Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Shiny locks of formaldehyde? No thanks, Brazilian Blowout.

Stylists and customers have long suspected that the hair smoothing product popular with celebrities, the Brazilian Blowout, contains formaldehyde. The symptoms were too harsh to ignore--burning eyes, difficulty breathing, nose bleeds...

Now it's more than just a rumor. A toxicology lab in Portland, Ore. has confirmed results by analyzing two samples by Brazilian Blowout--the Brazilian Blowout Solution and the Acai Professional Smoothing Solution. Both products contain dangerously high levels of the suspected carcinogen formaldehyde—at 4.85 percent and 10.6 percent, respectively.

California-based Brazilian Blowout manufactures the products, which they claim to be “formaldehyde free.” The samples were taken to Oregon Health & Science University for testing after staff at a Portland salon reported difficulty breathing, nose bleeds and eye irritation when using the product as directed. The material safety data sheet (which should list hazardous chemicals) listed no formaldehyde. If a product contains more than 0.1% formaldehyde, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires the manufacturer to list it on the material safety data sheet.

I'm with Erin at Women's Voices for the Earth: “It’s incredibly disturbing that it’s taken salon workers getting sick to expose the fact that popular products contain a suspected carcinogen,” says Erin Switalski of Women’s Voices for the Earth, an environmental health advocacy group and co-founder of the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance, a national network of health advocates and researchers working for safe salons. “Clearly, the nation’s laws regulating these products are failing workers and consumers alike.”

And, what's more, the Canadian government has been able to act swiftly and cease distribution of the product to Canadian salons. Their own tests revealed even higher levels of formaldehyde, at 12 percent.

Women’s Voices for the Earth, the National Healthy Salon Alliance and others have criticized the United States’ system for being ineffective in monitoring the safety of cosmetic products. Under current law, the FDA can’t require cosmetics companies to conduct safety tests, or even require product recalls. As a result, the marketplace is flooded with products that contain toxic chemicals. Workers and consumers are forced to rely on industry to self-police, which has not been effective enough. It is unknown at this time whether the Brazilian Blowout products will be recalled.

“Toxic beauty products have long jeopardized the health of salon workers,” says Anuja Mendiratta of the National Healthy Salon Alliance and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative. “We regularly hear stories from women who are exposed to an unimaginable number of chemicals in their workplace and suffer a range of serious health impacts. I hope this is a wake-up call that something seriously wrong with our regulatory system, and we need to fix it at the federal level to assure worker and consumer health and safety.”

For the first time in 70 years, Congress is set to vote on the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, which would close the loopholes in the outdated federal law that allows chemicals to cause serious health impacts to salon workers and consumers.

The cost of the Brazilian Blowout treatment varies between $150 and $600. The Brazilian Blowout Solution and Acai Professional Smoothing Solution are just two products offered by the California company, and the only ones tested by OHSU. It is unknown whether other products, such as the Brazilian Blowout shampoo, conditioner and masque contain formaldehyde.

What do you think? Is it worth it to have smooth hair, if you're exposed to a carcinogen? Vote here!