Popular hair-straightening treatments may pose serious health risks

2011-05-03 09:38

Popular Brazilian-style hair straightening treatments that are all the rage in South African salons at the moment may leave women with beautiful hair but could damage their health.

The products, including the popular Brazilian Blowout, have been found to release harmful levels of formaldehyde gas, a known carcinogen (cancer causing substance), during the treatment process.

The US public health watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that over the past two years, 47 women had ­experienced symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, nausea, vomiting, ­allergic reactions, blisters on the scalp, hair loss and mouth ulcers after having the treatment.

But no health problems have been reported locally.

Salons charge anywhere between R500 and R3 500 for a ­Brazilian style blow and it has ­apparently become one of the most sought-after treatments since its local introduction in March last year.

A stylist at a salon in Johannesburg said: “I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come in over the past three weeks. There’s a huge demand for the product because they hear about it and want to try it for themselves.”

The treatment keeps hair straight for up to four months.

Last month the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a health hazard alert after the levels of formaldehyde in salons were found to be above the stipulated government limit, posing a threat to salon workers.

The health body stated that formaldehyde “can irritate the eyes and nose, cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes and lungs, and is linked to nose and lung cancer”.

It also found that some products contained formaldehyde despite claims on the packaging that they are formaldehyde-free.

Alwyn van Wyk, owner of Brazilian Blowout SA, said the company had not received any formal reports of health issues resulting from the use of their treatments.

He said he was “very much aware of the health warnings issued ­internationally”, and said the concerns were real.

“Many manufacturers of Brazilian keratin treatments are reckless by not training their stockists in the required measures to perform these treatments safely,” he said.

It is a requirement that all hairdressers go for training first before supplying the procedure.

Van Wyk said: “The original Brazilian Blowout treatment contains the preservative methylene glycol, that releases formaldehyde during blow-drying and ironing at below occupational levels (acceptable levels for the workplace) set by ­the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

Brazilian Blowout SA said it supplied 40 salons across the country. Each of the 10 salons surveyed by City Press offered Brazilian style blows but used other brands.

Among the brands used in these salons were Cadiveu Professional, Go Straight, Keratin Smoothing Complex, La Brazilian, Keratin Express, KeraGreen, Brazilian Gloss, Spazzola Progressiva, Global Keratin and Marcia Texeira.

All these products appeared on the EWG watchdog’s formaldehyde watchlist. But salon workers have not ­reported any health-related complaints.
According to the watchdog body, keratin products containing formaldehyde have been banned in Canada, Australia, Cyprus, France, Ireland and Germany.

US authorities, however, have not banned the products but have issued strict guidelines for salon owners using such products.

South Africa’s health spokesperson Bhungani Mzolo said the ­department was “not necessarily aware” of all international developments but that it would look into the matter.

» Contact the Consumer Council at 086 124 2000 if you have complaints

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