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Toxic Brazilian Blowout Too Dangerous to be Used in the U.S., Experts Say

Leading public health advocates demand FDA recall hair products due to formaldehyde content.

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For Immediate Release:
Nov. 9, 2010

Erin Switalski, erins@womensvoices.org, 406-543-3747
Stacy Malkan, stacy@safecosmetics.org, 510-684-5734
Stephenie Hendricks, stephdh@earthlink.net, 415-258-9151

WASHINGTON—A coalition of leading public health and safety advocates issued strong demands to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today for the recall of two popular hair products, the Brazilian Blowout Solution and the Acai Professional Smoothing Solution (view full text here), due to dangerously high levels of formaldehyde in both products. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

Recent lab tests by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Oregon OSHA) found formaldehyde levels as high as 10.8 percent in the Brazilian Blowout Solution and 11.8 percent in the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, labeled “Formaldehyde Free.” Independent tests by Health Canada found that the products contained anywhere from 8.4 to 12 percent formaldehyde.

Canada has issued a public health warning and stopped distribution of the products, and Ireland has issued a recall. The FDA has taken no action to protect workers and consumers in the United States, where the manufacturer, Brazilian Blowout, is based.

In September of 2010, a salon worker in Portland, Oregon experienced formaldehyde exposure symptoms (headaches, difficulty breathing and nose bleeds) when using Brazilian Blowout products as directed. A sample was collected at the salon and tested through Oregon Health and Sciences University’s Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology. The scientists at OHSU then contacted the women’s public health advocacy group Women’s Voices for the Earth, who first alerted the media in late September.

Formaldehyde is listed in California as a chemical “known to cause cancer” and is also a known allergen that can cause severe allergic reactions. It is permitted in cosmetics at less than 0.2 percent when used as a preservative. But such high levels of a known carcinogen present a threat to consumers receiving the treatment, and a very serious threat to salon workers giving the treatment several times a week.

“Scientists have known for decades that formaldehyde causes cancer and respiratory illness,” says Dr. Sarah Janssen, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at UC San Francisco and senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It causes cancer of the upper airways and leukemia, and has also been shown to cause allergies, worsen asthma, and irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Exposure to this chemical won’t make you beautiful, it will make you sick.”

Today the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance, Women’s Voices for the Earth and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics delivered a letter to the U.S. FDA stating that the formaldehyde found in Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution and Brazilian Blowout Solution present a human health risk to salon workers and consumers, and demanding that the FDA issue a voluntary recall immediately. The groups requested a response from the FDA no later than Nov. 30, 2010.

“Complaints from salon workers and customers are flooding in, this product is harming people and yet the FDA continues to sit on its hands,” says Erin Switalski, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth. “It’s appalling that you can still go into some salons and get a Brazilian Blowout treatment, no questions asked. The FDA needs to remember that it’s their job to prevent and act upon harmful cosmetics.”

To date, the Brazilian Blowout company has denied these test results, and continues to advertise ‘no formaldehyde’ on its company website. Under current U.S. law, the FDA cannot require product recalls. The agency must to go to court to remove misbranded and adulterated products from the market.

Lax regulations also fail to require safety assessment of cosmetics before distribution and widespread use. The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc. in July of 2010, would give the FDA authority to recall products and would ensure that personal care products are free of  ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects and other adverse health impacts. It would also create a safety standard that protects vulnerable populations such as salon workers.

“It’s deeply troubling that the discovery of these dangerous products occurred entirely too late, after countless salon workers and consumers were already exposed to high levels of formaldehyde,” said Lisa Archer, National Coordinator of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund. “Our cosmetics laws haven’t been updated in 70 years and are failing to protect the public from toxic chemicals in products we should be able to trust are safe. Passage of the Safe Cosmetics Act would make our personal care products safer and give consumers and workers peace of mind that someone is watching the cosmetics aisle.”

About the National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance: http://nailsalonalliance.org/

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

About the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics: www.safecosmetics.org

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