A cosmetics industry consultant is speaking out about concerns over the Brazilian Blowout hair straightening formula, although at least one expert is skeptical of claims that the controversial product produces only trace amounts of formaldehyde.
For those who haven’t been following the matter, health authorities in Oregon issued an alert to salon workers [PDF] about the presence of formaldehyde coming from the allegedly “formaldehyde-free” hair solution. The chemical, a known cancer-causing agent, causes eye, nose and throat irritation.
The California attorney general’s office soon followed with a lawsuit, alleging that the North Hollywood company that makes the formula gained an unfair market advantage by falsely claiming to sell a formaldehyde-free product.
What’s more, the attorney general’s lawsuit asks the company to take Brazilian Blowout solutions off the shelf until it issues a warning under the state’s chemical regulation law, Prop. 65.
Enter Douglas Schoon, who says he does not work directly for the makers of Brazilian Blowout but consults for the beauty and cosmetic industry.
Schoon issued a statement challenging [PDF] Oregon OSHA’s seeming confusion of two chemical substances: the methylene glycol liquid found in concentrations of up to 10 percent in Brazilian Blowout solution and formaldehyde gas
In an interview, Schoon said that a liquid with 10 percent of the offending glycol only turns into a tiny fraction of formaldehyde that consumers breathe. Oregon OSHA reported as much [PDF], saying that the levels of formaldehyde that they found in salon air exceeded some but not all generally accepted safety standards.
Schoon wrote: “Chemists with an understanding of organic chemistry will agree, whatever their opinion about these substances, that Methylene Glycol and Formaldehyde are two completely different chemicals.”
One organic chemist begged to differ.
Professor Alan Shusterman of Reed College in Oregon said in an interview that he has no financial interest in the Brazilian Blowout debate. But he said calling the two substances (methylene glycol and formaldehyde) completely different is “nonsense.”
Here’s what he wrote in a blog to his students, who just happened to be learning about glycols when Shusterman heard about the Brazilian Blowout controversy.
For me it is quite simple: if I am exposed to methylene glycol, will I be exposed to formaldehyde? The answer to this is unequivocally YES. ...
To say methylene glycol is not a "synonym" for formaldehyde is like saying that Clark Kent is not a "synonym" for Superman because Clark Kent wears glasses and Superman wears a cape. Unfortunately, websites that claim to separate "truth" from "scare," and to provide "scientific facts" about important topics like formaldehyde exposure, have no incentive to actually get things right. Just the opposite. Let the reader beware.
The next big test among experts will be whether the levels of noxious chemicals in the solution and in salons are enough to propel the attorney general’s case forward in Alameda Superior Court.
Schoon said he is no expert on safety but that whether a product is safe has a lot to do with how it is used in salons.
“People are getting irritated (by Brazilian Blowout). That’s wrong; they should not have that, and that’s a concern,” he said. “Not all of that should be on the product, though. Salons should have proper ventilation.”