A toxicology lab in Oregon uncovered a high-end salon treatment labeled "Brazilian Blowout" that contains 10 percent formaldehyde, raising serious safety questions about extremely high levels of the potent carcinogen. The solution is used in dozens of salons nationwide that advertise the popular hair-straightening treatment.
The Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health & Science University found that the product appears to come from a North Hollywood company called Brazilian Blowout. However, the company owner denies that the product came from his firm.
More answers may be forthcoming, though, as California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health conducts a complaint investigation at the North Hollywood facility where Brazilian Blowout makes its solution, a spokeswoman said.
Monte Devin Semler, Brazilian Blowout company president, said he’s cooperated fully with OSHA by providing a sample of the product and expects no formaldehyde to be present.
“We pay a premium to be sure that the product is in fact formaldehyde-free,” Semler said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “I am unable to control every bottle that comes out of eBay or out of the back of someone’s car.”
So what did the folks in Oregon find, exactly? Here’s what I learned:
DeDe Montgomery, an industrial hygienist with the toxicology center (who is, in the interest of full disclosure, related to California Watch's Michael Montgomery), said a concerned stylist sent her lab a bottle of the salon treatment, saying it made her eyes water and caused irritation. The lab sent the bottle labeled “Brazilian Blowout” to Oregon OSHA for testing.
The test showed that the formula contained nearly 5 percent formaldehyde, a chemical that is regulated in doses far, far, far smaller.
Montgomery was aware of the controversy, documented in beauty blogs, about early reports of formaldehyde in the Brazilian Blowout product. So when she sought out another stylist who could help her test a more recently-shipped bottle that was labeled “formaldehyde free.”
That bottle, she said, had been opened when she received it. It came with a packing invoice that had no address but the phone number to Semler’s firm. It tested at 10 percent formaldehyde, exceeding acceptable levels by orders of magnitude.
Formaldehyde is strongly believed to cause cancer and also causes irritation to the eyes and nose. It can also trigger asthma attacks and cause rashes to people who are sensitive to it.
Montgomery said her lab reported the issue to Oregon OSHA and the California Department of Public Health.
California OSHA spokeswoman Krisann Chasarik said the investigation was based on a complaint and will determine whether any health or safety violations occurred at the site where workers bottle the Brazilian Blowout solution.
The California Department of Public Health operates a Safe Cosmetics program that was put in place by a 2005 law. The law requires that cosmetic and beauty product makers report the presence of certain chemicals, including formaldehyde, that are present above certain levels.
Department spokesman Ralph Montano said the Safe Cosmetics program staff did not get any information from Brazilian Blowout about the product before or since a reporting deadline passed. He said a program staff member called the company to remind them of the requirement.
It remains to be seen, though, whether the Brazilian Blowout company has anything to report or whether a counterfeit product is setting off alarms. Chasarik said her agency's investigation should be complete within a month; I'll be sure to report the results.
This blog was updated to reflect that Montgomery sought the second bottle of formula for testing.