|If you’re in the beauty business and you think you know what’s going on, or that this is old news and not applicable anymore, you don’t know unless you’re family with the critical updates at the bottom of this article. Just in the last few months there have been startling new developments.|
Brazilian keratin was considered the miracle straightener until people started reporting the ill effects. The key focus of these concerns was formaldehyde which, obviously, can cause permanent damage when breathed or otherwise entering the body. One of the first waves of response was to create keratin treatments that could be marketed as having “no formaldehyde”. The easiest way to do this was to change the formulation slightly to use a different version of a formyl aldehyde that could be called just “aldehyde” in general or just use alternate names for formaldehyde like formulin or methylene glycol or morbicid acid in particular. In fact, just listing “aldehyde” actually made ingredient labels less informative, since aldehydes are just a group of chemical types that could include anything – including <drumroll please> formaldehyde (i.e. you can’t go out and buy aldehyde – you have to buy some specific type). Since then, though, there’s been more testing, and it turns out that whatever types of aldehydes are being included convert to either formaldehyde gas when heated (by a flat iron or blow dryer) or an equivalent formyl toxin when destabilized by sufficient heat. In other words, poison by any other name is still the same.
The local product sales rep, of course, will always blow off the science with something she’s heard or been trained to say, and it’ll always result in the stylist purchasing more product and even parroting the company’s paid “research” [like hapless Mallory here], but this is not up to the sales rep or those who teach them the marketing material – it’s up to the almighty – science is science, and we can spot the difference between verifiable facts and a trusty sales brochure. The general consensus, once you get past the marketing hype, is that all normal types of brazilian keratin treatments create formaldehyde or formyl aldehyde gas that floats around the salon and will be toxic if breathed. The marketing material of several lines make one of several misleading claims:
- That there is no formaldehyde in the product. This is misleading because, while technically true while cold, the ingredients in the product combine to produce toxic formaldehyde gas upon heating with a flat iron, which all brazilian keratin treatments require. These ingredients are formaldehyde releasers.
- That the product contains aldehydes but not formaldehyde specifically. This is misleading because formaldehyde is simply a type of aldehyde, many of which types are highly toxic (even more toxic than formaldehyde per se) and produce virtually the same carcinogenic effects when breathed – besides which, the chemical maker has failed to indicate exactly which aldehyde is in the product. Just as an example, though, one popular brand (we think it’s Brazilian Blowout) contains Glutaraldehyde, which is highly toxic [see wikipedia] and according to the CDC “is a main source of occupational asthma among health care providers”.
- That the product is “organic” and only uses “natural” aldehydes. This is misleading because all kinds of natural substances are toxic, including formyl aldehydes, especially when converted to a gas. Some products add in berries or mushrooms so they can say the product is ‘natural’ but that’s like saying Cherry Coke comes from cherries. They also say that formaldehyde occurs naturally – sure it does – but at radically lower levels. Sunlight occurs naturally – that doesn’t mean 10x the recommended safe level of ultraviolet won’t give you cancer.
- A puff [article], from someone selling the treatment, but read the comments again below (these are the best!). These are even more revealing. Here there is discussion of fake MSDS sheets, and formaldehyde levels. One of the interesting points is that FEMA workers aren’t allowed in their own temporary housing in New Orleans, because the wood used to build them contains formaldehyde. That commenter correctly asserts “it’s about the worst thing you can inhale” and “state agencies require a double filter gas mask” to be around it. Other commenters include chemists pointing out that if it stinks, it’s probably dangerous, and not to take the word of product sales people and other stylists about safety. Another professional recommends sending your product to a lab (lists the lab) and says some actually contain up to 12% – obscenely harmful amounts. Others allege up to 10%. Formaldehyde, incidentally, is indicated by how long the straightness lasts. If it lasts longer, there’s more in there – and remember – keratin doesn’t straighten hair by itself. One commenter alleges the new Keratin Blowout Zero, an attempt to save that company’s rep, contains sodium hydroxide (NaOH or lye). This is the most interesting comment:
OHSA just completed a test of Brazilian Blowout and it contains 4.85% of formaldahyde( any amount over 0.1% is considered a carcinogen and mutagen) along with ethanol and methanol. OSHA is asking why these are not on the labels, package or MSDS sheets. Very illegal in the USA. Also special OSHA training is needed for all salons, and clients by law are to be warned about the serious side effects. Just Google CROET, Oregons consumer awareness group who has the OSHA report on Brazilian Blowout. Also Coppola product was just tested and the European Union is moving to Ban this product. It also has formaldahyde. Ireland just had it removed from the country as of Monday 9/20/2010. Just Google Europa Consumer Affairs then type in the search engine Coppola. Do your actual research, not just read the manufactures promo guide. Formaldahyde is very very dangerous when heated above 374 degrees. The gas vapors can cause serious illness, bleeding, asthma, rash and other side effects after just one use. Be aware, Several South American countries are looking to join Ireland, and the European Union in the ban, and OSHA is just now this week gotten involved.
- This [piece] you just have to read for yourself. This writer alleges the formalin level is upped after approval, so even the 2% (which one chemist calls already obscenely high) isn’t accurate. There’s a nice hub [here].
- This [article] is a puff, and some of the comments are just pseudo-comments advertising for the products. The claim that “aldehydes are safer and more natural” sounds like pseudo-science. We’re not that dumb. But read the critical comments that go unanswered. Here you find references to MSDS indicating gas masks required, and that the required temperature of 450 degrees for flat ironing does release toxins.
- There’s some great stuff [here] too. One commenter writes:
I sampled the air during a Coppola Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy treatment from 20 feet away with a 3M 3720 Formaldehyde Monitor with an 80 min. exposure time, sent it to a lab to be analyzed, and the results were .241 ppm of formaldehyde. How safe is that? OSHA regulations state that the permissable exposure limit to formaldehyde is .75 ppm for an 8 hour period. That means that if there are 3 of these done in an 8 hour period, you have reached your max exposure time to formaldehyde.
- Oct 2010 Canadian government issues [health advisory] about Brazilian Blowout. Found 42 times the level considered safe, and notes that the gas is highly toxic and produced when heated by blow drying or flat ironing. It also points out that just calling it formalin or methylene glycol really just means formaldehyde.
- Oct 2010 Oregon OSHA issues [Hazard Alert] on keratin products, including those that claim to be “formaldehyde free“
- Oct 2010 Australia orders national [recall] of Coppola Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy, Smoothing Therapy for Blonde Hair & Express Blow Out, because… hazardous levels of free formaldehyde.
- LA Times [article] Oct 10, 2010 reports on California joining Oregon in investigating keratin manufacturers. So far, the results are ugly.
- Dec 2010 Germany and Ireland go after Coppola Keratin Complex smoothing therapy – Natural Keratin Smoothing Treatment
- April 2011 Environmental Working Group names and details 12 additional keratin manufacturers (besides Brazilian Blowout) hiding the formaldehyde content of their products [important reading]. This petition is highly detailed and explains why methylene glycol is formaldehyde in solution, despite bogus claims to the contrary by keratin manufacturers. OSHA updates its formaldehyde fact sheet. Another great EWG explanation occurs in this report, which includes the actual government test results and at their extensive site on the topic.
- April 2011 Minnesota Department of Health issues alert to Minnesotans
- May 2011 NIOSH just did a test on Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution in Ohio and found that, despite having some Acai in it, this stuff kicked out dangerous levels of formaldehyde [here]
- June 2011 OSHA issues a [hazard alert] for both Brazilian Blowout and “other smoothing products“
- June 2011 New York Department of Health names 19 BKT – keratin products that contain formaldehyde
EWG’s comprehensive survey of 45 manufacturers of hair-straightening products has found that:
15 of 16 companies claim little to no formaldehyde but tests show their products contain substantial amounts – These include Brazilian Blowout, Cadiveu and other top brands. The hair straightener company Goleshlee admits on its website that its product contains formaldehyde but omits the toxic chemical from its online ingredient list.
Fumes in salon air – Tests of salon air conducted in 2010 found powerful formaldehyde fumes. Other tests have found that hair straighteners contain up to 11.8 percent formaldehyde. When vapors reach significant levels, and when products contain a formaldehyde solution of more than 1 percent, federal law requires salons to provide medical monitoring for workers with symptoms, quick-drench showers for immediate use if solution touches skin and emergency eyewash stations.
Most top salons deny risks – Only three of Elle magazine’s 41 top-rated salons surveyed by EWG do not offer hair-straightening services because of health dangers. Nine salons claimed they used products free or nearly free of toxic chemicals. Yet test results compiled by EWG show the products are laden with formaldehyde. The salons’ claims usually echoed the manufacturers’ own misstatements about the chemistry and safety of the products. Among salons offering formaldehyde hair straighteners are the Andy Lecompte salon in Los Angeles, Whittenmore House Salon in
- A host of products are going to be banned in the US, following on the heels of banning in the EU and elsewhere.
- A host of labeling requirements about formalin, formaldehyde, formyl aldehydes, glutaraldehyde, and other such substances are coming.
- Products claiming to be “formaldehyde free” will be investigated, and there will be prosecutions and/or other actions taken against those that are misleading.
- OSHA requirements are going to be enforced – meaning stylists and salons will be held accountable for using proper safety equipment (double filter gas masks – not particulate masks) and forced ventilation and isolation.
- If we had to guess? Class action suits against the chemical manufacturers by stylists, salon owners, and clients for hiding the formaldehyde producing ingredients, when they knew about them, and for not providing adequate safety information. Especially since a lot of celebrities had it done. Watch this site very carefully: OHSU
- Keratin products truly free of formaldehyde “producing” chemicals (referring to how the toxin can fail to exist while cold but be produced out of other ingredients when heated) – only to include other toxic chemicals like lye, which start the cycle of concern all over again.
- Asian straightening uses a different process altogether. We do Asian straightening all the time, and consider this our standard straightening treatment. It just doesn’t work well with all hair types.
- There are some new products that make the claim that they does not contain “aldehyde producing ingredients“, including when heated (not merely that they don’t contain those ingredients cold, or that “these” aldehydes are somehow not toxic, etc. – which means they just won’t tell you which aldehydes they’re using in writing). We’re in contact with the makers of a couple of these keratin products about the materials datasheets (we want the whole set) and may be offering something like this very soon. If we do, we’ll make the MSDS available. But we won’t jump onboard until we’re happy with what we’re hearing, and maybe a while after that. We’re not into experimenting with people’s health, and we’d rather just say no to some clients.
- US OSHA Warns Workers of Brazilian Blowout Formaldehyde Hazards (workers-compensation.blogspot.com)
- Brazilian Blowout Abandons Suits Against Oregon OSHA for Formaldehyde Findings (workers-compensation.blogspot.com)
- Health Canada warns of formaldehyde in hair straighteners(canada.com)
- Straightening Out What is Formaldehyde (workers-compensation.blogspot.com)
- Hidden health risks of hair straightening products (boston.com)
- Feds investigate safety of hair-smoothing product (sfgate.com)
- Some hair smoothing products contain formaldehyde above limits: Health Canada (The Canadian Press)