Brazilian Hair Straightening Is Making Waves Again: US Department of Labor Issues a Health Hazard Alert

Brazilian blowouts--otherwise known as keratin straightening treatments--are in the news again, this time prompting the US Department of Labor to release a Hazard Alert about the dangers of formaldehyde-containing straightening formulas. The Department of Labor used the information gleaned from the various state and federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) investigations to formulate its report. The salient points in the alert:
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Brazilian blowouts--otherwise known as keratin straightening treatments--are in the news again, this time prompting the US Department of Labor to release a Hazard Alert about the dangers of formaldehyde-containing straightening formulas. The Department of Labor used the information gleaned from the various state and federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) investigations to formulate its report. The salient points in the alert:
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Brazilian blowouts--otherwise known as keratin straightening treatments--are in the news again, this time prompting the US Department of Labor to release a Hazard Alert about the dangers of formaldehyde-containing straightening formulas. The Department of Labor used the information gleaned from the various state and federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) investigations to formulate its report.

The salient points in the alert:

-In addition to the Brazilian Blowout (GIB LLC’s brand that started the whole investigation in the first place), other brands were found to contain or release formaldehyde even when listed as "formaldehyde free” or not mentioning formaldehyde on the label.

-Formaldehyde poses the following health risks: allergic symptoms, nose/eye irritation, breathing problems, blindness (if splashed in the eyes), nose and lung cancer.

-Formaldehyde is also called methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. If any of these are listed as ingredients, salons must take the proper precautions to protect workers.

-Products have to list formaldehyde as an ingredient if it is greater than 0.1% and provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to salons. It’s a salon’s responsibility to determine formaldehyde content if they’re purchasing solutions from abroad.

-If salons decide to still use the formulas, they have to provide air ventilation systems, use lower heat settings on flat irons, give workers the choice to wear a respirator and other personal protective equipment (like gloves), educate workers on the MSDS, post signs in salon about presence of formaldehyde, and train workers properly.

-If formaldehyde is present in the air at a level of 0.5 ppm during an 8-hour work shift or 2 ppm during any 15-minute period, then the employer must get workers the right medical attention and test the air periodically to make sure that formaldehyde levels are below OSHA's limits.

-Salons will have to keep records of air testing.

In related news, WWD reports that a hearing is scheduled for May 2 to determine whether GIB LLC, the company that makes the Brazilian Blowout, will have to acknowledge that its products contain formaldehyde and provide all the appropriate documentation to salons. Additionally the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an independent, not-for-profit watchdog group, just released a very comprehensive summary of the risks of hair straightening treatments. So is this the first death knell for keratin straightening treatments? Salons are going to have to pay to upgrade ventilation systems, provide protective garments, and do air testing. Hair straightening is huge business for a lot of salons, and is a big money-maker, but it may not be worth it anymore for smaller, independent salons. And will salon workers start refusing to do the treatments? A hair stylist just told us yesterday that he does hundreds of these procedures in the summer months alone. It doesn’t look like the FDA is going to ban these products like Canada has--yet. But if more complaints are filed or salons don’t comply, that may be the future of keratin straightening.

Better fire up your flat irons.