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Congressional Leaders to FDA: Protect Public from Toxic Hair Treatments

Representatives send letter to FDA urging quick action against Brazilian Blowout and other keratin hair-straightening products linked to serious health effects

For Immediate Release:
May 10, 2011

Shannon Coughlin, scoughlin@breastcancerfund.org, 415-336-2246
Leeann Brown, leeann@ewg.org, 202-939-9146
Sian Wu, sian@resource-media.org, 206-701-4734

WASHINGTON—A group of 10 members of Congress sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday expressing their deep concern regarding formaldehyde-containing hair-straighteners and asking the agency to take immediate action to protect workers and consumers.

This Congressional plea came in the wake of a flurry of action against and news about the keratin hair-straightening products Brazilian Blowout Solution and Acai Professional Smoothing Solution. Across the country, hair salon workers and customers have complained of acute reactions such as hair loss, nose bleeds and breathing problems. In April, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a hazard alert, warning that formaldehyde-containing hair-straightening products can cause serious health problems, including increased risk of cancer. To date, the FDA has taken no action to protect workers and consumers in the United States from toxic hair straighteners.

“This is a dramatic example of why we urgently need to close the gaping holes in the outdated federal law that allows hazardous chemicals in cosmetics products,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who signed the letter. “That’s why I’m planning to re-introduce the Safe Cosmetics Act, legislation which will ensure that cosmetics do not contain harmful ingredients.”

“Workers and consumers have the right to know the risks of these products and how to protect themselves,” said Lisa Archer, director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund. “It’s clear that we need a better safety system, where products are assessed for safety before they cause harm.”

Last month, the National Academy of Sciences released its long-awaited report confirming the EPA’s determination that formaldehyde causes cancer in humans. In addition to scientific consensus that formaldehyde causes cancer of the nose and throat, EPA identified a risk of leukemia associated with formaldehyde.

A report released last month by Campaign for Safe Cosmetics co-founder Environmental Working Group detailed unpublished FDA documents showing dozens of reports of injuries and adverse effects for salon workers and clients going back two years. Under current U.S. law, the FDA cannot require product recalls, but can issue a voluntary recall. The agency must to go to court to remove misbranded and adulterated products from the market.

“Our investigation into the misleading claims and horror stories of this industry shows that this federal action cannot come soon enough,” Jane Houlihan, Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president of research, said. “We applaud these members of Congress for speaking out on behalf of scarred customers and anxious salon workers who need stronger safe-guards against dangerous chemical ingredients in these hair straighteners. Known and probable human carcinogens should never be allowed into products we breath in and apply to our bodies.”

Also last month, the California Attorney General requested an injunction against Brazilian Blowout, seeking to require health warnings on the products, which is the first enforcement action the state has taken under the California Safe Cosmetics Act. The injunction notes that levels of formaldehyde emitted by the smoothing solution exceed Proposition 65 safe exposure limits “by up to a factor of more than eight for salon workers.”

“These dangerous products need to be pulled off the market, as they have been in Canada and elsewhere,” said Alexandra Gorman Scranton, director of science and research at Women’s Voices for the Earth, a co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “Workers in salons across America are getting exposed to potentially unsafe levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde every day.”

As a result of the risks posed by these types of salon treatments, six countries have recalled the use of formaldehyde-based straighteners.  However, the FDA has yet to issue a voluntary recall and as a result these dangerous products are still available and used on a daily basis in salons across the United States.  The members of Congress, including Reps. Schakowsky, Ed Markey, D-Mass., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., John Conyers, D-Mich., Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., Jim Moran, D-V.A., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Judy Chu, D-Calif., are calling on the FDA to take immediate action to protect consumers and workers.


The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (www.SafeCosmetics.org) is a coalition of more than 150 nonprofit organizations working to protect the health of consumers and workers by eliminating dangerous chemicals from cosmetics. Core members include Clean Water Action, the Breast Cancer Fund, Commonweal, Environmental Working Group, Friends of the Earth and Women’s Voices for the Earth. The Breast Cancer Fund, a national 501(c)(3) organization focused on preventing breast cancer by identifying and eliminating the environmental links to the disease, serves as the national coordinator for the Campaign.

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