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Cosmetic Industry Declares Formaldehyde In Hair Products Unsafe

For Immediate Release: 
Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Washington, D.C. – The mainstream cosmetics industry has, for the first time, declared formaldehyde unsafe at any level in hair straighteners.

Citing undisputed health risks, frequent consumer complaints and a lack of evidence of safety, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel, a scientific advisory board established by the major American cosmetics manufacturers, has effectively disavowed expensive salon products sold by a handful of small companies such as the Los Angeles maker of Brazilian Blowout.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has yet to bar formaldehyde from hair straighteners, even though the U.S. Department of Health and Human Safety has labeled it a known human carcinogen. However, last month the FDA issued a formal warning that publicly admonished Brazilian Blowout. The agency declared the company’s hair-smoother adulterated, because it contained dangerous levels of formaldehyde, and misbranded, because it claimed to be free of formaldehyde.

Last week, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the federal agency charged with overseeing workplace safety, escalated its warning to hair salons and employees after investigators found that two popular brands of hair straighteners exposed salon workers to dangerous levels of formaldehyde. OSHA officials also instructed the manufacturer of Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, one of the products that failed OSHA’s tests, to stop suggesting that OSHA tests had found its product safe. Brazilian Blowout’s hair-straightener, though labeled “formaldehyde free,” was found by OSHA to contain significant amounts of the chemical.

"Misleading or inadequate information on hazardous product labels is unacceptable," said OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "Salon owners and workers have the right to know the risks associated with the chemicals with which they work and how to protect themselves."

Though OSHA singled out Brazilian Blowout and Brasil Cacau Cadiveu, an investigation earlier this year by the Environmental Working Group uncovered 15 companies that claimed to use little to no formaldehyde, yet whose products contained substantial amounts of the chemical. As a result of its investigation, EWG urged the federal Food and Drug Administration to ban formaldehyde as an ingredient in hair straighteners.

The agency declined to do so, responding that it was “looking to [the Cosmetic Ingredient Review panel] to get additional information … that we need to be able to take an action. Right now we are not there.”

It is unclear how the industry panel’s assertion that no level of formaldehyde can be considered safe will affect FDA’s decision-making on a possible ban.

An April 2011 survey by EWG found dozens of top salons still promoting formaldehyde-laced hair straighteners despite the mounting evidence of the risks to stylists and clients.

"The incentive to downplay mounting health concerns is substantial when you can charge several hundred dollars for a single treatment," said Thomas Cluderay of the Environmental Working Group. "Until regulators pull the plug on Brazilian Blowout, I think it's clear the company is prepared to do just about anything to peddle these products."

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The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit research organization based in Washington, DC that uses the power of information to protect human health and the environment. http://www.ewg.org