Formaldehyde Health Risks for Salon Workers and Clients from Hair Straighteners

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Public Health Watchdog Breaking News
Public Health Watchdog Breaking News

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Women’s Voices for the Earth have sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) “for its failure to protect the public from dangers associated with popular hair straightening treatments.”

The lawsuit alleges that the FDA has failed to regulate hair straighteners with formaldehyde. Formaldehyde has been shown to cause nasal cancer in rats and may be associated with certain types of cancers in humans, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Hair Straighteners Pose Health Risks

In a news release, Tina Sigurdson, EWG assistant general counsel, said, “For years stylists have reported that the application of these hair treatments caused difficulty breathing, eye irritation and nosebleeds.” The statement says the FDA has been aware of the health hazards of these since at least 2008. Despite these dangers, however, the FDA “has yet to take action to remove them from the market.”

The EWG notes that high levels of formaldehyde can be dangerous to salon workers and customers. Popular straightener brands like Brazilian Blowout (Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, Professional Brazilian Blowout Solution), Brasil Cacau Cadiveu, Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy (Natural Keratin Smoothing Treatment, Express Blow Out, Natural Keratin Smoothing Treatment Blonde), and Marcia Teixeira (Advanced Brazilian Keratin Treatment, Extreme De-Frizzing Treatment) release formaldehyde into the air when the straightener liquid is heated by blow dryers straightening irons. Salon clients, stylists, and salon workers can be exposed to formaldehyde during the entire hair straightening process, especially when heat is applied to the hair (e.g. blow-drying, flat ironing).

National law firm Parker Waichman notes that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. Formaldehyde exposure has been linked not only to a heightened risk of cancer, but also to exacerbated respiratory issues, including asthma, and to eye, nose, and throat irritation. Earlier this year the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a formaldehyde warning for flooring products from Lumber Liquidators and homeowners across the country have filed lawsuits against the company.

Health Warnings for Hair Straightening Products

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a Hazard Alert to salon owners about formaldehyde in hair straightening products. The organization “continues to evaluate hair products that release formaldehyde when heated.” In 2011, the FDA sent a warning letter Brazilian Blowout. Brazilian Blowout altered the product’s labeling to warn consumers about potential health risks. The company added a product that does not contain formaldehyde, but that straightener was found to be less effective.

A spokesperson for the FDA told the news site ATTN:, “it is important for consumers to contact the agency about any adverse events they may have experienced after using a cosmetic.” Under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, cosmetic products and ingredients, except for color additives, do not need FDA premarket approval, but companies that “manufacture or market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products,” though the agency does not have the legal authority to require companies to demonstrate the safety of their products before they are marketed.

Legislators including Senators Dianne Feinstein and Susan Collins and U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky have pushed for greater beauty product regulation, though no bill has yet been passed by Congress, ATTN: reports.

As required by OSHA’s Formaldehyde standard, if a product contains 0.1% or more formaldehyde or can release formaldehyde into the air above 0.1 ppm, the product label must carry a statement that the product has formaldehyde, including the following information:

  • the name and address of the manufacturer, importer, or other company responsible for the product
  • a statement that the employer and MSDSs [material safety data sheets] can readily give health hazard information.

Additionally, if the product can release formaldehyde into the air above 0.5 ppm, the label must also have list of all product health and safety hazards and, specifically, the phrase “Potential Cancer Hazard.”

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of high or prolonged exposure. Since that time, some studies of humans have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with certain types of cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies formaldehyde as a human carcinogen. In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, an interagency program of the Department of Health and Human Services, named formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen in its 12th Report on Carcinogens.

Legal Help for Health Problems from Formaldehyde in Hair Straighteners

If you are a hair stylist, salon worker, or customer who has suffered respiratory or other health problems because of formaldehyde exposure, the product liability attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP would like to provide a free, no obligation case evaluation. To reach the firm, fill out the online form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) today.