In its annual report on carcinogens, the National Toxicology Program this year reclassified formaldehyde from a probable carcinogen to a known one.
Health officials has declared that smoothing products known as Brazilian treatments may pose risk to users and stylists alike. Most of them contain chemicals that release formaldehyde which has been known as a carcinogen.
Several companies that make formaldehyde based hair smoothing products are under investigation or have been cited for violations by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for false advertising about their products, and for exposing workers to formaldehyde above legally allowable levels.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), a panel funded by the cosmetics industry and backed by the FDA, recently stated that, “in the present practices of use and concentration, hair smoothing products containing formaldehyde and methylene glycol are unsafe.” The problems noted were high concentration of the chemical, overuse of the hair product and inadequate ventilation during application.
Formaldehyde is a colorless, usually strong-smelling chemical that has been in use for about 70 years as a preservative and embalming agent for cadavers.
Formaldehyde can be an irritant and an allergen. Some textile warehouses and stores use it as a deterrence for annoying pests such as insects, cockroaches and rats. With the chemical in its high concentration people experience their eyes tear, their noses run and their throat burns.
Some experience more-extreme reactions, such as coughing, wheezing or even asthma like symptoms. And there have been cases of hair loss and vomiting from hair products with high levels of formaldehyde.
As a result, said David Andrews, a scientist for the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, ‘these (hair) products have been banned in Europe, Canada and Australia.’
OSHA does not regulate the amount of formaldehyde in hair products used in salons. It does, though, stipulate that the air in a salon have no more than 0.75 parts of formaldehyde parts per million (ppm) during an eight hour shift and no more than 2 ppm during any 15-minute period. Formaldehyde is released into the air when a stylist dries a client’s treated hair with a blow-dryer or straightening iron.
“Our responsibility is to ensure the workplace is free of hazard,” said OSHA’s top official, David Michaels. ‘Formaldehyde is a hazard.’ He estimates that there are 75,000 salons in the United States and about 500,000 people who work in them. OSHA does not track how many of the salons use formaldehyde-based smoothers.