Some Hair-Smoothing Products Contain Formaldehyde, Warns FDA

Some Hair-Smoothing Products Contain Formaldehyde, Warns FDA
Image: Pixabay
November 9, 2015

After the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent warning letters to the makers of hair straightening products, the agency began receiving questions from consumers and salon workers concerning the safety of their hair-smoothing products.

The products contain formaldehyde or similar ingredients which can release formaldehyde gas into the air when it's heated. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued a hazard alert to salon owners and workers about potential formaldehyde exposure, while the FDA issued warning letters to two product makers for safety and labeling violations.

Like other cosmetics, hair-straightening products don't need to be approved by the FDA before they are marketed. But, cosmetics must be safe and properly labeled. When products violate these laws, they are sent warning letters in order to give the company a chance to comply/

The products made by Brazilian Blowout and Van Tibolli Beauty Corp, contain methylene glycol, which when heated releases formaldehyde into the air. Since these products must be applied with heat, formaldehyde is released even when they are following the directions on the label. In addressing safety, warning letters to the company note that hair-smoothing products containing formaldehyde have been associated with reactions such as eye problems, nervous system problems (for example, headaches and dizziness), respiratory tract problems, nausea, chest pain, vomiting, and rash.

The labels fail to warn consumers of the potential health risks.

While the FDA doesn't have the authority to regulate salons or the practice of cosmetology, OSHA regulates workplace safety, including air quality issues. Salons are also generally subject to state and local authorities, which may specify safety practices such as assuring proper ventilation.

OSHA says that formaldehyde presents a health hazard if workers are exposed. It can irritate the eyes and nose; cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes, and lungs; and is linked to nose and lung cancer.

Not all hair straighteners pose these risks, but consumers should be aware of the ingredients contained in their beauty products. Skin sensitivity can develop after repeated contact with formaldehyde-related ingredients. When formaldehyde is released into the air it can cause serious irritation of your eyes, nose, and lungs. The greater the exposure, in terms of both duration and concentration, to products that contain formaldehyde-related ingredients, the higher the health risks.

If you're purchasing a hair straightening product, read the list of ingredients, which is required to be on the label. Be on the lookout for formaldehyde, formalin or methylene glycol.

If you're getting your treatment done in a salon, ask your stylist if he or she knows whether a product contains any of these ingredients. Those sold to salon professionals are not required to have a list of ingredients, but are required to have directions for safe use and any necessary warning statements.

If you have a reaction to a hair straightening product, or any other cosmetic, report it to the FDA's MedWatch adverse event reporting system.