Hair-Straightening Treatment Called Dangerous

fromOPB

The popular hairstyling process called the "Brazilian blowout" is getting criticism from Oregon regulators and researchers. The hair-straightening technique is supposed to make frizzy hair smooth and manageable. It doesn't have any harsh chemicals listed among its ingredients. But some stylists say it burns their eyes and causes breathing problems. Now, a new study shows the product actually contains formaldehyde.

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The hair styling product that goes by the name Brazilian Blowout is raising safety concerns. Today, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it found significant amounts of formaldehyde in the hair straightener.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil of Oregon Public Broadcasting reports, the product is causing more than a bad hair day at many salons.

KRISTIAN FODEN-VENCIL: At 47, Ernest Brooks(ph) knows what's good for him, so he eats healthy and works out. But he wrestles with his blond frizzy hair, and so he recently tried a Brazilian Blowout.

Mr. ERNEST BROOKS: They were really big at promoting Hollywood and the Hollywood stars using it and so forth. And once I got it here, of course, they did my hair, and the results were wonderful, you know, smooth, shiny, just sexy hair.

FODEN-VENCIL: He loved the new look. But there was a hitch.

Mr. BROOKS: I noticed from the beginning that my eyes would burn, and that I would cough a lot using the product.

FODEN-VENCIL: And Brooks was not alone. Dozens of similar complaints from stylists and clients prompted the Oregon OSHA to test Brazilian Blowout and several other hair straightening products.

Agency administrator Michael Wood says they found many brands contained formaldehyde, even when the bottle was marked formaldehyde-free. One contained up to 10 percent.

Mr. MICHAEL WOOD (Administrator, OSHA, Oregon): We're advising employers and salons generally that they should consider these to be formaldehyde-containing products. That means that there are a number of obligations employers then have to meet.

FODEN-VENCIL: Like providing gloves, eyewash stations and sturdy ventilation systems. Today's announcement is only the latest volley in what's been an ongoing battle between Oregon OSHA and Brazilian Blowout.

Molly Scrutton is a hairdresser in the Platform Artistic Salon in downtown Portland. She's the stylist who first alerted Oregon OSHA after she says Brazilian Blowout gave her chest pains, sore throats and a nosebleed.

Ms. MOLLY SCRUTTON (Hairdresser, Platform Artistic Salon): When we tried to reach the company to get the ingredient list, they continually told us it was pending patent. So that was sort of a red flag for me right there.

FODEN-VENCIL: She gave her bottles of Brazilian Blowout to Dede Montgomery with Oregon Health and Science University. Montgomery says if a workplace product contains more than 0.1 percent, the company has to list formaldehyde and institute safe work practices.

Ms. DEDE MONTGOMERY (Occupational Safety and Health Specialist, Oregon Health and Science University): If we are working with hazardous chemicals, we have a right to know what that is, so that we know a couple of things. We know what the risks are, but we also know what we need to do to protect ourselves while we do our work.

FODEN-VENCIL: Days of calls and emails to the company from NPR have been met with silence. But in response to the criticism, Brazilian Blowout put up a web page calling the tests invalid and saying the safety agency was grossly negligent in its testing. The company implies Oregon OSHA is focusing on formaldehyde solution in the bottle, but what's important is any formaldehyde gas that escapes into the air. Brazilian Blowout's web page says its own tests show formaldehyde gas levels are within permissible limits - a fact Oregon OSHA tests confirm.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is also aware of this issue and says it's working to see if Brazilian Blowout is likely to cause health problems.

The whole thing has left many of us who are folically challenged a little confused about what's safe.

Ernest Brooks, who we heard from earlier, says he just found a replacement -the KeraGreen Formaldehyde-Free Certified Organic Smoothing Keratin Treatment.

Mr. BROOKS: This whole experience, for me, has brought me to something that works a million times better, and I'm very, very pleased with it.

FODEN-VENCIL: And as for myself, I'm just thankful to be bald.

For NPR News, I'm Kristian Foden-Vencil in Portland.

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