Hair-Straighteners Contain More Formaldehyde Than the OHSA Allows

Last month, in the November issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, an independent consulting firm specializing in health and environmental risk assessment, ChemRisk, researched about Brazilian Blowout, a company that manufactures hair-straightening products, which have been linked to formaldehyde.

The FDA has been after Brazilian Blowout, and has even issued them a warning about the dangerously high levels of the chemical formaldehyde contained in their products. For those of you who do not know the dangers of formaldehyde, it has been linked to nasopharyngeal cancer, as well as leukemia. It is also used to preserve dead bodies!

Brazilian Blowout has defended their product with a statement on their website, stating that the reported measures of the potential formaldehyde levels never occur in a real world application.

The results of the study may make the hairs on your neck stand on edge (and, thus, you won’t need these products): three of four professional hair-smoothing treatments labeled “formaldehyde free” actually produced enough formaldehyde that it exceeded the limits set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

This study tried to mimic real-life settings a hair stylist would encounter while at work in their salon. This includes using a variety of different straightening products within the same setting, and applying consecutive treatments. The data was collected in Chicago with a professional stylist in a 14-chair hair salon over a 6-hour time period.

The ChemRisk research team collected air samples while the stylist applied the straighteners to human hair wigs, using the same procedures that would be at use on a real client.

The airborne formaldehyde levels taken during this study were high enough that hair stylists and those working in salons, as well as customers getting their hair straightened should take note. However, the formaldehyde exposure in other parts of the salon were under the OSHA’s permissible exposure limit. The researchers acknowledge that the formaldehyde levels will vary depending on the size of the building, the ventilation system, and how often the hair-straightening products are in use, as well as other variables. The reason they test the air is because it is so potent that it burns people’s eyes, nose, and throat, if in high-enough quantities.

Brazilian Blowout maintained an average formaldehyde concentration of 11.5%, but Brazilian Blowout issued a statement calling this study “fundamentally flawed” in the sense that the ChemRisk experiment used a large amount of product. ChemRisk rebutted, stating that the levels applied were all consistent with the respective manufacturer’s recommendations.

All in all, this study only reflects the findings of four of the hundreds of hair-straightening products on the market. But, as far as the salon’s clients are concerned, it does not seem that the amount of formaldehyde can be dangerous in the short-term. But does the same go for the hair stylists? What about the clients who routinely get their hair straightened? Stay tuned to see if anything “grows” out of this, we’ll see if it gets “straightened” out.

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