Long, smooth, straight hair. Just like in the magazines. Some women would risk their lives for it. You might be risking your life for it without even knowing it. The popular keratin treatment ‘Brazilian Blowout’ promises “smooth, frizz-free, radiant hair”.
At first glance, it delivers. For a hefty price tag of around $300, a stylist can turn even the most unruly mop into a work of art. Of course, there’s a catch.
The controversy surrounding the Brazilian Blowout first took hold in late October of last year, when the Oregon division of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported unsafe levels of formaldehyde in the popular products’ formulas.
The panel conducted tests on 105 samples from 54 salons and concluded that small amounts of formaldehyde gas were released into the air when the products were heated. A series of complaints from stylists and customers spurred the investigation. Symptoms ranged from irritation of the eyes and throat, to nosebleeds, respiratory problems and even hair loss.
By November, action kicked into high gear when the California Attorney General’s office filed a lawsuit against the makers of Brazilian Blowout for failing to warn consumers that their hair products might give them cancer.
Salons everywhere reacted swiftly. In France, England and Ireland they pulled the products from the shelves. Similarly, in Canada and Australia, the products were recalled. In fact, all over Europe they stopped giving people Brazilian Blowouts altogether.
The United States took a different course of action. Salons continued offering the treatments, despite growing concern over their safety. Others took a slightly different route. Shortly after OSHA released the reports, Mark Garrison, of the Mark Garrison Salon in New York came up with his own solution.
He began requiring gas masks.
In November of last year, ABC news aired a segment on the dangers of the Brazilian Blowout with the bizarre scene of a stylist and client wearing the masks. Apparently New Yorkers are willing to go to great lengths for great hair. But what about Alaskans?
Local stylist Kimberly Werner of Bella salon seemed unconcerned.
“Obviously formaldehyde is known to cause cancer. But…we’re not feeding it to you,” Werner said.
This point is debatable, considering that the gas is inhaled. Kimberly’s client Alissa Thomas shared her lack of interest in the potential health risks posed by the products.
“I loved it, and I had no negative reaction of any kind,” Thomas said.
Their opinion seems to mimic a disturbing trend in this country: the price of beauty is worth paying, regardless of any cost.
Putting up a good fight, the chemists behind the Brazilian Blowout fought back by filing their own lawsuit against Oregon OSHA. Initially claiming that the agency reported false and misleading information, the developers eventually dropped their lawsuit in early March and launched new, “formaldehyde free” products.
They are currently under investigation by the Federal Drug Administration. Perhaps the best advice in this case is the simple, classic “buyers beware.”