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Nail salons using industrial-grade liquid monomer, putting customers at risk

Posted at 11:54 AM, May 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-21 17:35:00-05

A warning before your next trip to the nail salon: some shops in the Las Vegas valley may be cutting costs, and it's the customers who are paying the price.

Tiffany Johnson is the owner of Solei Nail Bar on Bermuda Road and Silverado Ranch Boulevard. She says clients walk in regularly with damaged nails and sore skin.

"What a lot of salons are using can cause contact dermatitis, can cause fungus, discoloration, [and] deformation of the nail," Tiffany says.

Customers like Patti Sexton-Kaptain say it's a problem she's been dealing with for years. 

"My nails were so raw that just to bend them, that hurt. I had to have people help me at work open things because my hands were so damaged," Patti says.

Tiffany has her suspicions about what's hurting so many people: liquid monomer. 

"It's the liquid that's mixed in with the acrylic powder to make it hard," she explains.

Nail salons are supposed to use a safe liquid monomer called ethyl methacrylate, or EMA. But Tiffany claims many shops are actually using methyl methacrylate, or MMA, which is banned by the Nevada Board of Cosmetology. Both EMA and MMA appear to be similar in color.

According to a leading supplier, direct contact with MMA can lead to nose, eye, and skin irritation, plus allergic reactions like itching or skin rash.

"We've seen where hands have been cracked open where it's blistering, it's really red," says Tiffany. "We've also seen nails completely deformed, yellowing."

MMA is typically used in the medical field for industrial use. And it's cheap.

Tiffany says you'll pay about $40 for a gallon of MMA. But shops like Solei Nail Bar pay nearly $300 per gallon for EMA.

But nothing is being done because customers don't know any better.

"We're just trying to educate everybody and get the information out there," says Tiffany. "Nobody's complaining, and it's just going under the radar."

If you think you've been the victim of a salon using the wrong liquid monomer, file a complaint here with the Nevada Board of Cosmetology. The Board tells us they're not getting complaints about this problem, but if they do, they'll send an inspector to investigate.