GOOD HAIR; BAD HEALTH
Some Brazilian hair straighteners have been found to contain formaldehyde – a chemical responsible for causing cancer
Your Brazilian blow-dry may result in your best hair day ever, but in the long run, it could be bad for your health. City Press can today reveal the names of six popular brands of Brazilian keratin treatments that were found by researchers at the University of Cape Town (UCT) to contain five times or more the permitted amount of the cancer-causing chemical formaldehyde.
Five of the products were labelled “formaldehydefree”. UCT did not initially publish the products’ names but City Press successfully applied for the details under the Promotion of Access to Information Act. The products are:
Re+5 Trazilian Keratin Treatment Formaldehyde Free Cadiveu Trazilian Cacau Keratin Treatment Inoar Professional Trazilian Tlow dry Hair-Liss Professional Line Keratin Treatment Chocolate
Medusa Professional Complex Trazilian Keratin Treatment
Hair Go Straight Choco Coco Trazilian Keratin Treatment
The research, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in February, tested six products purchased online in South Africa.
City Press contacted all six brand distributors for comment. Only the two companies with South African distributors, Inoar and Medusa, responded.
“Inoar does not sell over the internet,” said local agent Hendrien Kruger. “All our distributors have to sign contracts. We are only permitted to sell to salons and only after training was done.”
According to her, there was a “huge black market” and “counterfeit internet operation”.
“We have tested our products every year since 2011. They have always been way below the allowed 0.2% [level of formaldehyde],” she said.
Of Inoar’s eight treatments, two contained formaldehyde and this was indicated on the labelling, she said.
The research had been “very damaging” to her business because it did not specify brands, she said, and “the general public thinks that all ‘Brazilian treatments’ are the same”. She added: “Nothing can be further from the truth.” Medusa Professional’s Denzil Ferreira said the product’s formaldehyde content was not indicated on the labelling, but was reduced to 0.05% after UCT’s research was done. “I became aware of the formaldehyde content about a year and a half ago. The supplier had told me the product was formaldehydefree. Little did I know they used aldehyde, which is the same thing. This was their reason for calling it formaldehyde-free.”
According to him, the current product did not produce strong odours or physical irritations.
Re+5’s website is registered in Guangzhou, China. Both Cadiveu and Hair Go Straight’s websites are registered in the US. Requests for comment from the registered site owners went unanswered.
Hair-Liss’s website was registered through a thirdparty contractor, which obscured the real ownership.
Janine Wilson of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of SA said the organisation had been opposed to the Brazilian-type treatments since they were introduced. According to her, it was telling that reputable international hair-care brands had never manufactured Brazilian-type straighteners.
“These treatments are banned in Canada, the EU and even in Brazil. Many of the products don’t comply with South African legislation.”
She said Brazilian treatments were sometimes referred to as Brazilian keratin treatments, which caused confusion in the industry and damaged the reputation of non-hazardous, keratin-only hairstraightening treatments.
“The problem is, formaldehyde is a preservative. It preserves dead tissue and makes it look good, hence the reason it’s used as an embalming agent.
“Hair is dead tissue, so the formaldehyde makes the hair look good. The problem is that formaldehyde doesn’t like live tissue, and that is why over time you could get problems like hair loss.
“Our main concern, though, is respiratory. When the treated hair is heated, it gives off gas,” Wilson said.
What science says
Associate Professor Nonhlanhla Khumalo of UCT’s Division of Dermatology, who led the research, said the challenge for countries was to “set up independent testing facilities and systems for intermittent random testing”. This would help improve compliance in the industry to protect consumers and hairdressers who work with these products.
In 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration warned that one particular brand, Brazilian Blowout, had caused a host of side effects including hair loss, nausea, chest pain, vomiting, rashes, eye problems and dizziness.
In 2010, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division embarked on an extensive study of Brazilian hair treatments after a stylist at a hair salon complained of breathing difficulties, nosebleeds and eye irritation when using a certain hair-straightening product. The labelling did not indicate any hazards, but the product was found to contain 8.5% formaldehyde. A subsequent study by state officials of 105 samples found the average formaldehyde content of these products was 8%.
A US research study published last year in the Open Journal of Rheumatology and Autoimmune Diseases recounts one extreme case where a 47-year-old woman developed a severe autoimmune disorder after having a Brazilian keratin treatment that contained 8.6% formaldehyde. The woman had a history of adverse reactions to formaldehyde but the treatment product used on her hair was labelled “formaldehyde-free”.