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FDA Stalls, While Stylists Remain at Risk for Formaldehyde Poisoning

FDA Stalls, While Stylists Remain at Risk for Formaldehyde Poisoning


MISSOULA, MT — Women’s health non-profit, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), is taking aim at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their failure to protect consumers and stylists from the carcinogen, formaldehyde. WVE demonstrates the agency’s idleness on the issue in a new infographic that outlines the history of actions taken by states and other countries against Brazilian Blowout and similar hair straightening products containing the toxic chemical, formaldehyde – while in contrast – illustrates the FDA’s failure to act.

“Within the last five years, Brazilian Blowout has been subject to everything from class-action lawsuits to international recalls,” said Jamie McConnell, Director of Program and Policy at WVE. “Yet the FDA has done virtually nothing to protect consumers from the dangers of formaldehyde in hair straighteners.”

A 2014 analysis done by WVE found that at least 33 hair straighteners sold in the U.S contain formaldehyde, in some cases up to 9% of the product. A known carcinogen and allergen, formaldehyde is an active ingredient in many popular hair straighteners. This year the American Contact Dermatitis Society (ACDS) named formaldehyde its 2015 contact allergen of the year.

“The dangers of formaldehyde in hair straighteners is well documented – even the industry’s own self-policing panel, the Cosmetic Ingredient Review, has determined that formaldehyde in hair straighteners is unsafe. Yet the FDA has still not issued a voluntary recall,” said McConnell. “So we’re wondering, why the delay FDA?”

In 2010, stylists in Oregon and California were among the first to report health problems they had with Brazilian Blowout, including difficulty breathing, nose bleeds, and eye irritation, to state regulatory authorities.  Stylists continue to report adverse effects from this and similar hair straightening products today.

Since these initial reports, hair straightening products have been the subject of ongoing scrutiny.  For example, in 2011, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a “hazard alert” to salon workers and owners, warning of the dangers of using formaldehyde-based hair straighteners.

Also in 2011, the FDA did take initial actions, directly warning the manufacturers of Brazilian Blowout that its hair straightening treatments were “adulterated” and “misbranded” and thus were subject to seizure. Again in 2013, the FDA reiterated that Brazilian Blowout continues to be misbranded because the labeling is still misleading.

Despite the warnings, there has been no FDA action to restrict consumer access to these dangerous products.  This week, the FDA’s most recent response to inquiries from Women’s Voices for the Earth stated:

“FDA is evaluating the [Brazilian Blowout] firm’s actions following issuance of the 2012 Warning Letter and is considering possible next steps for this and similar products.”

Meanwhile other countries like Ireland, Canada, France, Italy and Australia have recalled hair straighteners for containing formaldehyde.

Review the infographic here.

The dangers of formaldehyde exposure are not limited to the salon.  In the last five years, major manufacturers have responded to consumer concerns in regards to formaldehyde found in various personal care products:

  • 2011: Johnson & Johnson committed to removing formaldehyde releasers from their baby products by the end of 2013.  In 2012, they committed to eliminate these releasers from adult products by the end of 2015.
  • 2014: Bed, Bath & Beyond, the owners of Buy Buy Baby, included formaldehyde on its list of restricted substances.
  • 2014: Cosmetic giant, Revlon, announced it’s removing both various long-chain parabens and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from its products.

The latest company to make headlines for a product containing formaldehyde is Lumber Liquidators. On March 1, 2015 CBS’ program, 60 Minutes exposed the dangerous levels of formaldehyde in Lumber Liquidator’s laminate flooring – in one case, testing showed that some products released 13-times more formaldehyde than permitted by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

Clearly consumers are concerned about exposure to formaldehyde – and companies are paying attention. But the manufacturers of Brazilian Blowout and similar hair straightening products remain steadfast in their refusal to remove this chemical from their products.  Consumers and salon workers are left with little recourse than to rely on the authority of the FDA for protection.

“The larger problem remains that laws governing what companies can put into products are broken.  People trust that the products they are using are regulated and safe, but that simply isn’t the case,” said McConnell. “Policy changes need to be made so cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde aren’t allowed in the product in the first place. In the meantime, WVE is calling on the FDA to issue a voluntary recall of Brazilian Blowout in the U.S.”

About Women’s Voices for the Earth
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. womensvoices.org.

WVE has published several reports and factsheets on salon worker health safety including Glossed Over; Toxic Chemicals in Salon Products: What Stylists Need to Know; The Blowup on Brazilian Blowout and their most recent report, Beauty and Its Beast, which provides a comprehensive review of the unique chemical exposures that salon workers experience and the health impacts they suffer.


Media Contacts:
Jamie McConnell, jamiem@womensvoices.org, (406) 543-3747, office
Beth Conway, bethc@womensvoices.org, (406) 543-3747, office

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