The maker of the popular Brazilian Blowout hair-smoothing treatment has agreed to begin warning consumers and hairstylists that its products contain potentially hazardous formaldehyde, but some consumer advocates say that doesn't go far enough.
Under a settlement with the California attorney general’s office announced last week, North Hollywood- based GIB, LLC — which for months contended that its products were formaldehyde-free — is required to affix caution stickers to the bottles and inform stylists of formaldehyde gas emissions and the need for precautionary measures, such as ensuring adequate ventilation during use. The products are sold under the names “Brazilian Blowout Acai Smoothing Solution” and the “Brazilian Blowout Professional Smoothing Solution.”
The settlement requires GIB, LLC, to cease deceptive advertising of the products as formaldehyde-free and safe; produce a complete and accurate safety information sheet that includes a Proposition 65 cancer warning; disclose refund policies to consumers before the products are purchased and pay $600,000 in fees, penalties and costs.
The attorney general’s lawsuit against GIB marks the first law enforcement action under California's Safe Cosmetics Act, a right-to-know law enacted in 2005.
In a statement, GIB said, “We believe the settlement reached with Attorney General [Kamala] Harris represents a fair and equitable resolution. We agree with and trust the attorney general's final decision in this matter that our products can continue to be sold to the tens of thousands of customers who love them.”
But some consumer advocates don’t think requiring better labeling and warnings goes far enough, pointing out that the products have been banned in several countries — including Canada, Germany and Australia — after some salon workers reported headaches, nosebleeds, blisters, respiratory problems, burning eyes and other side effects.
“We're grateful to the attorney general for doing what no other [U.S.] government agency has been able to do — force this company to be honest about the dangers of their products. But warning labels aren't enough,” says Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of “Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Beauty Industry.”
“Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen and it shouldn't be allowed in hair products, period,” she says. “Brazilian Blowout should be banned in the U.S. as it has been in other countries.”
FDA would have the authority to recall Brazilian Blowout products nationwide if the products are found to violate federal safety laws, says FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward. The FDA is still investigating the products.
Meanwhile a federal Safe Cosmetics Act, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in July 2011 by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), seeks to ban the use of chemicals known to cause cancer in cosmetics. A hearing devoted to the legislation has not yet been scheduled.
Many women love the hair-straightening treatments, which can keep hair smooth for several months. Salons have been mixed in their reactions as the controversy has unfolded over the past couple of years. Some have turned to so-called "natural" straighteners as an alternative, while some have continued to use the Brazilian Blowout and similar formulas.
Others, such as celebrity hairstylist Cristophe of the eponymous Beverly Hills salon, remain leery about the products. Cristophe says he won't allow them to be used. “I don't want anyone working with me jeopardizing their health and being exposed to this all day long. The individuals who are doing it day after day [the salon workers], that's where the impact is,” he says. But he knows there is consumer demand. “The demand is so strong for [formaldehyde-emitting hair-straightening] products from the clients that they wouldn't take no for an answer...these people will have it done somewhere, somehow.”
[UPDATED: Feb. 8, 12:01 p.m. to correct spelling of Cristophe]
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Photo courtesy of Brazilian Blowout