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Brazilian Blowout blow-up: U.S. OSHA issues warning about formaldehyde in hair-smoothing treatment

The ongoing controversy over the celebrity-endorsed Brazilian Blowout and similar keratin hair smoothing treatments that are used to tame frizzy hair intensified this week, when U.S. health officials issued a hazard alert warning about dangerous formaldehyde levels found in some of the products.

The alert from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution contained formaldehyde levels greater than federal limits (though it doesn’t say by how much), even in products labeled “formaldehyde free.”

State OSHA offices in California and Oregon began investigating the Brazilian Blowout and other hair smoothing products several months ago after a host of complaints from salon workers and clients reporting headaches, nosebleeds, blisters, burning eyes, vomiting, asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. Several state-level agencies -- including those in California, Oregon and Connecticut -- issued warnings about the products. Health Canada issued an outright ban. The solutions used in the brand-name Brazilian Blowout, in particular, contained formaldehyde -- which is a known carcinogen -- at an amount “42 times the acceptable limit,” Canadian officials said.

On April 6, the California attorney general filed a motion in Alameda County Superior Court requesting a preliminary injunction against GIB LLC, the company that makes the brand-name Brazilian Blowout. It is the first enforcement action the state has taken under the California Safe Cosmetics Act.

The company’s chief executive, Mike Brady, takes issue with the findings and questions the government agencies’ testing methods. In December, GIB LLC sued Oregon OSHA over its testing, although the suit was later dropped.

Brazilian Blowout solutions have “never emitted any unacceptable levels of anything that I’m aware of per OSHA testing,” Brady said in a phone interview Wednesday.

“We’re attempting to contact federal OSHA,” Brady said. “We don't know anything about their testing. We don't know what they tested; we don't know how they tested it. We haven't been contacted by them so we're trying to contact them so that we can work together.”

“The other thing that we have to make sure is that it was our product that they were testing,” Brady added. “There's a tremendous amount of marketplace confusion -- that Brazilian Blowout is a specific brand, not a category. So when someone says 'I'm getting a Brazilian Blowout' or 'I'm providing a Brazilian Blowout,' in so many cases it's not even our product, so until we get a chance to review anything that they've done I don't have any specific comment other than all OSHA tests that we've had access to demonstrate the safety.”

It’s not only government agencies that are questioning the safety of products used in keratin smoothing treatments.

Brazil In a report called “Flat Out Risky,” the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for health and environmental protections, raises concerns about the treatments and the comparatively slow response of the U.S. government to complaints.

“Hair straighteners based on formaldehyde have been recalled in six countries -- Australia, Ireland, Canada, France, Germany and Cyprus, but are still widely used in American salons,” the report said.

Stacy Malkan, author of “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry,” and co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which is leading an effort to pass the Federal Safe Cosmetics Act, cites the hair-smoothing issue as a perfect example of why the U.S. needs a better product safety system. “It’s shocking the reports that have gone to the FDA regarding people who have been harmed from these products. They need to be pulled from the market,” Malkan said.

Hair salon owners who are concerned about whether products they use are problematic can request an on-site consultation from OSHA by visiting its website or calling (800) 321-6742. On-site consultations do not result in penalties or citations. Consumers who believe they been negatively affected can call the FDA’s MedWatch adverse event reporting system at (800) 332-1088.

-- Alene Dawson

Photos: Clients receive keratin smoothing treatments, which are used to straighten and control frizzy hair. Credit:  Felipe Dana /Associated Press

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I had a Brazilian blowout and it completely fried my hair. Burnt the ends and it took months before it was healthy again.

Stacy Malkan's book, Not Just a Pretty Face, the Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry, was published in 2007. It's based on 5 years of solid research and is about toxic ingredients in personal care products. Buy it and read it, folks. Keratin in hair products is just one small example of what women are putting on/in their bodies. How about lead in lipstick? There is this false perception that products on the market "must be safe", but guess what? Most are anything BUT safe ... and the FDA does nothing about it.

I had brazilian blowout few months ago. I got it done from a professional and ended up paying 300 dollars. I am sure the chemicals used were real not fake. Being a chemist I could tell it was lot of formaldehyde which was very irritating to eyes and toxic. I am not planning to have it again. Formaldehyde is carcinogenic and amount used was way beyond the acceptable level. I am surprised how it got approval from OSHA or FDA.

Thanks to Alene for writing this important story, and to Diane for your kind words about my book. :) Re: Firdous' comment: The problem is that there is no approval process for cosmetics sold in U.S. stores or used in salons. Companies can sell cosmetics without any kind of review from FDA or OSHA.

Under current law, it's legal to put nearly any chemical into cosmetics with no required safety assessments, and companies are not required to monitor the health of highly exposed people such as salon workers. Changing this will require an act of Congress and that's why we are seeking to pass the federal Safe Cosmetics Act. For more info, see

Back in the 80's it was lead in the men's hair product to cover gray, my dad used to use it. Grecian formula, maybe that helped to kill him?

Heck, with the radiation coming from Japan we'll all soon be either bald or dead anyway!

I didn''t ever want one, but my hairdresser just "had to do it." Never ewven heard of it - and I don't like flat hair.

My hair has no curl now - completely flat , on a face with a wide jaw - unbelievable!

It was rancid for WEEKS and stank horribly. I had beautiful lift to my hair, it's now gone. When will it come back and how????

I am POURINBG Nioxin on it - which saved my hair avter chemo treatments!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Worse, she slathers my hair with olive oil crap they describe in this article that I HATE - more "product" - who are they kdiddinbg!!!!! - and it stinks and flattens my hair to my head. What are these people doing in California? Selling grease????????

Now she has turned the roots pink with this horrible red metallic dye. I had great long dark hair. What in the you know what is wrong with Califo4rnia "Hairdressers" - SO-CALLED!!!!!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!

Worse - I had CANCER and she KNEW THIS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHY?!?!?!??!?!?! did she do it?!?!?!??!?!?! Destroying my hair with formaldehyde, I have been coughing for weeks and now I know why!!!!!!!!!!

The last one - it took 3 years to grow out what another crazy con artist "hair dresser" California-style did - fried and ripped up the sides!!!

No one in Atlanta ever did that!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

How can I get this crap out of my hair!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Five years ago, I did a gorgeous Hair Salon for a hairdresser in Burlingame, CA. I am an architect. I had cancer 19 years ago and it took 5 years for my hair to grow back with any thickness again.

That hairdresser took my fine, long hair, dyed it to blond from dark brown (original was dark brown but it turned gray from chemo at 38). She not only fried it, so it all broke off halfway up its long length around my right ear, she took it behind my back and stripped all that fine hair up its length to its roots in thousands of lengths, calling it "layered". That is not "layered"!

I had specifically told her to never do any of that.

It took three years to grow it all out....devastating me, making me hide. Then two months ago, the new hairdresser "just had to try" a Brazilian blowout on me and charged $200....which caused me not to get groceries for two weeks. Not cool.

The worst part was how flat it was, how rancid it smelled, how hugely oily greasy 1930's it looked....just horrid.

And then my eyes started burning. And burning and burning. I now have chest congestion that will NOT go away.

I am calling that help line Monday morning. I am scared to death....of all California so-called "hairdressers".

What a nightmare this place has been!

You can see my photo from how an ATLANTA hairdresser - a real one - did my hair a truly layered wouldn't believe what it looks like here - a huge frizzy mess.

I had a Brazilian Blowout 10 months ago. I asked to see the Brazilian Blowout container prior to ensure that it was the "formaldehyde free" Brazilian Blowout Product. I read about the product before hand and "formaldehyde free" made me feel that I was not endangering anyone, including myself. Prior to the treatment, I had a lot of breakage around my crown and was told by every stylist in the salon that this product would help my hair grow long and strong (and that is was completely safe).

Little did I know that "formaldehyde free" was a complete lie from the company and using it could cause damage to the stylists and myself. The product caused my hair to be extremely dry and fragile. I had extreme breakage and had to cut a lot off. I will never do anything so dumb again. I am so happy that my hair is back to normal. I'll keep my curls AND my health.

I am a Brazilian girl and when I was in Brazil I used to to every 4 months but here in the U.S I only do twice or 3 times a year since it cost a lot more. I've never had a problem with it. Actually my hair is pretty smooth, shiny and healthy. I love my Brazilian blowout.

I am a hairstylist in Florida, and the Keritan treatments are popular here. I became certified and now having done many< I believe it is bad for the ozone in the salon. Not only does the air quality stop clients dead in their tracks, but I as a stylist can only apologize! I have used these products, moreover do not care to proceed with using any product that caused me to feel like someone is pinching me with sharp finger nails. The fumes are repulsive and my eyes burn as well as my chest tightening. Yes, this is lucrative to my paychecks, but, I value my health more. So come on hairstylist of today, dont you want a healthy enviornment to work in?

I want to know which brand exactly you're talkin about, best you mention the actual name since there are many

ok no one knows the true is so much bullshit in media.

lets Us see whats happening but so far i have too say i loved the brazilianblowout but my clients prefer know the Brazilianblowout ZERO.

That one does not sticks in the Eyes.


OK... enough. Lead in Lipstick, Mercury in Tuna fish, Mad Cow Disease, Killer bees in Africa, Toluene in nail polish, SARS, Swine Flu, now this...

I have been doing Brazilian Blowout in the salon I work in and it amazes me the conflicting comments viewed here vs. what happens in the salon. First and foremost, people tend to over-apply the product. 2 Tablespoons (30ml) of product will treat an entire head of thick long hair. If there is foam in your comb and fumes start burning your eyes or throat, you are using WAY TO MUCH. Sniff some Clorox or ammonia out a jug and tell what effects you get. The people whose hair breaks off: not sure what you got or what your hairdresser is doing. I have used Brazilian on broken bleached hair to bring it back to a silky state. The sad news is not the formaldehyde (which is a preservative and is found in many day-to-day products and textiles).. it is the fact that so many hairdressers are using this product and do not know how to use it. It is dabbed on and combed thru in different directions. Think of it as a light coating, not a saturation of globs of product. I have seen hairdressers that fume up an entire salon with the product, and the floor around them is covered with product.

My clients never complain of any of the effects listed here, and furthermore, my coworkers cannot even smell it while I am doing the service. Proper ventilation is required for all chemicals, not just the "toxic" type. Anything can be toxic if not used properly. The media hype should be about hairdressers that have no clue how to do this treatment. If you do this and your eyes and lungs burn, then stop doing them because you do not know how to use the product safely.

Harsh comments... sorry. It is a treatment to be used sparingly. For fine shoulder length hair, a teaspoon of product is enough... and believe it or not, it last longer. If your flat iron smokes excessively when you iron the hair, then this is another clue that you are overusing the product.

Funniest part is the hurdle of hairdressers outside talking about the effects of Brazilian while smoking a cigarette. Everything is hazardous if not used correctly. Imagine that.

Also- Brazilian Blowout does not fry hair. Who are these hairdressers???? WOW!


It's outrageous that you cannot get a straight answer -pardon the pun- on any of these damned treatments. The FDA should be regulating them, but just like with supplements, there is no testing. If someone is making a buck, it will take a death, maybe several deaths, before anything is done.

What I have managed to find online, from people who are supposedly chemists, is that there is no safe level of formaldehyde. The scientists also say that ALL Brazillian formulas contain formaldehyde, no matter what the label says. They just slightly alter the chemical and thus alter the name, but it's still a type of "aldehyde."

No, the Brazilian treatment should not damage your hair. Your lungs, that's another story. I'll never get another one.

I've had the "Brazilian Blowout" ( the acai one in the brown bottle) done 3 times. Never any adverse reactions...perhaps I'm just not sensitive. Anyway, this product changed my relationship with my hair! No more fearing the rain or humid, muggy days... I can dance and not worry about 'crazy hair". And seriously...the FDA allows injection of botulisum (sorry for the spelling) toxin, ammonia in hair color, and all kinds of horrendous stuff in milk and other product and animals that are all loaded up with hormones and god knows what else. Don't be shocked that this stuff might actually have chemical in it.... everything around us does...even the air (ever have the 'air quality warning"?)


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