ChemRisk Study Confirms Formaldehyde Exposure from Hair-Smoothing Products

Oct 31, 2011, 16:06 ET from ChemRisk LLC

CHICAGO, Oct. 31, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- ChemRisk LLC published the first independent study ( ) confirming that airborne formaldehyde levels associated with some keratin-based hair-smoothing treatments may exceed certain occupational exposure limits set by the U.S. government.

"The results of this simulation study show that average formaldehyde levels in a salon over a full work shift did not exceed the applicable eight-hour occupational exposure limit established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA)," said Dr. Jennifer Pierce, senior industrial hygienist for ChemRisk. However, some hair-smoothing treatment products the company tested – including those labeled as formaldehyde-free – may produce peak formaldehyde in concentrations that exceed OSHA's short-term occupational exposure limits – especially during blow-drying. The health risks to salon workers that could result from short-term exposure to potentially elevated levels of formaldehyde from these products have not been thoroughly evaluated.

The ChemRisk study is the first to characterize, in detail, the potential formaldehyde exposures resulting from the use of these popular hair treatments across three groups:  the salon worker, the customer and bystanders.  It is also the first to obtain measurements during consecutive treatments with different products and to identify the presence of other chemicals in the bulk product that can thermally degrade into formaldehyde.

The ChemRisk report comes on the heels of escalating public concerns that keratin-based hair-smoothing treatments may cause a range of symptoms such as eye and nose irritation, headaches and perhaps other effects.  A series of hazard alerts, warnings, workplace precautions, lawsuits and recalls by various institutions have recently occurred (see timeline).  In August 2011, the Brazilian Blowout product was found by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be misbranded (false labeling) and adulterated (containing harmful ingredients).  

The ChemRisk study confirmed those FDA findings; two samples each of Brazilian Blowout, along with three other brands – Coppola, Global Keratin and La Brasiliana – were each tested by ChemRisk and all of them but La Brasiliana were found to contain formaldehyde.  

"Of those tested, only one mentioned the presence of formaldehyde on its label, but the amount on the label was far below what it actually contained," Pierce said.  "Given that there are literally hundreds of different keratin-based hair-smoothing products, the public would benefit from a broader survey measuring their formaldehyde contents and potential exposures in hair salons.  

"What this tells us is that companies that market these products need to properly reveal the contents of the goods they are selling," Pierce said. "The study also points to the need for further research into potential health problems associated with the use of this hair treatment method, particularly those involving short-term exposure."

About ChemRisk

ChemRisk LLC is a scientific consulting firm committed to helping clients develop sustainable solutions to a growing number of health and safety concerns. Specifically, the company specializes in pioneering risk assessment methods to characterize and understand complex exposures involving chemicals, pharmaceuticals or radionuclides in a variety of potentially contaminated media. It leads the way in working with the government, industry and academia to provide objective, science-based solutions to difficult challenges. ChemRisk has more than 60 scientists with backgrounds in toxicology, industrial hygiene, epidemiology, ecotoxicology, environmental sciences, medicine, statistical analysis, and risk assessment. It has six offices serving clients in multiple countries, across dozens of markets and industries.