Nail Care Nightmares

FRESNO, Calif.

Melina Lucente of Fresno likes to spend a little "me" time. Like thousands of other Valley women and put her hands in the hands of a manicurist.

Licensed manicurist, April Davidson is using the latest technique called "Shellac" on Melina that's regarded as an alternative to acrylic nails.

The method puts a special polish on the natural nail curing it between coats for a few seconds under a UV light which makes the manicure last for weeks.

Shellac also doesn't produce the same, distinctive chemical smell associated with acrylics. More nail technicians like April are getting more concerned about chemicals for their own health and the health of their clients.

"You want to make sure that when you go into a salon that the containers they have or that they're pouring the products out of that it has a label on it," said Davidson. "You want to see the name brand. If you don't see a name brand, there's a good chance they don't even know what's in their product."

Debbie Bartram believes that kind of nail care neglect at a former salon in central Fresno led to a debilitating, allergic reaction.

"It was the worst experience I've had," said Bartram. "It just got progressively worse and eventually my nails fell off.

Debbie took her complaint to the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology and discovered the salon used a potentially toxic chemical called Methyl Methacrylate ... or MMA. A solution that bonds acrylic nails to the natural nail.

Debbie turned her health reaction into action and eventually testified in a hearing against the salon which led to its closure in 2007.

The former location remains an empty spot in this central Fresno strip mall. Stories like Debbie's motivated Clovis salon owner, Lisa Ann Bowles to write a book, called "Nail Care Nightmares" and launch her now, 10 year fight to get MMA completely out of the industry.

"I'm the one who's saying wait, be careful with acrylic nails," said Bowles.

Even the Methacrylate Producers Association based in Virginia says MMA and its related substances such as Ethyl Methacrylate are not appropriate for use in cosmetics.

Yet we found a Clovis beauty supply store which sells products with those chemicals. The store owner declined to be on camera but says the safety of the product depends on the nail technician applying it. While the FDA regulates the use of Methacrylate in cosmetics and recognizes its potential harm ... it is not illegal to sell it.

That's not good enough for Lisa Bowles who says too many of her clients come in with health problems after years of exposure to the acrylic nail process using MMA.

Bowles said, "That's when I start hearing, is that why I had an allergic reaction? Is that that why I had problems breathing? Is that why I had a headache?"

Nail techs like Lisa and April say you don't even have to sit in a manicurist's chair to notice what could be a red flag. Just notice the air in the salon ... it should not have an overpowering smell of chemicals.

Bowles uses a vacuum attached to her tools to whisk away any vapors or nail debris. She also uses a polymer material on her client's nails that she says is non-toxic and has no smell and promotes her business as a "safe salon". She hopes women take a moment to ask questions at a salon before they end up with a nail care nightmare.

"Educate yourself," said Bowles. "Don't think it cannot happen to you because it can."

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