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This week I took Big Girl for a haircut at my favorite salon. We went inside and she went to the sink to get washed. When I was walking over to the other part of the salon — the area where she would be sitting — I noticed a pretty scary sight: a woman sitting in a salon chair with a surgical mask on her face. Her stylist was also wearing a mask, and there was a giant vacuum cleaner/fan positioned over both of them. It hit me instantly (as did the smell when we walked into the salon, I might add), but I asked the front desk for confirmation anyway. The woman at the desk confirmed my suspicion. The woman was getting a Brazilian blowout, although at that salon they call it a keratin treatment. When I expressed dismay at the mask and blower I was told that the products contain formaldehyde and that both were for the stylist’s and client’s protection. Except I didn’t have a mask and neither did my 9-year-old or 5-year-old. By this time the stylist had already started cutting Big Girl’s hair. I was stuck. Against my better judgement, I left Big Girl in the chair and took the little one outside to wait.

I was not overreacting. The U.S. Department of Labor, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have all come down hard and loudly against these procedures. There are some very real and very scary risks associated with Brazilian or keratin treatments, and they apply to more than just the people getting them and doing them. According to a recent Rodale.com story:

“After investigating a number of complaints from salon owners and workers, OSHA found that formaldehyde levels in salons using Brazilian blowout styling products were much higher than occupational safety standards allow. [Last September], the agency issued a “Hazard Alert” to all salons, warning that using the products leads to an increased risk of cancer and other serious health problems.”

The biggest problem: Formaldehyde is carcinogenic. It causes cancer. This is not up for debate. It’s the truth and has been for some time now. Not to mention it causes lung, skin, and systemic reactions on contact or inhalation. Meaning: You breathe it in and risk wheezing and irritation. It touches your skin and you may have a reaction, too.

At least the companies that sell the chemicals have to disclose all the risks — the bottles are labeled that they cause cancer, although I wonder if customers ever see them, though — and they are no longer allowed to say their products don’t contain formaldehyde if they do once they are put onto a person’s hair. (The manufacturers were using a loophole to say their stuff was formaldehyde-free because, when shipped to customers, they contained no formaldehyde. It converted into the chemical once it was put into use.) Still, what about the countless salon workers and customers who are exposed to the stuff? Forbes has a great article about this debate and a really good quote:

“Every day, salon workers across the U.S. are being exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde from hair smoothing products that have been banned for over a year in Canada and other countries,” said Alexandra Scranton of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance. “It’s time for the FDA to take a stand against this company that has a history of deception and consumer disregard.”

Due to all this negative publicity and a highly visible, $4.225 million class action settlement there are supposed to be formaldehyde-free treatments out there now. The problem, of course, is that not everyone uses them, so it’s up to you to ask to see a bottle, something that’s not so easy if you’re not the one getting the treatment. Since I choose not to be exposed, I’ve just decided to start calling ahead and asking if my salon is doing or has done any treatments that day, especially if I am bringing my girls with me. Why take that risk, especially with my kids?

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One Response to “Brazilian Blowouts: What About the Bystanders?”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I love your blog, and am a long time reader (sorry that I don’t comment). But I do have one request. Frequently I like to pin blog articles that have good information, in order to spread the word to more people. Not all of your posts have images with them however, which is required to be able to pin them. Would you consider including some sort of image with your posts? Thanks! And please keep up the good work on your blog. I really enjoy reading it, and frequently learn a lot!

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