Formaldehyde Officially On Carcinogen List, Brazilian Blowouts Officially Dangerous

Illustration for article titled Formaldehyde Officially On Carcinogen List, Brazilian Blowouts Officially Dangerous

On June 10, the US government issued a report on carcinogens, and formaldehyde was officially added to the list. For the most part, formaldehyde is used as embalming fluid used in the funeral industry, and CNN reports, "it is also a large component of the 'new car smell' — composed of fumes emanating from carpets, upholstery, plastics and glues used in new cars." But the chemical is also present in two products women use often: nail polish and Brazilian blowout treatments.


According to the New York Times, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has declared that one product, Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, contains "unacceptable" levels of formaldehyde.

Yesterday on the Today show, a hairstylist talked about having to be put on an inhaler after trying out a straightening treatment on herself. Even though formaldehyde is in lots of products, it is even more dangerous in gas form. From the New York Times:

Studies of workers like embalmers exposed to high levels of formaldehyde have found increased incidences of myeloid leukemia and rare cancers of the nasal passages and upper mouth.

A consumer who gets a Brazilian blow out every four to six weeks or so may not be concerned, but what about the salon workers? This is definitely bad news for stylists.

What's interesting is that although having stick-straight hair is not the epitome of style it was a few years ago — when flat-ironing was all the rage — people still use words like "polished" and "better" to describe frizz-free hair. (Synonyms of "polished" include cultured, polite, privileged, well-born and well-bred. Ahem.) A woman can still be professional and well-groomed if her hair is not straight, believe it or not. But it seems like our society has some deep-rooted (heh) prejudice against frizzy, wiry, curly or kinky hair, and it can't be a coincidence that these adjectives are commonly used to describe black hair. Isn't the fact that it marks you as decidedly non-black part of what makes straight hair so desirable? On the other hand, between last week's Styles section article about more and more black women opting for natural hairdos and sites like Le Coil which celebrate natural hair, maybe we're on the road to redefining what hair "should" look like, and realizing that "polished" has nothing to do with texture. Because when your health (and the stylist's health) is at stake, is a "good hair day" worth it?

On the other hand, the Times reminds us that we're all going to die anyway:

Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that formaldehyde is both worrisome and inescapable. "It's the smell in new houses, and it's in cosmetics like nail polish," he said. "All a reasonable person can do is manage their exposure and decrease it to as little as possible. It's everywhere."


Formaldehyde Among Substances Added To Cancer List [CNN]
Nail Polish And Hair Straighteners Found To Contain Carcinogens [Independent]
Government Says 2 Common Materials Pose Risk of Cancer [NY Times]
‘Going Natural' Requires Lots of Help [NY Times]



"Isn't the fact that it marks you as decidedly non-black part of what makes straight hair so desirable?"

I think that's getting a little too specific. I'm a half-Jewish girl with very thick, very curly, frizz-prone hair inherited straight from my Jewish dad, and my hair does not make me look black at all — it makes me look Jewish. And, yeah, I can't say I see that as ideal.

...anyone know if the allegedly formaldehyde-free "Brazilian keratin" treatment things do the job? I kind of want one...