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Cardno ChemRisk Study Confirms Formaldehyde Exposure from Hair-Smoothing Products

CHICAGO, IL (November 1, 2011) – Cardno ChemRisk LLC published the first independent study Characterization of Formaldehyde Exposure Resulting from the Use of Four Professional Hair Straightening Products confirming that airborne formaldehyde levels associated with some keratin-based hair-smoothing treatments may exceed certain occupational exposure limits set by the U.S. government.

“The results of this simulation study show that average formaldehyde levels in a salon over a full work shift did not exceed the applicable eight-hour occupational exposure limit established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA),” said Dr. Jennifer Pierce, senior industrial hygienist for Cardno ChemRisk. However, some hair-smoothing treatment products the company tested – including those labeled as formaldehyde-free – may produce peak formaldehyde in concentrations that exceed OSHA’s short-term occupational exposure limits – especially during blow-drying. The health risks to salon workers that could result from short-term exposure to potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde from these products have not been thoroughly evaluated.

The Cardno ChemRisk study is the first to characterize, in detail, the potential formaldehyde exposures resulting from the use of these popular hair treatments across three groups: the salon worker, the customer and bystanders. It is also the first to obtain measurements during consecutive treatments with different products and to identify the presence of other chemicals in the bulk product that can thermally degrade into formaldehyde.

The Cardno ChemRisk report comes on the heels of escalating public concerns that keratin-based hair-smoothing treatments may cause a range of symptoms such as eye and nose irritation, headaches and perhaps other effects. A series of hazard alerts, warnings, workplace precautions, lawsuits and recalls by various institutions have recently occurred (see timeline). In August 2011, the Brazilian Blowout product was found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be misbranded (false labeling) and adulterated (containing harmful ingredients).

The Cardno ChemRisk study confirmed those FDA findings; two samples each of Brazilian Blowout, along with three other brands – Coppola, Global Keratin and La Brasiliana – were each tested by Cardno ChemRisk and all of them but La Brasiliana were found to contain formaldehyde.

“Of those tested, only one mentioned the presence of formaldehyde on its label, but the amount on the label was far below what it actually contained,” Pierce said. “Given that there are literally hundreds of different keratin-based hair-smoothing products, the public would benefit from a broader survey measuring their formaldehyde contents and potential exposures in hair salons.

“What this tells us is that companies that market these products need to properly reveal the contents of the goods they are selling,” Pierce said. “The study also points to the need for further research into potential health problems associated with the use of this hair treatment method, particularly those involving short-term exposure.”