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Cosmetic industry review critiques Brazilian blowouts' safety [Updated]

March 16, 2011 | 12:08 pm

Hairstraightener2Hair-straightening treatments, commonly known as Brazilian Blowouts, may emit unsafe levels of formaldehyde and methylene glycol, according to a preliminary report released last week by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel. The first acknowledgment by the cosmetics industry that Brazilian Blowout treatments may pose a health risk, the study is merely the latest in a long string of critiques of such products, which have been recalled in Canada, Ireland and France.

Late last year, the California attorney general filed suit against the North Hollywood manufacturer of Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, alleging that the company failed to warn consumers and cosmetics workers about high levels of formaldehyde in its products. Formaldehyde is a chemical that can sting eyes and cause respiratory problems, the complaint stated; it has also been linked to cancer. 

The Brazilian Blowout solution first came under scrutiny last October, when the Oregon division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found unsafe levels of formaldehyde in the product in several tests. In its statement last week, 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%.

[Updated March 16, 2:22 p.m.: A previous version of this post stated it was U.S. OSHA that tested the Brazilian Blowout product for formaldehyde and that the agency had conducted two separate tests. Oregon OSHA conducted several tests.]

"It can not be concluded that formaldehyde/methylene glycol is safe in cosmetic products intended to be aerosolized or in which formaldehyde/methylene glycol vapor or gas will be produced under conditions of use," the panel further stated.

When hair-smoothing products containing formaldehyde or methylene glycol are heated, they can release small amounts of formaldehyde gas. The products' safe use is largely dependent on proper ventilation when they are applied.

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel investigated the issue at the urging of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as well as the industry trade group, the Personal Care Products Council.

"We urge customers to exercise caution in using these products," said John Bailey, chief scientist for the Personal Care Products Council.

A phone call to the chief executive of Brazilian Blowouts in North Hollywood was not returned.

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 -- Susan Carpenter

Photo: Brazilian Blowout salon treatment. Credit: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times