Is the Brazilian Blowout Safe?

Brazilian Blowout

The Brazilian blowout is a popular way to straighten curly or kinky hair.  This process is sometimes called a keratin treatment (although there are differences between the two - will post on this later). These products work by applying a solution to the hair with the aim of sealing the cuticle. The result is straight hair without the frizz.

The original keratin treatments originated from Brazil and included a high percentage of formaldehyde. However, these treatments were extremely toxic, and stylists had to perform the treatment near an open window while wearing masks. Stylists also needed a fan nearby to avoid inhaling the formaldehyde.  This treatment actually led to a few accidental deaths in Brazil due to formaldehyde toxicity.

Keratin treatments were later introduced in the United States and have become very popular.   In the US, there have been multiple reports of toxicity (ranging from skin rashes to respiratory problems) so the FDA began to closely regulate these products.  Specifically, the FDA imposed a ban on all products that included more than the permissible levels of formaldehyde. Ironically, it is the formaldehyde that actually straightens the hair and this lures manufacturers to increase the concentration for better results.  In fact, in randomly screened products, officials often noted high levels of formaldehyde even in some products which were labeled as “formaldehyde free!”

So, what can you do? The very first step is to always read the ingredients.  Look for formaldehyde but also formaldehyde releasers like methylene glycol, formalin, methanal, and methanediol.  These are all ingredients that release formaldehyde when heated or mixed with water. However, since formaldehyde has a strong odor you can usually tell just by the smell if high levels of formaldehyde are present. The other great thing is that the FDA continues to crack down on illegal products so hopefully you won't have to sacrifice your health for your hair!