Straightening treatments release formaldehyde gas and can cause severe eye, nose, and throat irritation, as well as increased cancer risk. Several leading brands of hair straightening products have been found to contain high levels of formaldehyde (also called methylene glycol). The increased risks to salon workers who offer hair-straightening treatments merits further investigation, said Alex Scranton, Director of Science & Research at WVE.
"Based on sound science, other countries are taking strong measures to protect the health of salon workers and their customers from formaldehyde-containing products," explained Scranton. "While U.S. government regulations continue to fall short, consumers deserve to know what's in their products in order to make safer decisions about their hair care."
Natalija Josimov used to swear by hair-straightening treatments for her own coarse, frizzy hair. When she became a hair stylist in 2009, she said she was thrilled to offer the service to her clients. But just nine months after launching her career, she experienced chronic sinus and respiratory infections, painful blisters in her nose, and heart palpitations all caused by formaldehyde gas released during treatments.
"I think many stylists performing these treatments are under the mistaken impression that the FDA would not allow these products on the market if they were dangerous," Josimov said. "It took me doing at least 100 treatments before I realized it was making me so ill, and I still have side effects from it. I can no longer work in salons, but many stylists who are put in the position to choose between their health and their career will choose to keep working, which is why we need to get these products off the market."
Josimov is part of a growing number of stylists and consumers concerned about toxic chemicals in hair-straightening products and the double standard that allows formaldehyde-containing products to be sold in the U.S., despite being banned by other governments around the world. Stories like Josimov's led WVE to release a new fact sheet alerting stylists and customers to the international recalls of hair-straightening products.
The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR), an industry-funded and operated panel that assesses the safety of cosmetic ingredients in the United States, declared that formaldehyde was unsafe to be used in hair straightening products in March 2011. Click here to read the CIR's declaration.
However no hair straightening products containing formaldehyde have been removed from the market as a result of the CIR's announcement, even though health agencies in other countries have determined that hair straighteners containing formaldehyde are unsafe for use and removed them from the market.
The FDA lacks the authority to issue a mandatory recall of cosmetic products that have been found to cause health problems to consumers. In fact, the agency has yet to issue a voluntary recall of Brazilian Blowout, the first hair straightener found to contain high levels of formaldehyde. The original formula of Brazilian Blowout was ordered off the market in California by the CA Attorney General in 2012 for violating California air pollution regulations.
Policy changes need to be made to give the FDA authority it needs to truly protect public health. In the meantime, WVE is calling on the FDA to issue a voluntary recall of Brazilian Blowout in the U.S. Take action here.
Founded in 1995, Women's Voices for the Earth amplifies women's voices to eliminate the toxic chemicals that harm our health and communities. With thousands of members across the United States, WVE changes corporate practices, holds government accountable, and works to ensure a toxic-free future for all. Learn more at www.womensvoices.org.
List of Hair Straightening Brands Under International Recall:
(Products still for sale in the U.S.)
Hair Straighteners Containing Formaldehyde Not Yet Recalled:
(Products tested and found to contain unsafe levels of formaldehyde)