Brazilian blow dry could cause cancer

By Kirstin Buick
23 April 2014

The pricey treatment promises silky smooth styled hair that lasts wash after wash - but a new study has found the chemical treatment could pose major health risks.

The pricey treatment promises silky smooth styled hair that lasts wash after wash -  but a new study has found the chemical treatment could pose major health risks.

Researchers at the University of Cape Town have found that most commercial Brazilian keratin hair-straightening products contain dangerous concentrations of formaldehyde --  five times the legal limit.

Researchers  from UCT's Division of Dermatology tested seven brands sold in South Africa.

The maximum safe concentration of formaldehyde is less than 0,2%. Of the seven commercial Brazilian keratin treatment (BKT) brands tested, six had formaldehyde levels that ranged from 0.96% to 1.4%. That is five times higher than the legal limit and these included five brands that were labelled “formaldehyde-free”. Formaldehyde is associated with eye and skin reactions, and classified as a carinogen, or cancer-causing agent.

'Chronic exposure is associated with respiratory and blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphomas'

"Chronic exposure to high concentration is associated with respiratory and blood cancers such as leukaemia and lymphomas," Associate Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo, who headed up the study, wrote in the South African Medical Journal.

BKT and similar hair-straightening products fix and retain a straight shape even when the hair is wet and their popularity is increasing worldwide. A Brazilian mortician is said to have invented the method.

“Heat straightens hair by breaking down temporary hydrogen bonds found between keratin filaments, but the effect is lost when the hair gets wet," researchers explain. "The convenience and popularity of long-lasting straight hair has resulted in a flood of products.”

According to study, high concentrations of formaldehyde are permitted under strict air control regulations. This is not the case in most hairdressing salons where BKT products are used daily.

“The false labelling of products as formaldehyde-free exposes unsuspecting consumers and hairdressers to adverse effects,” the authors add. “Industry monitoring is needed to improve compliance and protection of hairdressers and consumers.”

Additional sources: iol.co.za, ewn.co.za

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