Everyone deserves to live in a healthy and safe environment. That environment includes where you live, work, play, and pray. We reject and actively push back against racist rhetoric, actions, policies and institutional oppression that leads to state-sanctioned brutality, gun violence, and harm that again and again assaults communities, particularly communities of color. We are committed to working for justice and equity, and are in solidarity with social, racial, and environmental justice organizations to build community, understanding and honest dialogue to address the root causes of violence, harm and hate.

FDA: Blowing It on Brazilian Blowout

Brazilian Blowout

FDA: Blowing It on Brazilian Blowout

Click here to read an update on what the FDA has been doing to help protect salon workers and their patrons from the dangers of formaldehyde in hair straighteners.  Hint: They’re still blowing in…

Jamie S.

Jamie McConnell

Director of
Programs & Policy

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to step up and take action on dangerous hair straighteners used in salons. When testing found that a popular hair straightening treatment, Brazilian Blowout, contained high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde (as much as 11%!) I thought for sure the FDA would step in, even with the agency’s limited authority, and do something to protect salon workers and customers. After all, several other countries including Canada, Ireland and France took immediate action and got Brazilian Blowout off the shelves.  Sadly, it’s been two years since the Brazilian Blowout scandal broke in the U.S. and this product is STILL being sold and used across the nation.

Unfortunately it’s not a new story. Despite the FDA knowing for years about mercury in high fructose corn syrup, the agency never forced companies to change manufacturing processes that led to the contamination. In a story that made headlines across the nation last year, at least 35 people were killed as a result of contamination in steroid drugs manufactured and distributed by the company New England Compounding Center. The FDA was aware of serious problems at the Center as far back as 2002. A tragedy had to occur before the agency forcefully reacted.

Which makes me think—what is it going to take to get the FDA to actually DO SOMETHING about Brazilian Blowout? We know that over time exposure to formaldehyde may cause cancer. And cancer kills.
Over a year ago (in August 2011 to be exact), the FDA sent a warning letter to the makers of Brazilian Blowout telling the company that the agency considered the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution to be misbranded and adulterated under federal law. Not only did the product have high levels of formaldehyde, but the company actually labeled the product formaldehyde-free (thus the misbranding)! According to the FDA, a product is considered adulterated “if it contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use.” In other words, the FDA considered formaldehyde in the product to be unsafe.

Okay, great, the FDA recognizes that the product is unsafe — that means the company has to reformulate, right? Wrong. Just last year, after the state of California reached a settlement with the company that required them to properly label their product, the chief executive responded, “We get to sell the product forever without reformulation.” Clearly the company is thumbing its nose at the FDA and the California Supreme Court and doesn’t care that their product is exposing their customers to cancer-causing formaldehyde and causing other adverse reactions and injuries.

And what has the FDA done since that warning letter? Nothing. The Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution is still being used in salons across the country. Now, granted, our cosmetics laws in the United States are so weak the FDA has limited authority over cosmetics and salon products. But when a product is considered adulterated, and the manufacturer takes no action to fix the problem, the FDA does have the power to take legal action. In fact, several years ago the FDA ordered U.S. Marshals to seize an eyelash conditioner from store shelves because the agency determined it was an adulterated product.
Jennifer testifying
As coordinator of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance, I continually hear from stylists whose health has been harmed as a result of using hair straightening treatments that contain formaldehyde. People like Jennifer, Dawn and Natalija whose lives (and health) have been forever changed as a result. Last year Jennifer, along with other members of the Alliance, delivered 40 letters from stylists to the FDA pleading with the agency to get these dangerous products off of the market. The stylists I talk to can’t understand why the FDA hasn’t taken any concrete action to protect stylists and their customers from harmful exposure to formaldehyde. I honestly don’t understand what is taking the agency so long either.

Even the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (CIR), a panel WVE, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Alliance have been very critical of because of its industry ties, ruled that the current use of formaldehyde in hair straighteners is unsafe. Still the FDA has done nothing. And, not surprisingly, the makers of Brazilian Blowout haven’t heeded CIR’s advice. We know Brazilian Blowout isn’t going to do the right thing and pull their products from the shelves. That’s why we need the FDA to take action.

What gives me hope is the stylists who have mobilized on their own to stand up for their right to work in a safe and healthy environment. Natalija, a stylist in New York, has started her own petition on Change.org asking the FDA to keep stylists and consumers safe from the dangers of hair straighteners.

It’s a sad story, but not a new one. Will the FDA ever learn that ignoring a problem won’t make it go away?

Take Action!

Please join us in asking the FDA to use its authority to seize toxic hair-straightening products and to ban formaldehyde from cosmetics, as many other countries have already done.

30 Responses

  1. Cassidy

    Well-said! Stylists shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihoods and their health. FDA: get Brazilian Blowout off the shelves!

  2. One has to look at the ignorance and unawarence of some hairdressers.You have to look at the lifestyle of the operator. If you have a person that is eating junk food , smoking etc, etc do you really think that person is going to care about the toxics in products.I hope the hairdresser with the mask on realises that the chemical from straighting her clients hair is entering her blood flow from the poison sitting on her head

  3. What is it going to take before the FDA steps in??? If there was ever a time for them to use their power, this is definitely it!
    In the meantime thousands of innocent people are being exposed everyday!
    Please spread the word to lower the demand of these treatments and PLEASE SIGN THIS PETITION!!

  4. Marie

    We have enough regulations. Where is the personal responsibility? If you don’t want to get the treatment, don’t get it. I know people have dumbed down over the years, but that doesn’t mean we have to live in a nanny state. You should be on a crusade instead to get it through the heads of women that they need to stay informed, read the news (as opposed to exclusively Kardashian news). Then they can make an informed decision as to whether or not they want to go ahead with the Brazilian Blowout treatment.

    And, no, I have nothing to do with the BB company. Just a concerned citizen that can hardly believe how uninformed people are these days and expect Government to babysit them.

  5. Jamie

    Hi Marie,

    Thanks for your comment. The problem with a product that has such high levels of formaldehyde like Brazilian Blowout is that it doesn’t just impact the person who is using it, so it’s not just about personal choice. If someone is getting a Brazilian Blowout treatment in a salon everyone in the salon will be exposed to the formaldehyde gases, not just the person who is getting the treatment–especially if the proper ventilation standards are not being used (and often times they are not).

    The other important point to remember is that Brazilian Blowout had such high levels of formaldehyde in the product that in some cases when it was being used it violated OSHA regulations–which is illegal. And it had such high levels of formaldehyde it was considered adulterated by the FDA (meaning it can cause harm when used according to directions).

    Before Brazilian Blowout was required to properly label the product to clearly state it contained formaldehyde they were not, in fact, telling their customers that formaldehyde exposure would result from use of the product. In fact, Brazilian Blowout continues to claim their product is safe when there is a lot of evidence to the contrary, which makes it difficult for people to make informed choices when the company who is making the product is being untruthful. That’s why we need regulators to step in and take action.

    Jamie McConnell
    Director of Programs and Policy

  6. Bonny Daines

    I go to a stylist who has been doing Brazilian Blowouts since they first hit the market. I’ve never had one, but have asked her about the safety of it, and she has gone so far as to tell me that the tests were done incorrectly and there is no formaldehyde in this. This really bugs me because my hairdresser is fantastic at what she does, but I’m not willing to risk my health because of her ignorance. Honestly, does she really want to be on one of those commercials in 20 years that show the outcome of this product and why not to use it? Honestly I agree with the reviewer who said that she doesn’t think that big government should be nannying everything, but what happens when people have only the desire for instant gratification with no concern for the consequences?

  7. Cindy

    I agree with Marie, if you don’t want the treatment don’t get it. It seems to me that if the beauticians would just quit buying the product to be used in their salons that the demand would go down and inturn the production of the product would cease.

  8. CA in Dallas

    I was told that Brazillian Blow Out was safe by my salon. I had two treatments done, and I loved the results as my hair finally started growing. Upon finishing out the second time, I saw my stylist with a mask on; all I had was a fan blowing in my face. That was enough for me to continue research. Since then, I cancelled my third appointment for the treatment and will not have it done again. Don’t depend on the government for honesty…That should be obvious by now.

  9. ROSS

    I asked very specifically and I was told in plain terms that the Brazilian Blowout was safe. I used it a few times and began to get head aches, queasiness and dizziness. Just thinking about it can now make me feel physically ill.
    It is just greed and a lack of integrity that allowed the vile folks who manufacture and promote this to do so without a least amount of concern for the health and well being of others. It makes me really angry.
    I am not sure who said it one here about hairdressers not being aware of their health but that is an untrue blanket statement. We can only go with the answers to the questions we ask and if someone lies or misleads how would be know the difference, we are not scientists.

    I just pray that my exposure to this product doesn’t haunt me later with my health.

  10. Susan

    Why are you only focused on Brazilian Blowout? If you really want to improve our world, what about other brands that contain a variety of ingredients that also create formaldehyde exposure when the service is applied in the salon? Coppola, GK etc. also contain toxic chemicals and are being touted as safe alternatives to Brazilian Blowout. And some contain up to twice as much formaldehyde as the manufacturer claims based on FDA and/or OSHA studies. Some products are left on the client’s hair for several days to “cure” so if you’re sweating or get caught in a rain storm, what else is the client exposed to? What might “dribble” down their face and get into their eyes, nose or mouth???? I’m not comfortable with my clients walking around with a chemical solution left in their hair for days! Why not focus on getting ALL of the products in this category removed instead of focusing on just one brand?

  11. Jamie

    Hi Susan,

    Thanks for your message. You’re absolutely right that there are other hair straighteners that have been found to contain formaldehyde: https://womensvoices.org/safe-salons/brazilian-blowout/scientific-findings/. And there are other ingredients besides methylene glycol that can release formaldehyde under high heat conditions. The reason we are so focused on Brazilian Blowout is that’s the only hair straightener the FDA has taken action on. As I mentioned in my blog, they sent the company a warning letter that the product was adulterated and misbranded. However, the FDA is investigating other brands of hair straighteners but they have yet to send similar warning letters to other companies. Thanks again for your comment!

  12. Nory

    I absolutely agree. I the the Brazilian blowout is extremely harmful to our health. I had to leave my last salon because of this problem. is there any way we can petition and ban this product for good!!!!?

  13. Lee

    This product needs to be banned! I work in a salon that uses this product on their clients without proper ventilation and I have to assist the stylists performing this service. This not only puts the client’s health at risk but everyone else in the salon exposed to it against their will! When will the peoples’ health matter over profits in the US?!!!

  14. Adam


    the Board of the National Health Surveillance Agency ( ANVISA ) , the Ministry of Health banned the display and sale of formaldehyde – or formaldehyde ( 37% solution ) – in drugstores , pharmacies , supermarkets, department stores , emporiums , convenience stores and drugstores . In a resolution published today in the ” Official Gazette ” , ANVISA justified the ban stating that takes into account the ” health risks ” with the inappropriate use of the substance , as in so-called ” progressive brush ” held in halls and institutes beauty for straightening hair.

    The resolution says the ban also takes into consideration that the use of the substance formaldehyde ( formaldehyde ) in the production of personal products , cosmetics and perfumes hygiene is set “on specific health regulations of cosmetics .” The text argues that the ” harmful effects ” of the use of formaldehyde in hair products for straightening hair ” mainly threaten the health of the person handling the substance , adding it to other hair care products, applying the mixture and also the person receiving the product application. ” According to ANVISA , establishments that do not comply with the resolution will be committing offense covered health Act 6437 , 1977 and may be liable civil or criminal

  15. khorshid

    WHY ARE PEOPLE SO IRRESPONSIBLE AND IGNORANT WHEN IT COMES DOWN TO THEIR HEALTH? I mean what about all those women who just don´t give a crap and letting someone put poison on their sculp? I want to start a petition against irresponsibility and ignorance!

  16. I have come to this article searching for something good on Brazilian blowout products but, unfortunately, there seems little literature on anything good. On the contrary, I have read about the huge problems these can create. Our clients want us to write something good about these products for the sake of their promotion but there is a big void here. How can we write something good for something which is known to cause cancer? I might drop the project since promoting it would be unethical.

  17. Suzy

    I had my hair straightened from 2003 to 2005 and I was constantly getting a headache and I finally stopped that hair treatment when I was pregnant again in late 2005. Since then, my headache went away. I thought about Brazilian blowout lately, but I don’t think I would like to give a try after reading your article. I am scared!

  18. Karol

    Something good, something bad about brazilian blowout. The heat from flat irons causes this treatment more dangerous so wearking a mask is ok while peforming these treatments. In the ancient time people also used some toxic chemicals to makeup, but it was in the past. In the morder life, I totally agree that we this treatment should be 100% formaldehyde-free.

  19. Paul Capling

    I’ve had 25+ visits to the doctor for “upper respiratory reasons” over a 3 year period while our salon used “La Brazillianna. Once our salon switched to The Brazilian Blowoutthe problems really started! My lungs and sinuses went into a hyper-reactive state.Like allergies but about 3-4 times worse. I constantly coughed all day, every day for almost a year. A strange type of mucus/drainage ensued. I could never clear my throat, ever. Well, it’s been 9 months since we controlled and regulated the service to after hours and magically, ALL MY SYMPTOMS ARE GONE. imagine that! Yea, this company and any owner that puts there staff in harms way for a buck are….Evil. it’s that simple.

  20. The FDA came to our salon while someone was doing a Brazillian Straightening. The owner opened the doors to the outside, which is never normally done. They conducted the test. That’s the last we heard. It is very toxic when several stylist or even one stylist is doing this. The FDA is stupid!!!!!!!

  21. Melisa

    Paul capling. I’m having the same issues. I’m a few months into seeing the lung doctor and a ear nose and throat doctor and now a GI doctor. What did you do for treatment. This is horrible I have burning in my chest , nose, esophagus and lungs. I know have asthma. Please let me know what medicines they gave you to heal you and what they said. I also stopped doing brazilian blow out, and color services for two months. Now back at the salon where only I work and the organic color is even inflaming the irritation. Does any one have any treatment recommendation?

  22. Kim

    I’m someone that totally depends on Brazilian keratin treatments. I have horrible frizzy, ugly-curly hair and keratin is the only thing that’s made it look great. I used get BBs from my stylist but I started DIYing a few years ago to save money.

    I have a strong science background and with all the BB furor I looked into the risks carefully. It may be that some stylists get sensitized to formaldehyde in the respiratory tract, but when you’re talking DIY Brazilian keratin, the science is crystal clear that the amounts of formaldehyde in question and the utterly short-term nature of the exposure cannot even remotely be considered a carcinogen. Therefore, all your efforts to ban it are just potentially ruining things for people like me. Even for the stylists in question, it just doesn’t appear to be enough formaldehyde exposure to be carcinogenic.

    i don’t get the feeling that you’ve read the National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens, Formaldehyde portion, but you should. According to that report, which subsumes many lab, clinical, and most importantly, epidemiological studies, it takes multiple decades of high intensity exposure (such as you’d find with an industrial worker engaged in producing formaldehyde) to see any increased incidence of cancer, and even then it’s seen for only 3 super-rare cancers (sinonasal, nasopharyngeal, and amyloid leukemia, and only marginally higher rates for those than seen in unexposed groups. And there’s no link whatsoever to lung cancer. So really, other than short term tearing or burning sensation in throat or sinuses, there’s not really anything to worry about.

    I resent you (straight-haired) self-proclaimed do-gooders trying to banish something I rely on. I want the right to take my own chances and not be “protected” by the FDA or by you. What next? Outlawing red meat, since the World Health Organization says it’s carcinogenic? Thanks, but no thanks.

  23. Beata

    I have acute ear infection,,from doing Brazilian blowout twice, when I was breath this toxic to the point that I the fluid buildup and break my ear drum which create hearing loss ,the salon doesn’t have proper ventilation, my boss told as to open the back door, when wie will be doing this for the room is very small, I think I get injury in my work place

Leave a Reply

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons