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High levels of formaldehyde found in salon treatment

Horia Varlan/Flickr

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.



Comments are closed for this story.
Cityville's picture
I have asthma and formaldehyde just about kills me. I dont think people have any idea how much this stuff is used though out their city. It is everywhere and when you think about the association ...dead people, makes you wonder!
juan Carlos's picture
I am a Chemist and I might say that I have a bottle of Brazilian BlowOut that a salon sent to me to be duplicated, The moment I open the bottle I said, this might have 4-6 % formaldehyde, but they found 4 to 11 % that's crazy!! and asked myself: why are they lying? The fact they have money to spend in a big campaign using celebrities don't give them the right to lie to their customers, specially when preacautions have to be taken when using this product, anybody could've die. They should've alerted stylist so they take the right precautions so they don't get hurt. Now they are saying the product doesn't not contain formaldehyde, and of course with all the millions they made at innocent people expenses they are now going to fight and probably win. They will come out with one that doesn't contain formaldehyde which will not work (read this well and remember). I still have the bottle and I advise anybody to keep their bottles and submitted to test with the goverment, this is not fair to the clients and all stylist and customers who used this product must stand together. I know this meant a lot of money for the salons, but please think about your health and how was affected. The products must be recalled.
hairscindy's picture
A Chemist? Really? I would think a chemist would have better grammar. I am a stylist who uses Brazilian Blowout. Let me remind you all that OSHA was provided samples from questionable sources. I have had numerous conversations with the company who assure me there is no formaldehyde or derivative of such in their product. I have also asked about other known toxic ingredients specifically, and have been told they are not in this product either. I choose to trust that this company is telling the truth until I am provided with a more reliable truth. I LOVE this product and I use it in the way that I was trained and I have had wonderful results. I spoke with a Brazilian rep tonight and he let me know that their testing is complete and the truth will be known very soon.

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