FDA warns of formaldehyde in Keratin hair straighteners after $4.5 million class action settlement against Brazilian Blowout.

by Jay Pate

Expensive Keratin hair straightening treatments have become popular in beauty salons throughout the county. However the formulas used often contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen. The treatments pose a health risk not only to salon customers but perhaps even more so to the hair stylists who have frequently applied these treatments.

Sore throat, dizziness, difficulty breathing, hair loss, blisters, bloody nose, rashes, itching, welting, vomiting, chest pain and burning in the eyes, throat and lungs—these are just some of the complaints that beauty salon workers and customers have reported after such treatments.

OSHA has found that some hair smoothing products may contain formaldehyde, may release formaldehyde at levels above OSHA’s permissible limits during use, and may be mislabeled, all of which can pose health risks to salon workers. OSHA tested and found formaldehyde in several products that were labeled “formaldehyde free” or did not list formaldehyde on the label. OSHA has set up a website for “Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Smoothing Products.”

Earlier this year, Brazilian Blowout agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit for $4.5 million in damages. The lawsuit alleged that Brazilian Blowout violated California law by advertising its Brazilian Blowout hair straightening product as safe and formaldehyde free when it has been found to contain significant amounts of formaldehyde. Under the terms of the agreement, consumers will receive $35 per treatment for up to three treatments they purchased and stylists will receive $75 for every bottle they purchased. The settlement follows $600,000 in penalties and fines to the State of California after it emerged that two of the formulations emitted formaldehyde gas.

Despite being called out for high formaldehyde content and low safety by the FDA, OSHA, several states, a number of environmental and health organizations and even the cosmetics industry itself, Brazilian Blowouts will stay on the market following the settlement. Brazilian Blowout is banned in Australia, Canada, Ireland, France, and Germany, but not the United States.

As the Brazilian Blowout saga illustrates, even smoothing products that do not list formaldehyde on the label, or that claim to be “formaldehyde free” or “no formaldehyde,” can still expose workers to formaldehyde. Some products violate regulations by not listing their formaldehyde content on the label, and some contain other substances that can release formaldehyde during use, typically when the product is heated, such as during flat-ironing or blow-drying.

An investigation by the Environmental Working Group found that 15 of 16 products claiming to be “formaldehyde free” actually contained formaldehyde. According to the EWG study, the manufacturers are playing “name games”:

“Leading hair straighteners, including Brazilian Blowout, claim that formaldehyde mixed with water creates a new chemical, methylene glycol. That is like saying that sweet tea does not contain sugar. In fact, when you purchase straight formaldehyde from a chemical company, you are actually buying a formaldehyde-water mixture. Over time, if exposed to air, the formaldehyde will off-gas, in other words, reverting to a gas, its natural state at room temperature.”

Good Housekeeping tested four salon brands — Brazilian Blowout, Marcia Teixeira, Keratin Complex by Coppola, and Global Keratin Light Wave—at an outside lab for the presence of formaldehyde. Good Housekeeping “found the toxic chemical in all four products” that exceeded the recommended threshold. Read more here: http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/product-reviews/consumer-protection/keratin-hair-treatments

Oregon’s Occupational Safety agency has published a detailed 32-page report titled, “‘Keratin-Based’ Hair Smoothing Products and the Presence of Formaldehyde.” This report carefully explains the recommended processes and cautions when using any product that has the potential to create formaldehyde. Oregon OSHA tested 105 samples of hair smoothing products, including samples from bottles of a Brazilian straightening formula labeled “formaldehyde free.” The report states that in actuality, these samples contained an average of almost nine percent formaldehyde—well above OSHA’s recommended daily limits. Additional tests were conducted on Brazilian straightening samples that were not labeled “formaldehyde free” but that did not mention formaldehyde on the packaging or Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). These samples were found to contain a range of 6.4 to 10.8 percent formaldehyde. Further studies in this report detailed how much formaldehyde vapor was created in a times sequence for each product.

The irritant effects of formaldehyde exposure are well known and include eye, nose and throat irritation, loss of sense of smell, increased upper respiratory disease, dry and sore throats, respiratory tract irritation, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath and wheezing. Both the EPA and OSHA classify formaldehyde as a suspected human carcinogen because of links to nasal cancer and leukemia, while NIOSH and the International Agency for Research on Cancer list it as a known human carcinogen.

Salon owners, stylists, and other salon workers have the right know what is in the products that they are buying and using and how to protect their workers and themselves from formaldehyde exposure.

If you or a loved has been injured as a result of formaldehyde exposure associated with a mislabeled hair or beauty product, contact the lawyers at Heygood, Orr & Pearson for your free case evaluation and to learn more about your legal right to compensation. You can reach us by calling toll-free at 1-877-446-9001, or by filling out a free legal consultation form.

by Jay Pate

John “Jay” Pate is a licensed attorney who focuses his practice on complex tort litigation involving catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, medical malpractice, and product liability cases.