Use of methyl methacrylate (MMA) in nail products

What is MMA?

Methyl methacrylate (MMA) is a bonding agent used in artificial nail products. It is present in nail preparations used in and beauty salons throughout Australia. Nail kits sold at retail outlets may also contain the chemical. 

As a bonding agent MMA sets much faster and adheres more strongly to the nail than other products. It is also cheaper in comparison to other agents, for example ethyl methacrylate (EMA).

However the use of MMA has been associated with adverse health effects, and MMA-based acrylic nails will be tough, inflexible and difficult to remove.

What are the health risks?

Industrial use of MMA has been known to cause irritation of the eyes, nose and throat and respiratory tract.

People repeatedly exposed to significant levels of MMA commonly complain of:

  • drowsiness
  • light-headedness
  • dizzy spells
  • trembling of hands.

Repeated contact with MMA can also cause skin sensitisation or dermatitis resulting in:

  • skin redness
  • itching
  • rash
  • swelling.

Use of MMA as a nail product may contribute to nail damage and deformities in nail growth.

While consumers who use products containing MMA may be at some risk of some of these adverse effects, the risk is much higher for nail technicians who are frequently and normally exposed to products containing MMA during their work. MMA is not banned in Australia, as it may be used safely in other applications. The Department of Health strongly recommends that MMA products are not used in nail salons.

How do you know if a product contains MMA?

  • MMA is listed as an active ingredient on the product label.
  • It has a strong irritating chemical odour that does not smell like other acrylic liquids.
  • The product sets much harder, feels less flexible and is very difficult to file using a nail file.
  • Acrylic nails that contain MMA are extremely hard or virtually impossible to remove using normal solvents.
  • It is a much cheaper product (approximately one third of the price) in comparison to other acrylic nail products.

Consumers have the right to ask, and be informed of, whether a product contains MMA.

Substitutes for MMA

There are a number of alternatives to MMA including ethyl methacrylate (EMA), light cure gels, wraps and natural nail manicures.

Is MMA banned? 

MMA is not a banned substance in Australia because MMA can be used safely.

However, it is important that employers, employees and customers are aware of the health risks associated with this product.

More information

Phone the Environmental Health Directorate on 9222 2000.

Produced by

Public Health