondent

Avoiding the Pitfalls of Professional Nail Care (Part 1)

Beauty has its price - but when it comes to nail extensions and other nail services, it shouldn't include your health.

Sadly, however, it's ill-health - as reflected in the nails, on the surrounding skin and in the respiratory tract - that's the price many women have paid in search of a desirable set of nails.

Nails, you say? What could be easier than a set of extensions or a simple manicure?

Such services may seem simple, but it's important to remember that they often involve chemicals, metal implements and cutting. The end result? The potential for adverse reactions and infections that can lead to permanent nail loss or deformity, red and itching skin, respiratory problems and the transmittal of diseases.

What, then, is a beauty maven to do?

Certainly not abandon the art of beautiful nails! There's a much better way out of this potential quagmire: Get educated, exercise awareness and take responsibility for keeping nail services safe!

If It Sounds Too Good To Be True . . .

The old adage, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," should be well heeded in the search for acrylic nail extensions.

As any woman who's sported - or simply priced - these additions will tell you, bargains (seemingly) abound. Those a little squeamish about paying $60 or more for a full set, can usually find a salon just down the street or around the corner weighing in at a more reasonable $20 or so for the same service.

But is it really the same?

Fierce competition in the nail industry has prompted many unscrupulous nail salons to replace an industry-sanctioned liquid acrylic monomer with a cheap, second-rate cousin - one that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called "poisonous and deleterious" and informally banned in 1974 after receiving numerous complaints about its use in the nail industry.

The complaints included the loosening or loss of natural nails, nail discoloration, contact dermatitis, soreness and infections.

It seems that the product, which has many legitimate uses - such as binding prostheses to bones in replacement surgery and making dental appliances - is dangerous mostly because of its strength: It adheres to the nail so thoroughly (through a molecular bond, no less) and then dries into a substance that's so strong (think Plexiglas and Lucite) that it'll pull off one or more layers of the nail before de-attaching itself.

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That means that the acrylic extension isn't going to give when it comes to bumping or snagging the nail - but given a moderate amount of force, the natural nail certainly will. Indeed. In such cases, the natural nail has been known to separate from the nail bed, leaving its owner with what turns out to be a permanently deformed nail, or no nail at all.

Of course, there's also the issue of toxicity. When used to create acrylic nail extensions, the product - called methyl methacrylate (or MMA) - is placed on the nail in a chemically reactive, uncured state.

As such, it's more easily absorbed into the blood stream (especially given its small molecular structure and the practice of roughening the nail beforehand to increase adherence) and it's more likely to promote allergic reactions (which may only occur after prolonged contact - such as happens every few weeks when it's time to fill the gaps created by new nail growth).

Although MMA will not store in body tissue, it will store as methanol in the blood and urine. As for allergic reactions (which can appear with any chemical product), they can be quite severe, manifesting themselves in redness, swelling and itching, which can lead to blisters and open sores. The fingertips may also become numb or feel itchy under the nail.

Studies have shown MMA fumes to cause damage to the lungs, liver and heart - especially with long-term exposure. (Such problems have been documented in laboratory animals and among lab technicians who have worked in dental labs where crowns and dentures are made. Keep in mind that these technicians are working with the product in its uncured state - the same state in which the product is applied to create nail extensions.)

So what's the lure of MMA to salons? It costs as little as $15 a gallon - a considerable savings over the cost of the non-FDA-banned ethyl methacrylate (or EMA), which can cost $200-to-$250 a gallon. In short, it's good for the bottom line.

But short of a sign advertising its (unscrupulous!) use, how's a poor girl to know that she's being served an unwelcome helping of MMA?

Fortunately, there are a few warning signs worth heeding. In addition to cheap pricing (although not all competitively priced nail salons are guilty), think twice if the product being used has an extremely strong odor (so strong that many technicians wear masks - although some wear masks simply to prevent the inhalation of acrylic dust), the nails cause pain, and they're extremely difficult to remove (usually prompting the technician to use a drill).

To disguise the use of MMA, many salons label the smaller bottles used to hold the product as EMA, or as nothing at all. To calm any concerns over the product being used, it's a good idea to ask to see the original product container.

Read Part 2 of Nail Time!
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Discuss this topic with others right now at Beauty Tips!

Jonna Crispens is a New York-based freelance writer and editor with a passion for unlocking the secrets to healthy living, anti-aging and personal style at all ages.

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