“Cosmetic products that contain known human carcinogens or chemicals that impair human reproduction or development are marketed and sold without adequate safety tests because the existing law allows it,” he said.
In Brazilian Blowout, he said, “the levels of formaldehyde exceeded levels that would be of concern for causing cancers and short-term effects" such as burning nose and throat, hair loss, asthma attacks and skin blisters.
“Although the sale of Brazilian Blowout in California violated five separate state health, environmental and consumer laws and resulted in numerous acute injuries, we have not been able to get it off the market,” DiBartolomeis said.
“Brazilian Blowout is an illustrative case of what shouldn’t happen.”
Brazilian Blowout is in high demand in New York, and Josimov knew she'd lose dozens of clients if she quit using the product. She liked the results on her own frizzy, coarse hair, and would get hugs from satisfied customers, telling her Brazilian Blowout was “really life-changing.”
Josimov began to realize it was her life that was changing. Her progression of symptoms mirrored hundreds of other stylists – the burning eyes and sore throats followed by chronic runny noses. Respiratory infections settled in for months, accompanied by scabby blisters in the nose. With prolonged exposure came the asthma-like wheezing and shortness of breath.
“I'm a runner, and I started to notice it was becoming much more difficult. The last straw was one night when I went to bed I was wheezing and gasping for air. I thought I was going to have to call 911. It was three o'clock in the morning. I live alone,” Josimov said.
“I knew it was Brazilian Blowout. That's all I could think about. I'm done, I thought. I will never touch Brazilian Blowout again.”
Now she has to use an inhaler before she runs or goes to the gym. Her salon stopped offering Brazilian Blowouts. But even when hairdressers use other straighteners with lower formaldehyde concentrations, she suffers an onset of symptoms. Josimov, who is 38, went to cosmetology school three years ago for a major career change. She fears she will have to give up all she's worked for.
In Oakland, Calif., there's been enough publicity over the state’s enforcement action that most stylists won't offer Brazilian Blowout. Anthony Scardino, a stylist for 24 years, said he did it for a year but now turns down requests. “I felt this burning in my throat. Even the other stylists were complaining about the smell,” Scardino said.
Down the street, Carlos Arellano is one of the rare stylists still using the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing solution. He puts on a fan, keeps his doors open and says he has had no health problems and hasn’t had any clients or workers complain. “When we do the service, we don't blow it into the client's face. We have to be very conscious about protecting the client and ourselves.”
The substances are released into the air during shampooing with a special solution, combing on the coating concoction, then blow drying and flat ironing. The gases don't affect everyone in the same way, which is a common manifestation of chemical exposure.
Jennifer Arce, a hair stylist in the San Diego area, and Dawn Marino, a New York stylist, had to find new places in their cities to work that don't allow keratin-smoothing products. After Arce's exposures, she started getting rashes, headaches and sore throats. Now she coughs up bloody mucous and is on two inhalers. Marino would get nauseated and dizzy, and would have to stick plastic bags in her purse in case she had to throw up in public. She was diagnosed with asthma and sinus infections.
Now, both Arce and Marino are suffering an odd, lasting sensitivity. Cleaning agents, fragrances and hair spray set them off coughing and wheezing. “I couldn't turn on an oven. I couldn't breathe the gas. Even going to sporting goods stores, I'd smell it. I had no idea sports equipment gives off formaldehyde,” Arce said.