There have been a lot of products over the years that promise to turn your frizz into a sleek hairdo that requires less daily care. The Brazilian Blowout became popular a few years ago and the results were impressive. Unfortunately, the US Food and Drug Administration soon issued a warning about the dangerous levels of formaldehyde in the product. Formaldehyde, long used for embalming, is a carcinogen, a chemical that causes cancer. Although the product was marketed as free of formaldehyde, it contained high levels of the liquid form of the chemical, methylene glycol. The FDA received complaints of chest and throat pain, nosebleeds, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, and rashes.
Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling gas that can cause problems when inhaled, absorbed into the skin, or splashed into the eyes. It sensitizes the skin, causing allergic reactions. It can also cause blindness and other significant eye damage. The formaldehyde contained in many keratin-based products is dissolved in water and other ingredients in the products, undergoing chemical reactions. Because formaldehyde is present in a different form, some manufacturers claim their product is free of the chemical. However, OSHA lists multiple chemical names for formaldehyde, including methylene oxide, formic aldehyde, and CAS Number 50-00-0. These can be found on the OSHA website under “Formaldehyde standard.”
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating several products used to straighten hair, finding many products were mislabeled or were listed as “formaldehyde free.” OSHA conducted air-sampling tests at salons where the products were in use and found formaldehyde in the air. A list of problematic products included Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, Professional Brazilian Blowout Solution, Keratin Complex Smoothing Treatment, Natural Keratin Smoothing Treatment, Advanced Brazilian Keratin Treatment, and Express Blow Out.
To avoid exposure to formaldehyde, read the product label and check with OSHA’s website to see if any of the names used on the label are other names for formaldehyde. All salons are required to have a listing of the hazardous chemicals used in the products, known as a Material Safety Data Sheet. These sheets, however, are not always accurate. Formaldehyde must be listed if it is in the product or released from the product above a minimal concentration.
The FDA does not regulate cosmetic products closely. Unlike Europe, where over 1,000 chemicals have been banned for use in cosmetics, only eight or nine are restricted by the FDA. Some of these chemicals are carcinogens and others are reproductive toxins. Many of the straightening products used professionally have been banned in other countries. Be aware of the risks associated with lax oversight and protect yourself by becoming informed when you decide to use a chemical hair treatment.