Women with Kinky hair are always looking for ways to get rid of the kinkiness. One method is by blowing out their hair straight and hoping it lasts for at least a week. So when this new Brazilian Blowout came on the market, I, along with lots of Kinky-haired women, was eager to see what it was. My hair stylist recommended it at every visit, but I kept telling her I had to research it before I could commit. Although I was eager to find something that would allow my hair to stay straight for a longer period of time, I wanted to know how it actually works. First, I wanted to make sure it would not permanently straighten my hair so I could wear my hair curly if I chose. To my surprise, in my research I uncovered information about the chemical component of this product that I never expected.
When Brazilian Blow out first appeared on the market it contained formaldehyde. After the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and US Food and Drug administration (FDA) published a warning exposure to the formaldehyde, Brazilian Blow-out products labeled “formaldehyde-free” were introduced. Unfortunately, many labels were incorrect or misleading. Some products contained the chemical methylene glycol, which is a product of hydration of formaldehyde. When the product is used, formaldehyde is released as a by-product.
Research has shown that clients receiving Brazilian Blow-out straightening treatments receive little exposure, but the formaldehyde exposure to the stylists is very concerning. This exposure reaches not only the stylist performing the straightening treatment, but to the other employees working in the salon. OSHA conducted air sampling at numerous salons and found air levels of formaldehyde which can be potentially harmful to workers who are exposed day in and day out. Exposure to formaldehyde occurs not just from breathing the air in the salons but also from eating, drinking or touching the skin with contaminated hands.
What is Formaldehyde? (Adapted from OSHA)
Formaldehyde is a chemical that is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that can be harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin. It is also a “sensitizer,” meaning it can cause allergic reactions to people who are allergic to it. Here are some of the health effects of exposure to formaldehyde:
• If breathed into the lungs it can cause coughing and wheezing due to irritation or one can develop asthma-like breathing issues
• Contact with the eyes and nose causes irritation, and with high dose exposures such as splashes to the eye, blindness can occur.
• Skin contact can cause allergic reactions that include itching and rashes.
• Formaldehyde is known to cause cancer.
How do I avoid exposure to formaldehyde? (Adapted from OSHA)
Since products are sometimes mislabeled, it is a good idea to look up the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) – just google the product name and “MSDS”. If any of the chemicals listed below is listed as a product ingredient, formaldehyde can be released during use.
• Methylene glycol
• Methylene oxide
• Formic aldehyde
• CAS Number 50-00-0
How can salon workers reduce their exposure to Formaldehyde when using the Brazilian Blow-out products? (Adapted from OSHA)
• Use air ventilation where the products are used and mixed.
• Use appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves and respirators (with proper training).
• Train stylists how to safely dispose of products along with how to clean up spills.
• If possible have the stylists use lower heat settings on blow-dryers and flat irons during the straightening process.
• Test periodically for formaldehyde levels in the air. Post signs in common areas so workers will know not to enter when the level is over the limit set by OSHA.
You can always contact OSHA for any questions or concerns via their website or by calling 1-800-321-6742.
Shamecka Edwards, Medical Student, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine
[edited by Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH]