After the numerous complaints from both stylists and customers, there is more awareness nowadays that formaldehyde can cause a series of health issues (besides being carcinogenic). You can read more about formaldehyde in one of my previous posts. Many keratin treatments now make it a point to claim that they are formaldehyde-free or aldehyde-free.
However there are reports from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) that beg to differ, in fact listing out the brands that omit formaldehyde in their ingredient listing.
Based on air testing and product sampling, OSHA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), California OSHA (PDF), and the California Department of Public Health have all issued warnings and/or citations to smoothing product manufacturers for violating rules for formaldehyde labeling.
How do these brands get away with being ‘formaldehyde-free’?
–> One chemical can be referred to by several names. Formaldehyde for example can be referred to as formalin, methylene glycol, methanal etc. (Life would have been simpler if chemicals had only one name!). By using variations of the same name, they are able to get by customers without raising eyebrows.
–>But a big problem is that certain chemicals (which are not actually formaldehyde) can release formaldehyde when heated till decomposition. For example glyoxal will release fumes of formaldehyde when heated. By using chemical names such as glyoxal, product companies are able to list their ingredients as ‘ formaldehyde-free ‘.
–>The third problem is the way these products are being tested to meet safety guidelines.
Let’s see: In many of these keratin treatments, formaldehyde is in water solution as formalin and cannot be inhaled as such. Companies disregard the fact that the solution produces formaldehyde gas. Their testing only constitutes of the small amounts of gas present in their products. In 2011, EWG reports Cadiveu and Brazilian Blowout in that regard.
“That explains why Cadiveu reports formaldehyde levels of 0.0002 percent, when Heath Canada found it to contain 7 percent formaldehyde (Cadiveu 2011, Health Canada 2010C).”
What companies had significant levels of formaldehyde?
To see the full table with formaldehyde concentration levels and remarks , you can check the EWG website here. The list of supposedly ‘ formaldehyde-free ‘ companies that are quoted in the 2011 reports:
- Brazilian Blow Out
- Coppola [No longer uses formaldehyde, 2016. See post here]
- Marcia Teixeira
- Global Keratin
- Silkening Technologies
- IBS Beauty
- R & L
- Brazilan Gloss
- Keratin Express
- Simply Smooth American Culture Hair
- Spazzola Progressiva
OSHA has also identified several brand-name products (listed above) that contain formaldehyde or that can expose you to formaldehyde during use, even though they may not list formaldehyde on their labels or MSDSs. Many of these brands are on international recall but still sold in U.S. as of March 2014. See article here from ECOwatch.com.
- This list and the report was released about 5 years ago. Those companies might have modified their products since then (which we will review at a later time).
- It is worthy to be aware which companies were using formaldehyde/formaldehyde releasers. While I am still looking at these brands, do your research and make sure to check if they have changed their formulations to safer ones. [and keep me posted please!]
- Some do not report formaldehyde which makes it hard for consumers to assess the hazards of the treatment. The reasoning is that it is a gas and not an actual ingredient. It is said to have a strong pickle-like odor.
- Because of all the ambiguity involved around ingredient listing, it is advisable for pregnant women to avoid keratin treatments. OSHA has tested the air during hair smoothing treatments at various salons nationwide. In three salons, OSHA found that measured levels of formaldehyde exceeded the short-term exposure limit (STEL) of 2 parts per million (ppm). The formaldehyde fumes are way worse for the mother/baby than any of the other common chemical hair treatments such as hair coloring, perming etc.