The Hidden Cost Of Your Cheap Manicure

The last few years have seen the rise and rise of the cheap manicure in the UK, but do you know about the hidden dangers of your cheap fake nails?

The Hidden Cost Of Your Cheap Manicure

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Since the financial crisis hit the high street has been struggling. However, the nail industry is booming. It seems that manicures and nail bars are recession-proof. The beauty industry was one of the most resilient throughout the most recent recession – nail-care and lipsticks in particular continued to sell well. Surveys have previously estimated that we are spending as much as £450 a year on our nails.

The last few years have seen the rise and rise of the manicure. Once upon a time ‘doing your hands’ meant remembering to put a bit of cream on them, maybe a splash of clear varnish. The full manicure was associated with ladies of leisure, the preserve of Park Avenue princesses in the US while a full set was the preserve of WAGs over here in blighty, affordable manicures weren’t actually that easy to come by.

Now, take a stroll down almost any high street in England now, however, and you’re likely to come across at least one nail bar. These days, there as many nail bars as there are hairdressers, if not more! The manicure has also had a makeover, it’s no longer limited to pearlescent polishes, subtle nudes and French tips - you can get absolutely any colour you want, nail art is big, full sets are status symbols and shellac is considered to be a ‘sensible purchase’ which will see you through a week or so with no chips.

How Safe Is Your Manicure?

However, there are growing concerns about safety in some budget salons and perhaps it’s time we all looked a bit more closely at exactly what’s being put on our nails. Your manicure might be cheap but are you going to be paying a higher cost further down the line?

Whilst getting a full set of nail extensions recently The Debrief was warned about the dangers budget manicures. We learned that there is a substance called methyl methacrylate (MMA) which is often used by budget salons, it’s found in glue and particularly cheap acrylics.

What is MMA?

It’s a chemical so strong that it’s used in concrete, hip replacements and bullet proof glass and it could also be being used on your hands. MMA can cause permanent nail damage and severe allergic reactions, it’s so potentially harmful that it’s actually banned for cosmetic use in America. In the past MPs have called for the government to ban its use in salons, but as things stand there’s no such legislation in the UK.

However, the Hair and Beauty Industry Authority notes in their code of practice for nail services that it has been banned by several local authorities and some local councils do recommend that salons use EMA, or a less dangerous substitute instead of MMA.

Why is MMA potentially harmful?

We spoke to London-based nail artist Imarni who explained that ‘when MMA sets it becomes rigid and instead of the nail coming off if caught, it can rip out the entire nail. It’s really bad for the nails’ she says, ‘it’s made for things like bullet proof glass so it’s too strong for the nail. If you hit the nail it will rip of the whole nail rather than ping off.’

There are also reports of the chemical’s vapours causing lung damage and occupational asthma for those who are exposed to it regularly, i.e. nail bar workers and regular clients.

What’s the damage?

Imarni says that people often come to her with damaged nails. ‘We have clients come in with really badly broken nails. There’s not a lot we can do; the nail has to grow back if it’s broken off.’

However, she points out that it’s not only MMA that you’ve got to watch out for. The tools used to perform your manicure could also be damaging your nail. ‘We see this thing’ Imarni says, ‘we call it “tree trunk” or “the tree effect” - where people have rings or indents on the nail from drills. If a salon is using drills to file, the nail or cuticle instead of soaking it - that’s really bad for your nails. We don’t use drills here, after repeated use your nails will never really be the same.’

Is there anything else you should look out for?

Imarni says that it’s worth spending a bit of money if you’re getting a full set or extensions. ‘if you can get a full set for £10 then they’re probably using really cheap products and those products can be really harmful for your nails. I would advise you not to go because, in the long run, its really bad for your nails.’

She also warns against going somewhere that doesn’t look clean simply because it’s cheap, ‘if it looks dirty and dusty it’s not being cleaned properly so you can get cross-contamination like fungal infections. If there is dust from someone else – a previous client, you’re at risk. The tools need to be soaked in barbicide after every client.’

How do you know if a salon is using MMA in their products?

The Debrief visited 5 different salons on one highstreet in Hackney, London. We asked each one whether their products included MMA. One said no, two said yes and two said they didn’t know.

We also visited a wholesaler which supplies many nail bars in the city and found that the products there contained MMA. Imarni says that when you’re going for a manicure ‘you can ask about MMA but they you’ll never really get the truth.’

She also points out that in cheaper salons acrylic nails are often marketed as gels. ‘In the cheaper salons they say “would you like acrylic or gel?” The things is, powder gel is still acrylic. You know if you’re having gel extensions because you’ll be set under a UV lamp. It’s not a powder and liquid mix – if they’re mixing powder and liquid to make this formula then it’s clear acrylic that you’re having, not gel…’

Imarni cautions against low pricing, secrecy about brands and unlabelled pots, drills for filing natural nails and any difficult you might experience removing the nail enhancements. However, she says that the rise of manicures and nail art is a good thing. We shouldn’t stop getting our nails done, we just need to be more aware of what it is we’re getting for our money. ‘Having your nails done is grooming, it’s a bit of fun’ she says. ‘Even if people aren’t going to salons they’re buying nail polish – polish sells really well. Nail art is a lot more common now – we have all types of women come in here to have it done and that's great.'

You can find Imarni on Instagram or visit her at her salon in Boxpark, Shoreditch

You might also be interested in:

Are The New Gel Nails As Good As A Gel Manicure?

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How To Make Your Face Look Glowy But Not Wet. In Vines.

Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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