A National Research Council panel of scientists concluded last year that there are “inconsistencies in the epidemiologic data” linking formaldehyde to leukemia. But it also said “there is sufficient evidence of a causal association between formaldehyde and cancers of the nose, nasal cavity, and nasopharynx.”
South African scientists are testing formaldehyde levels in several Brazilian-type hair products, including Brazilian Blowout. Physicians there say they are concerned that young women who become pregnant are exposed for long hours in hair salons.
Unlike factories, many salons have no ventilation or other safety precautions.
“My concern is that the concentration in Brazilian Blowout is too high,” said Dr. Nonhlanhla P. Khumalo, a professor of dermatology at the University of Cape Town and the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital who is leading the study.
“We know that formaldehyde is associated with abnormal pregnancies in young women. We know that it is associated with malignancies,” Khumalo said. Even without data on formaldehyde levels in salons, “we know that it damages,” she said.
Government vs Brazilian Blowout
The FDA sent a violation letter to GIB about Brazilian Blowout's Acai Professional Smoothing Solution in 2011 after it found methylene glycol, the liquid form of formaldehyde, in samples at concentrations ranging from 8.7 to 10.4 percent.
Saying the product could cause eye, respiratory tract and nervous system disorders, FDA officials told GIB to ensure the product was safe or they would pursue an injunction in federal court and seize the product. However, a year later, the agency has taken no further action against the company, although there is no evidence that the formulation is safe.
FDA spokeswoman Tamara Ward said the agency is still investigating Brazilian Blowout but she couldn’t comment because it is “an open case under review.”
In March 2011, the federal workplace safety agency, OSHA, sent out a worker hazard alert – which is rare for a cosmetic – about hair-smoothing products containing formaldehyde. Investigations found formaldehyde concentrations in salon air that violated federal limits for workplaces.
At one salon, the formaldehyde levels were five times the acceptable amount. At the time, OSHA identified Brazilian Blowout, Cadiveu, Copomon/Coppola and Marcia Teixeira as brands that have some products that could expose people to formaldehyde. Brazilian Blowout Zero doesn't contain the chemical.
The worker safety agency has inspected 55 salons in a dozen states. The highest penalty, $17,500, was levied against a salon in Cleveland, Ohio, involving nine serious citations for exposing workers to excessive levels of formaldehyde from Brazilian Blowout.
The California Attorney General in January obtained a $600,000 judgment against GIB in a settlement that stopped the company from advertising Brazilian Blowout as “formaldehyde free” and required warnings on bottles and in information sheets for workers.
In court documents, GIB argued that it didn't declare formaldehyde in the product because it is not an ingredient. Rather, the product contains a “separate and distinct chemical,” methylene glycol, which when heated, releases formaldehyde. The company also argued that the state hadn't shown irreparable injury or harm.
“As the result of the products' results and the lasting effects of just one sitting, the Brazilian Blowout treatment has become increasingly popular in recent years. With its success, however, GIB has had to contend with larger competitors and baseless litigation,” GIB argued.