Earlier this year, the Professional Beauty Association issued the following alert regarding Brazilian keratin treatments:

Recent media stories continue to raise questions in our industry about the safety of some Brazilian hair straighteners—also known as Brazilian keratin treatments (BKT) and/or “escova progressiva.” The media has highlighted the use of formaldehyde as an ingredient in these treatments, raising particular questions about the levels of formaldehyde used in some products.

Related articles:
Additionally, the media has drawn attention to the mislabeling and/or lack of labeling on the part of some product manufacturers. Specifically, it has been reported that some Brazilian hair straightening products are marketed as “formaldehyde free”, when in fact they contain formaldehyde.

The use of Brazilian hair straighteners has become increasingly popular over the last several years. Although there have been no comprehensive studies on these products and treatments, some experts are concerned about the possible inhalation of formaldehyde in unsafe quantities—both on the part of salon industry professionals and consumers.

Commonly used as a preservative, formaldehyde is found in everyday household goods such as glue and particle board. However, acute exposure can be highly irritating and may cause severe allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. It is also a suspected human carcinogen. Individual reactions to different levels of formaldehyde (as with most environmental stimuli) can vary greatly based on hereditary and lifestyle factors.

The independent Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert Panel completed an extensive review of formaldehyde in 1984, and listed it as “safe as used” in cosmetics within certain specifications. CIR listed formaldehyde as safe for use in cosmetics in quantities of point two percent (0.2%) or less. CIR also advises that “formaldehyde should not be used in products intended to be aerosolized.”

The OSHA limit is 0.75 parts per million (ppm) over an eight-hour exposure period. When a product like the Brazilian straightener is applied to the hair and is heated with a flatiron, formaldehyde vaporizes and is released into the air. In this situation, both stylist and client can be exposed to levels of formaldehyde greater than 0.75 ppm by inhaling these vapors.

Some products currently on the market have been found to contain formaldehyde in excess of the CIR standard. The health and safety of beauty professionals and consumers is a top priority for our industry. As such, PBA strongly encourages the industry to ask pertinent questions regarding product ingredients, appropriate handling, application techniques and any safety or allergy warnings that should be shared with consumers.

The market is full of various hair straightening products that have been established to be safe by a strict selection process of ingredients that are safe and suitable for straightening and relaxing hair. Product safety can be established through firm adherence to quality assurance principles and good manufacturing practices. It is especially important to follow the directions on the product label to ensure that the product performs as intended and to prevent irritation to the skin.

Finally, the safety of products is monitored in the marketplace through reports of consumer comments and complaints. Companies should include a phone number on their products where comments or complaints may be reported.

For more information about this PBA Industry Alert, please contact Sam Leyvas at 800-468-2274 or 480-281-0424 x3437. Also, visit probeauty.org.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.