Beware the secrets in hair products

2014-08-24 15:00

Poisonous chemicals in popular Brazilian hair straighteners can hide in plain sight, even if they are correctly labelled.

City Press last week revealed the names of six Brazilian straighteners researchers at the University of Cape Town (UCT) found contained roughly five times the permitted amount of formaldehyde.

Five were labelled formaldehyde free.

Consumer advocates warn that formaldehyde can be hidden in a host of other names in cosmetic labelling: methylene glycol, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene or timonacic acid.

Janine Wilson of the Cosmetic, Toiletry & Fragrance Association of SA said the chemicals might differ slightly in composition, but all “let off a toxic gas when you add the heating tongs”.

The UCT researchers bought their research samples online, and three brand representatives told City Press last week they didn’t sell their products online and couldn’t verify the samples’ authenticity.

Wilson said there was relatively little counterfeiting of cosmetics in the local marketplace, but local brand agents are unhappy about “grey ­imports” – those from the same manufacturer, though not sourced from the brand’s local agent.

“Grey imports are completely legal, and they are subject to the same scrutiny by port health authorities as other cosmetics. The only condition on the sale of these grey ­imports is that they must be marketed as such,” Wilson said.

“So provided you are buying from a reputable outlet, the product should be safe, even if it is a grey import.”

She said big brands were regularly subjected to spot checks to see whether labelling contained any banned substances.

Representatives of the port health authority told City Press they focused more on food ­imports than cosmetics.

Lars Fischer of Hair Health & Beauty, which imports beauty products, said port health authorities might not pick up on smaller shipments of illegal products or cosmetic ingredients that are incorrectly ­labelled.

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