Many hair straighteners have more formaldehyde than claimed, study says

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Three out of four keratin hair straighteners tested for a new study on formaldehyde exposure in hair-smoothing products contained more formaldehyde than the product claimed, according to research conducted by the San Francisco-based scientific consulting firm, ChemRisk, and published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene.

The study tested four popular hair-straightening products for formaldehyde content and exposure during use, including the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, Global Keratin Juvexin Optimized Functional Keratin, Coppola Keratin Complex Blonde Formula and La-Brasiliana Escluso Keratin Treatment. Only La-Brasiliana tested formaldehyde-free. Though Global Keratin was the only tested product to mention the presence of formaldehyde on its label, the ChemRisk study found the product contained more than twice as much as claimed -- 8.3%. Brazilian Blowout was labeled as formaldehyde-free but contained 11.5%; the Coppola product contained 3% formaldehyde, according to the study.


Formaldehyde is a chemical that can sting eyes and cause respiratory problems. Chronic exposure has also been linked to cancer.

Responding to the ChemRisk report, the North Hollywood maker of the Brazilian Blowout treatment issued a statement saying, “Brazilian Blowout cares about the thousands of certified stylists who use our products each day and their loyal customers. We have taken extensive measures to ensure the safety of our stylists and customers, performing numerous air monitoring tests in actual salon settings. Scientific testing has shown no indication of any exposure risk. We do not believe the study ChemRisk was retained to perform is valid, having used two ounces of product per application, four times the amount that is prescribed on the bottle.”

Responding to a warning the Brazilian Blowout manufacturer received from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in August, the company said in a letter back to the FDA that independent tests showed the product off-gases only trace amounts of naturally occurring formaldehyde and places that level at 0.0115%. [Updated at 4:37 p.m.: The original version of this post did not include a citation from the Brazilian Blowout response letter to the FDA.]

The Brazilian Blowout solution first came under scrutiny in late 2010, when the Oregon division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found unsafe levels of formaldehyde in the product in several tests. This year, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel said that formaldehyde is safe in cosmetic products when formulated with minimal effective concentrations. The panel said those concentrations should not exceed 0.2%.

The ChemRisk study not only analyzed each product’s chemical composition but also the potential formaldehyde exposure during use. For each product, researchers collected short-term formaldehyde exposure samples during the blow-drying and flat-ironing tasks, as well as long-term samples collected over the duration of each treatment, to determine formaldehyde exposure in four different parts of the salon -- the area where the treatment was performed on the client, the chair directly adjacent to the treatment, the chair 3 to 6 feet away and the reception area which was about 30 feet from the treatment.

For the three products that contained formaldehyde, ‘the highest exposures were measured for the salon worker and client receiving the treatment,’ said the study’s lead author, Jennifer Pierce. Formaldehyde exposure was lowest in the area furthest away from the treatment. The Brazilian Blowout ranked highest for formaldehyde exposure at 1.17 parts per million for the stylist and client in the study, followed by Global Keratin at 0.71 parts per million and Coppola at 0.11 parts per million, as measured during the full duration of each treatment.

Each treatment was tested back-to-back in a Chicago salon on a single day in June. The Chicago salon had a ventilation rate similar to other hair boutiques, wherein the air is completely replaced two to three times per hour, according to Pierce. Between each treatment, the air was tested to be sure the formaldehyde reading was below the detectable limit, Pierce said.


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