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Federal safety regulators say a popular hair smoothing treatment called Brazilian Blowout can release unsafe levels of the chemical formaldehyde, posing a risk to hair salon workers and their customers.
Government regulators also said they have found the chemical in a variety of hair products that are labeled "formaldehyde-free." The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating complaints from stylists and hair salon owners about the products.
Formaldehyde, which has been classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen, can irritate the eyes, skin and lungs and cause breathing problems and skin rashes
Many hair products contain the ingredient, but government regulations specify the amount, labeling and appropriate use.
The federal safety advisory issued late Monday follows similar announcements from state health authorities in Oregon, California and Connecticut.
In one case, the federal government found excessive levels of formaldehyde in the air at a salon using Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution. The product is marketed by GIB LLC, which does business in the U.S. as Brazilian Blowout.
A company employee reached by phone in Los Angeles Tuesday could not immediately provide comment.
"The best way to control exposure to formaldehyde is to use products that do not list formaldehyde, formalin, methylene glycol, or any of the other names for formaldehyde listed above on the label," said the online statement from OSHA. The agency said it is working with the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies to make sure hair products are used safely.
Brazilian Blowout surfaced around 2005 in Brazil, where a combination of high humidity and a curly haired population made the treatment popular. It soon spread to North America and Europe.
Many women swear by the product as a solution to curly, kinky or hard-to-tame hair. Because of health concerns, however, some salons in the U.S., Brazil and elsewhere have stopped offering the treatment.
Public safety advocates welcomed the government's announcement but pointed out that a half-dozen countries have already recalled Brazilian Blowout and other formaldehyde-based hair straighteners.
"Canada pulled Brazilian Blowout off the market six months ago, and our federal agencies are just now getting around to warning people of the health risks," said Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, in a statement. The Environmental Working Group, a related non-profit group, issued a report Tuesday stating that only 3 of the 41 top salons it surveyed did not use harmful hair-straightening products.
Last year the Oregon occupational health agency tested 100 samples of hair-smoothing products and found many labeled "formaldehyde free" that had more than the 0.1 percent of the chemical allowed in U.S. products.
A later air sample test of salons in Oregon found levels of formaldehyde complied with safety standards. The agency began investigating hair smoothing products after a stylist complained of nosebleeds, eye irritation and trouble breathing while using Brazilian Blowout.
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