Two months ago, I took my teenage daughter to get her hair chemically relaxed to loosen her tight curls. I made sure the salon didn’t use a product that contained formaldehyde after blogging about Brazilian Blowout and other products that contain the toxic chemical — even when labeled formaldehyde-free.
Well, the US Food and Drug Administration has finally decided to take action, sending this recent warning letter to the manufacturer of Brazilian Blowout calling the product “adulterated” and threatening to seize it on September 12 unless its formulation is changed to remove the formaldehyde.
The chemical has been associated with allergic skin reactions, blindness if it gets in the eyes, and asthma-like breathing problems. It’s also a known carcinogen, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“It’s important that correct information is conveyed to consumers about what’s in a product,“ said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, DC, who helped conduct this April analysis of straightening products used in top salons. Shockingly, 68 percent of high-end salons included in the analysis used products with formaldehyde despite the fact that they claimed to use toxic-free products.
That made me a little nervous as I wondered whether the product used on my own daughter’s head was toxic. I called the salon this morning asking them what product they used and was relieved to see it wasn’t on this list of products that hide their formaldehyde content.
But the product still uses chemicals harsh enough to break chemical bonds to permanently loosen curls until new hair grows in. “The safest approach is to straighten hair with a blow dryer or flat iron without any chemical products,” said Andrews.
You have to be willing, though, to put the time and effort into that daily routine, which my daughter was not.
An alternative is to use products containing ammonium thioglycolate, the chemical used in perms that can also straighten natural curls — which was in the product used in my daughter’s hair. “It’s definitely safer than formaldehyde and has a long track record of use, though it still may cause allergic reactions in some people,” said Andrews. these might include hives, rashes, or breathing troubles in asthmatics who are allergic.
Andrews also recommends sticking with treatments that last eight weeks or less since they probably use less harsh chemicals. (Formaldehyde became so popular because it lasted for months.) and leave at least six months in between treatments.
Deborah Kotz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @debkotz2.
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