Burning eyes, nosebleeds and chest pain—these are just some of the symptoms that stylists experience when they perform certain Brazilian keratin treatments on clients. When Brazilian keratin treatments first appeared in salons, they took consumers by storm. Everyone wanted to try the revolutionary treatment from Brazil that worked miracles, transforming even the tightest curls into loose, silky strands.
The Brazilian Blowout, one of the biggest name brands for Brazilian Keratin Treatments, is a 90-minute long procedure aimed at smoothing the hair with a “Brazilian super nutrient complex.” Using keratin, the blowout is supposed to build a protein layer around the hair, leaving it frizz-free and in healthier condition than before the treatment. The effects of Brazilian keratin treatments are supposed to last about twelve weeks, but the glamour lasted only till 2007, when "Allure" magazine released an article exposing the presence of formaldehyde (a human carcinogen) in the Brazilian Blowout treatments. Ever since, more and more stylists and consumers have been skeptical of Brazilian keratin treatments, specifically the Brazilian Blowout products.
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Valerie Martin, master stylist at Ritual Salon in Austin, Texas, is one of the stylists who is saying no to Brazilian blowout treatments. Martin and some of her fellow stylists grew weary of the product after experiencing shortness of breath and watery eyes while performing the treatment. But after watching a feature on "Good Morning America," Martin put her foot down. The report showed that air samples of two separate salons using Brazilian Blowout contained 8-10% formaldehyde, an alarming result, considering any hair solution containing more than .1% of formaldehyde is considered potentially hazardous and must be reported to stylists by the manufacturer.
Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde can cause cancer, but more immediately, it causes eye and lung irritation.
“I could taste it in my mouth,” says Martin about the treatment. “All my clients had watery eyes, and I even had an air purifier next to them!” Martin no longer offers the Brazilian blowout, and is very skeptical about Brazilian keratin treatments in general. “There are a lot of keratin treatments that say they don’t have formaldehyde, but if you look at the ingredients it says aldehyde. They can call it something else because they changed the ingredient a little bit. But it’s pretty much formaldehyde,” says Martin.
Formaldehyde takes on many names, including methylene glycol and formalin, which is a liquid form of formaldehyde. Many companies are hiding the presence of formaldehyde by substituting it for other names, the most commonly used name being methylene glycol. It is released into the air as formaldehyde once it comes into contact with heat. It’s ironic, considering that the most important step in the Brazilian keratin treatment, the application of heat to seal in the keratin, is in fact the most dangerous one.
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Anna Craig from Trashy Roots Salon in Round Rock, Texas, avoids the danger altogether. Craig used the Brazilian Blowout products until it created thick smog that lingered in her salon. When Craig and her employees tried to take a picture of the smog, a thin film veiled the lens. The smog was unbearable, and so were the side effects.
“Our stylists started talking about the smog, and how it was affecting us. One of the stylists got sick. It was bothering her eyes, and she wasn’t feeling well.”
Before banning the Brazilian Blowout in her salon, Craig and her stylists attended a class aimed at teaching stylists how to properly use the product. The instructors urged the use of ventilators and air purifiers, but Craig protested. “We don’t want clients seeing that we need air purifiers to provide a service.” After doing some research, Craig decided against using the product at all. Trashy Roots Salon strives to be environmentally friendly by providing all natural, organic products. “We decided that it is totally against everything that we stand for.”
Anna Craig isn’t the only one standing up to the Brazilian blowout and other Brazilian keratin treatments with formaldehyde. Most European countries have banned the sale of Brazilian Blowout products, and Australia has banned the use of the Keratin Complex Treatment by Coppola. Even closer to home, Health Canada has banned the Brazilian blowout and is stopping product distribution to Canadian salons. Efforts to ban the Brazilian blowout treatment in the U.S. are limited to movements within individual states. In November of 2010, the Attorney General of California filed a lawsuit against Brazilian Blowout, claiming that the company failed to warn consumers of the presence of formaldehyde in their product. Not only did they fail to warn consumers, but the president of Brazilian Blowout repeatedly told the press that their product is formaldehyde-free.
Read More: Is the Brazilian Blowout Over?
Mark Garrison, owner of the Mark Garrison salon in New York City, doesn’t take any chances in his salon. Garrison offered the Brazilian blowout treatment in his salon until the Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Division) issued an alert about the presence of formaldehyde in the treatment. Before then, Garrison designated the entire fourth floor of his townhouse sized salon to providing Brazilian keratin treatments. Garrison was ahead of the game, and in 2006 he built his very own keratin treatment room. Spending $7,000 on a ventilation system and masks, Garrison built the room because of the particular controversy that surrounds the Brazilian keratin treatments.
“I do everything by the book to make sure that my client and stylist are safe,” says Mark Garrison. The salon provides both the client and the technician with a mask equipped with special canisters rated for formaldehyde gas. For further protection, the client is placed under a hood that collects the vapor and ventilates the room. But building the room alone did not reassure Garrison. Taking matters into his own hands, Garrison conducted an independent study testing the amount of formaldehyde in Brazilian keratin treatments.
“I did a vapor test with Brazilian Blowout. We had a pump pumping the air and registering how much formaldehyde is in the air,” explains Garrison. “My test proved that it has formaldehyde.” After completing the study, Garrison brought it to the attention of the CEO of Brazilian Blowout, who insisted that their product was free of formaldehyde or any of its derivatives. “In the end, it was a lie,” says Garrison. “Very few companies have been straightforward with their consumers.” However, after testing the level of formaldehyde in several products, Garrison favors the Lasio and M&M Marcia Teixeira keratin treatments. Garrison still requires that every keratin treatment be given in his keratin treatment room. “Just to be safe, we take that extra step.”
However, most salon owners do not have the resources Mark Garrison has to take such precautions. Instead, many stylists are limiting the keratin treatments they offer to brands they know and trust. Anna Craig from Trashy Roots offers Pravana Keratin Fusion Texture Control, while Valerie Martin from Ritual Salon instead offers Dikson Keratin Treatment, both products being formaldehyde-free. Unfortunately, this is one of the only measures that stylists can take in order to protect their health, as FDA regulations make it very difficult to ban keratin treatments with formaldehyde in the U.S. However, consumers can take part in the movement to stop sale distribution of harmful hair treatments by educating themselves. “Do your homework and be aware of what is in your keratin treatment before you get it done,” says Martin. “At what cost do people want to look good?”Read More: Brazilian Keratin Treatments Revealed What is your take on Brazilian keratin treatments?