Oregon Health and Science University has just released the following news: they’ve repeatedly tested brand-new batches of “formaldehyde-free” Brazilian Blowout solution and have found that they each contained shockingly-high levels of formaldehyde (at 10.6%, 6.3%, 10.6% and 10.4%). This comes after a previous test conducted last week, but from older bottles.
I’ve been researching the Brazilian treatments for the past several months and have been dying to blog on the matter, but didn’t want to go on the record until I had dotted my “i”s and crossed my “t”s.
But this news is pretty damn big. Let me rephrase it for you: one of the hottest new companies in the beauty industry is allegedly lying to consumers and saying they don’t contain formaldehyde when they allegedly really might.
The time for tiptoeing around the topic is over.
Formaldehyde, of course, is highly carcinogenic in humans, and has been linked to myeloid leukemia (as well as a host of other problems, including brain cancer, plus eye, throat and lung irritation). There’s no way I would have done the treatment last summer if I knew it might have still contained formaldehyde. I know not everybody feels the same (though I don’t quite understand that line of thinking, as formaldehyde-exposure is up there with cigarette smoking in the land of Terrible, God-Awful, Really, Really Bad For You things).
But this isn’t news, right? Doesn’t everybody already know, based on the 2007 Allure magazine piece Scared Straight, that the special sauce in these Brazilian treatments is formaldehyde? Not quite, thanks to some great marketing spin: after the treatments exploded in popularity, so did the buzz over the dangers, and within a year or two, “formaldehyde-free” versions like Brazilian Blowout began popping up and doing insanely brisk business, recession-be-damned. Visit Brazilian Blowout‘s website and you’ll see trumpeted, in all caps, “NO FORMALDEHYDE!!” As of April 2010, the company reportedly began claiming their formulations were “hyde-free”, period.
And then this recent report from OHSU was released. Very interesting.
(It is perhaps even more interesting to note, by the way, that no huge industry player has snapped up these Johnny-come-latelies. Why hasn’t L’Oreal bought Brazilian Blowout? Why is P&G sitting this cash cow out? Where’s Estee Lauder to get their golden share of this lucrative pie? I wonder what their lawyers had to say about the potential health risks.)
So, I have my own theory about what might be going on behind the scenes, but it’s just an opinion, a hunch, a guess. First, a quick side-note about how these treatments work:
While some salons shy away from the formaldehyde/Brazilian connection by billing these treatments as “keratin” based, implying they are more gentle/less toxic, keratin is not the story here. Keratin does not straighten hair; it’s a fortifying protein which can make the hair look shinier, but will in no way produce the dramatic, very long-lasting straightening and sleekifying results common to the Brazilian. Keratin, in fact, requires a reactive agent to bond to the hair…like formaldehyde.
Remember when the food industry was coming under fire for MSG and partially hydrogenated soybean oil? They learned to be savvy about concealing ingredients under different names like sodium caseinate, glutenate or yeast extract. I wonder if the same thing might be happening now in the beauty industry with formaldehyde. Other formaldehyde substitutes which create the desired straightening effect—and also carry significant health risks—include: formalin, methylene glycol, methylene oxide, oxymethelyne, morbicid acid and methanol. (Formalin, for example, is simply a liquid version of formaldehyde, which is a gas.)
Because the various Brazilian blowouts require the solution to be applied to the hair and then sealed on with a flat iron—at temperatures up to 450 degrees—these solutions are released into the air and breathed in by consumers and salon owners.
Formaldehyde-free? Well, maybe. Technically.
But again. That’s just my theory, my opinion.
Will be fascinating to see how this all plays out.