Studies question safety of hair straightening treatments

By By Camille Bachrach Online Editor-in-Chief Paige Gross Online Features Editor

 Many people turn to Keratin Hair Straightening Treatment or Brazilian Blowout to remove frizz and curls from their excessively untamed hair. After hours of sitting through this lengthy process, hair is left smooth and shiny—but at what health cost?
According to Erin Clott, salon manager of George Bacchus in Potomac, people like Keratin Treatment because it cuts the blow-drying time in half and eliminates 99 percent of the frizz.
“As far as the Brazilian Blowout goes, it is safe to do,” Clott said. “If we felt the service was unsafe we wouldn’t provide it at the salon. Our clients’ safety is the most important to us.”
Even with these positive benefits, studies have begun to surface about the potential dangers found in both of these increasingly popular treatments.
According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, formaldehyde, a chemical found in Keratin Treatment and Brazilian Blowout, is classified as a known human carcinogen or a cancer-causing substance. Studies have “suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with certain types of cancer.”
While Keratin Hair Treatments are made formaldehyde-free, the Brazilian Blowout is always made with this potential dangerous chemical.
The official material safety data sheet that comes with the Brazilian Blowout products warns salons that inhaling the product may cause irritation to the respiratory tract. This risk is even greater if “proper ventilation is not used.”
The safety sheet also adds that the “precise amount of the exposure is difficult to determine and subject to scientific debate and varying protocols for measurement.”
Salons in the community have done their research and some have either stopped, or are planning to stop, using Brazilian Blowout, and instead have switched to formaldehyde free Keratin Treatment.
“We don’t use [products] with formaldehyde because they said on TV that it’s really bad,” said a local salon owner who asked to remain anonymous. “We didn’t know it was [dangerous] before, so when we found out we stopped using it.”
However, this is not the case for all salons. Some will keep using it until they run out of their current stock—then they will make a decision.
“Due to the recent studies we will not do as many Brazilian Blowouts,”  Clott said. “Once we sell out of the Brazilian Blowout shampoos and conditioners we will probably discontinue this treatment.”
Senior Jamie Oppenheimer has only gotten the treatment done once, but she is aware of the dangers that it can pose to her health, as well as the hairdresser giving the treatment.
“Some treatments use formaldehyde which may cause cancer,” Oppenheimer said. “Also, the risk is [worse] for the hairdresser as they intake the fumes of the chemicals more than once a day and multiple times per week.”
With more information becoming available to the public about the treatment, customers are starting to conduct more research and learn more about Keratin Treatment and Brazilian Blowout before they get it done.
“I do not think I will continue to do the Keratin Treatment especially since there are such dangerous health risks,” freshman Ali Lieberman said.
A CHS parent who has gotten the treatment done six or seven times has compared the Brazilian Blowout and the Keratin Treatment, and said the odor of the Keratin Treatment appeared stronger to her. She assumed the stronger odor was due to formaldehyde.
“I have seen the hair dresser use a fan to blow away the odor,” she said. “I have also seen her wear a mask.”
With salons taking precautions, it seems as if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should investigate the matter and figure out whether the allegations are true. As ideal as this would be, it is not the case in this situation.
“[The] FDA does not have authority over salons or products used specifically in salons,” said Consumer Affairs Specialist  Jeannine Ertter-Prego.
According to Dr. Ellen Marmur in a 2007 CBS News segment, the FDA requires that companies do safety testing of their products but they cannot control every product.
Marmur also urges that it is the “responsibility of the company to do the safety testing” and likewise of the consumer “to be smarter, and buy products that have fewer ingredients.” They must also be aware of who they are buying the product from, and make sure they do their research and ask questions before the purchasing the products.