Brazilian Blow-out Keratin
-- Are They Safe?

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May 1, 2013
Editors, Chootoo

Keratin hair treatments have been popular in the US for years,
since the introduction of the “Brazilian Blow-out”.  These
treatments --- which are marketed under various names ---  are
designed to straighten the hair shaft, without the breakage that
so often accompanies use of perms.  

Shortly after their introduction, Brazilian blowouts became the
subject of controversy. Many users complained of strong fumes
produced from the formaldehyde in the products. In response to
several well-publicized cases of respiratory distress of hair salon
workers and consumers following the treatments, the US Food
and Drug Administration took action against the California
owner of one of the Brazilian blow out treatment products in

But the hair-straightening industry didn’t take the blow
lying down.  Out came new and improved keratin products,
advertised as “formaldehyde-free”.  We’ve decided to take a
closer look at the newer generation of keratin products to
answer the question “are they safe”?  

How Keratin Products Work

To straighten your hair, keratin products coat the hair shaft
with a formaldehyde based solution. The solution seals the hair
shaft when it is flat-ironed at a high temperature, typically 450
degrees Fahrenheit. Sealed in its coating, the hair shaft lies flat.
Brazilian keratin treatments can last from 30 days to 3 months,
depending on the strength of the solution used.

Brazilian blow out treatments thus are alternatives to other
straightening products such as permanents or texturizers, both
of which straighten the hair by relaxing or removing some of
the chemical bonds inside the hair shaft which make it frizzy or
curly in the first place.

Why Is Exposure to Formaldehyde Dangerous?

Formaldehyde is a carcinogen. It causes cancer. As a 2013
report from the National Institute of Health in Portugal
observed, formaldehyde has been linked with “nasopharyngeal
and sinonasal cancer” and has been classified as a” human

Formaldehyde also is corrosive to your upper respiratory tract,
which can lead to asthma.
Even at levels half of what is considered safe, a 2012 study
from Xi'an Jiaotong University in China found that
formaldehyde damaged the ovary function of lab rats.

Government Warnings About Brazilian Blow Out

So far, there have been two official US Federal government
warnings about Brazilian Blow Out products. The first was a
“Hazard Alert” issued by OSHA, the US Occupational Safety and
Health Administration, in April of 2011 and the second was a
Warning Letter issued in August of 2011.  

In other parts of the Western world, Brazilian blow outs have
been banned. For example, Canada has banned the product and
so have the 27 countries that make up the European Union.
OSHA found that many of the Brazilian Blow Out products
released noxious levels of formaldehyde into the air, potentially
endangering hair salon workers. It stated that formaldehyde
was released into the air even though the products had been
labeled as “formaldehyde free”.  

OSHA listed the following products in their investigation,
without noting which of them caused the fumes or which were
more dangerous:

•Brazilian Blowout (Acai Professional Smoothing Solution,
Professional Brazilian Blowout Solution),

•Brazil Cacau Cadiveu,

•Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy (Natural Keratin
Smoothing Treatment, Express Blow Out, Natural Keratin
Smoothing Treatment Blonde),

•Marcia Teixeira (Advanced Brazilian Keratin Treatment,
Extreme De-Frizzing Treatment).

The second federal government action against Brazilian
Blowout was a Warning Letter issued to GIB, LLC, the owner of
“Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution. The
FDA called this product “adulterated”. It stated that the
product contains a “poisonous or deleterious substance which
may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use
prescribed in the labeling thereof, or, under such conditions of
use as are customary or usual”.

Specifically, the FDA noted that this product contains the liquid
form of formaldehyde, methylene glycol, which is released
when the hair is flat-ironed.
The FDA listed all of the physical complaints users had made
after using the product, including these:

•Eye disorders (irritation, increased shedding of tears,
blurred vision, hyperemia);

•Nervous system disorders (headache, burning sensation,
dizziness, syncope, which means the user passed out),

•And respiratory tract (dyspnea, cough, nasal discomfort,
epistaxis, wheezing, rhinorrhea, throat irritation,

•Nausea hypotrichosis,

•Chest pain, chest discomfort,

•Vomiting, and

• Rash.

In addition to these two US Federal actions, California and
Oregon has taken action against the owners of Brazilian blow
out treatments (specifically, those owned by the company cited
by the FDA) for false labeling. The company paid a fine of
$600,000 in connection with one of these actions.

Conclusion --- Take a Pass of Brazilian Blow Out Keratin

At even low levels, research studies have found that
formaldehyde exposure can produce dermatitis in humans, eye
redness and respiratory irritation. Long term exposure of high
levels of exposure can lead to cancer.  If these levels of risk are
acceptable to you, then go ahead.

Maybe one day, someone will develop a Blow out keratin
product that truly is formaldehyde free.  Until then, take a
pass.  For most of us, increasing our risk for cancer is not what
we bargain for when we go to the beauty salon for hair


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Super models such as Naomi Campbell can suffer bald
spots from years of harsh hair treatments and handling