Recent news in the beauty industry has caused widespread concern about a very lucrative and widely-used professional salon treatment. I am of course talking about keratin smoothing treatments. Oregon’s Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology, in conjunction with OSHA, has issued two public alerts describing its findings on the possible negative health impacts of Brazilian Blowout after their tests found high levels of formaldehyde in submitted products. The European Union Consumer Alert System cited four keratin smoothing treatments in August, 2010, for containing 1.7 to 2% formaldehyde. These products do not comply with the allowable limit of 0.2% in the European Union, and have been either ordered removed, or voluntarily removed from the European market.

Now, Health Canada has issued a recall of Brazilian Blowout, which it found to have 12% formaldehyde. There’s also an advisory regarding consumer and stylist complaints of “burning eyes, nose, and throat, breathing difficulties, and one report of hair loss associated with use of the product”. As reported by, a class-action lawsuit is also pending in this matter.

As this information is easily available on major news media outlets, including ABC’s ‘Good Morning America’, local news programs and the Internet, the public is understandably interested and concerned. Many clients will likely still have these treatments done to their hair, as they want the results.

Here’s the problem, as I see it: While the client is treated three or four times per year, thereby minimizing their exposure, the stylist is exposed every single time the treatment is performed in their salon. Without physical separation of the work space, such as a separate room with separate ventilation and a closed door, all other people in the salon are exposed as well. This may include clients, children, and other salon personnel. The frightening part is that no one gave consent, because we weren’t told of the danger.

The Cosmetic Industry Review recommends NO formaldehyde be present in products intended for this type of use, and the 2005 California Safe Cosmetic Act, OSHA, and FDA also have strict regulations regarding the use of and reporting of this ingredient. Dr. Ali Sayed, a master chemist who specializes in hair care is quoted in WWD as saying, “Any credible company will shy away from using formaldehyde as a straightening technique, because sooner or later the FDA will shut them down”.

While Brazilian Blowout continues to maintain that their product does not contain harmful levels of formaldehyde, and have quotes from Doug Schoon asserting erroneous testing and misnaming of the ingredients in question, the laboratories here and abroad continue to report otherwise. It may come down to a ban, or at the very least, stricter regulations in the workplace. Regardless, the stylist must think hard about personal exposure to suspected cancer-causing substances and its effects on their community.

It amazes me that these types of products are made and sold here in the US by companies who have apparently disregarded the rules as laid out by governing and advising bodies. Why only now, after Oregon OSHA began alerting the public to their findings, are we hearing that formalin or methylene glycol is actually in the product, and that formaldehyde is released only when performing the treatment? I, for one, saw the phrase “formaldehyde free”, and assumed that the product contained no formaldehyde, formalin, methylene glycol, formol, methyl aldehyde or anything else that goes under its name. I feel misled. I’m disturbed that these products have been sold to my friends in the styling community apparently without full disclosure. Without their knowledge or consent, stylists have been exposing thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people to potential carcinogens. Truly, what is the price of beauty? I believe that it is too high in this instance.

Good quality science-based information for the consumer and for the salon professional is available from multiple sources:

Cosmetic Industry Review
Oregon OSHA
Health Canada
European Commission

Continue to ask questions, stay informed, and stay curious. Read carefully. Find out what you can do to protect yourself, your clients and coworkers. Your life and profession may depend upon it.

Very truly yours,

Cindy Van Steelandt
Director of Marketing
Los Angeles, CA

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