Is Carcinogen Exposure Worth it for Straighter Hair?

Brazilian Blowout contains high levels of carcinogen formaldehyde

When the chemical hair straightener Brazilian Blowout hit the beauty scene a few years ago, celebrities like Nicole Richie and Halle Berry gushed over the product. For 250 bucks, it can turn frizzy locks into lustrous ones for two to three months at a time. On top of that, it was promoted as the only safe chemical straightener on the market. “Unlike the Brazilian Keratin, it’s formaldehyde-free,” said the write-up in US Weekly. “No damage and no harsh chemicals. Contains no formaldehyde,” touts the company on its web site. You can see where this story is going.

Turns out, the makers of Brazilian Blowout might have been stretching the truth -- in a big way. Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University's Center for Research on Occupational Environmental Toxicology analyzed samples of the wildly popular Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution after salon workers complained of nosebleeds and difficulty breathing while applying the products to their clients.

Oregon researchers found an average of 8.68 percent formaldehyde in the 37 bottles of Brazilian Blowout that they tested. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), products containing more than .1 percent formaldehyde must list the ingredient on a safety sheet. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review, a panel that assesses the safety of ingredients in beauty products, states that no product should contain more than .2 percent formaldehyde.

So, why all the worry over formaldehyde if it gets the job done? The chemical is considered a human carcinogen, particularly when inhaled. Exposure to it is linked to leukemia and lung cancer. Short-term exposure can irritate the eyes and nose and cause coughing and wheezing. It can also cause severe allergic reactions, including rashes and even asthma.

Because of the brouhaha, Canada’s health department conducted its own tests and found up to 12 percent formaldehyde in samples of Brazilian Blowout. In response, they warned consumers to stop using the product.

But will they? Some top-notch salons have stopped offering the treatment, even though it’s still in high demand. In this down economy, the Brazilian Blowout is a huge income-generator that many businesses are reluctant to give up. That’s why other salon owners, like Mark Garrison, of Mark Garrison Salon in New York, are equipping their stylists and clients with industrial-strength gas masks to wear during the two-hour treatment.

Being a straight-haired girl, I never gave much thought to hair straighteners like the Brazilian Blowout. My curly-haired friends, however, love how it can whip their unruly hair into submission. To them, it’s worth the price tag. The risk of cancer, though, is not something they’re able to get past. Instead, it’s back to flaunting their natural curls.

Meanwhile, Brazilian Blowout continues to defend its products, claiming that the reports are wrong. "We have no formaldehyde in our formula," said a company spokesperson.

Have you ever gotten the Brazilian Blowout -- and will these reports make you think twice about trying it? Chime in below!

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