AS soon as I saw this picture in NY Times Style section I knew I was never going to do the so-called brazilian straightener ever again! Seriously, breathing masks & respirators for hair straighteners, that can not be good, right??
The article title and photo are enough to make you question ‘why is my hairdresser doing this outside?’, Terry Pristin writes that: ‘As more women began clamoring for the latest sensation in hair care, the so-called Brazilian hair-relaxing treatments, the Neil George Salon in Beverly Hills, Calif., added a cabana with open sides and a fabric roof to isolate the process from the salon itself. “I couldn’t stand the fumes,” said Neil Weisberg, an owner.
Mark Garrison, the owner of a salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that bears his name, set aside a floor for the treatment, equipped it with special ventilators and began providing industrial-strength respirators to his clients and stylists. And a West Hollywood salon, John Frieda, relegated its straightening treatments to an open-air courtyard.
Just like the permanents that were once the height of fashion, the lucrative process of converting frizzy or kinky hair into smooth locks produces unpleasant odors. But is it dangerous, especially to the operators who apply the product repeatedly?
Last month, the beauty world was rattled when the occupational health agency in Oregon found significant levels of formaldehyde in the hair-smoothing solution sold under the name Brazilian Blowout. (A common ingredient found in many products, formaldehyde is a recognized carcinogen if it is present at high levels.) The agency said it had conducted lab tests after receiving numerous complaints from stylists citing nosebleeds, breathing problems and eye irritation after applying the product. Last Friday, Oregon authorities broadened their warning to include other hair-smoothing products, particularly those described as “keratin-based,” and said employers should take steps to protect their workers.
The report came soon after a warning from Canadian health authorities about the potential dangers of Brazilian Blowout. Subsequently, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that it was working with state and local authorities to determine if Brazilian Blowout and similar products, known generically as Brazilian or Keratin treatments, are safe. The F.D.A. does not approve cosmetics other than color additives in advance, but will respond to consumer complaints, said a spokeswoman, Siobhan Delancey.
Brazilian Blowout, also the name of the company based in Los Angeles that distributes the solutions by that name — which it says are manufactured in Brazil by Cadiveu — initially repudiated the Oregon findings. But in response to the most recent report, it said that the Oregon tests showed that formaldehyde exposure from Brazilian Blowout was “safely below” permissible levels.
The warnings have prompted various responses from salon owners. Some, like the Sally Hershberger salons in Los Angeles and New York and the John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman in New York, decided to ban the brand Brazilian Blowout, but continue to use products from other companies. Some manufacturers acknowledge that their products contain formalin, a substance made up in part of formaldehyde, but say the amounts are insignificant.
Michael Angelo’s Wonderland Beauty Parlor in the meatpacking district of Manhattan stopped doing Brazilian treatments years ago because of the presence of formalin. Michael Angelo, the owner, said he began offering the Brazilian Blowout solution again when the company assured him the product was formaldehyde-free, but has now ceased altogether. “A lot of money went out the door,” he said.
Other salon owners believe the health agencies are overreacting. “I say, you put Botox in your face, lead in your lipstick, and you smoke,” said Mr. Weisberg of the Neil George salon. “Pick your poison.” He said his salon does up to 20 treatments a week, mostly using Brazilian Blowout, and has no intention of stopping.
At Studio Noi, a small Los Angeles salon, Mar Fujimoto, the owner, said she had personally performed the Brazilian Blowout 300 times in six weeks after discounting the price to $125 from $300. She said the company had assured her that the product was not harmful. “I trust their claims that it is formaldehyde-free,” she said.
Questions about the safety of Brazilian treatments have been raised for years, most notably in a widely read 2007 article in Allure magazine. Yet for many salon owners and stylists, who are usually independent contractors, it is hard to contemplate eliminating such a profitable procedure. “It’s one of the most popular services we’ve had in years,” said the salon owner John Barrett. “People think it’s an absolute godsend.”
Pamela Nichols, a Manhattan real estate broker, has been getting the treatment at various salons on and off for five years. “What the Brazilian does is keep the hair calm,” she said. “It doesn’t get frizzy and crazy.” Pat Kandel, a real estate agent in Marina del Rey, Calif., said the treatment made her hair dry faster. “It gives your hair memory,” she said. “It remembers what you’ve done to it.”
Creating this effect, which lasts from a few weeks to a few months, is labor intensive, and the service is priced accordingly. Prices generally start at about $250 and can go as high as $700 in some salons. Salon owners say the have to charge a lot because the product itself is expensive.
On a recent morning, Sanae Furutani, a stylist at Mark Garrison, wore rubber gloves and a respirator as she slowly applied a pink solution made by a company called Lasio to sections of her client’s freshly washed hair. She blow-dried the hair in sections and then ironed it. The client, who was clutching a respirator to her face and asked not to be identified, sat under a plastic hood so that vapor escaping from the iron could be sucked out to the street through an industrial-looking ventilator. She was told not to wash her hair for 48 hours.
Ms. Furutani, who does three or four treatments a week, said she had never experienced eye irritation or other problems. But stylists at other salons were smarting. “My eyes are very sensitive to the feel of it,” said Angela Perez of José Eber salon in Beverly Hills, who does not wear a mask. Like Ms. Fujimoto, Ms. Perez said she had been assured at a Brazilian Blowout training session that the product was formaldehyde-free.
After testing several hair-relaxing treatments, Neil Spingarn, the president of S & N Labs of Santa Monica, Calif., found significant levels of formaldehyde, according to documents provided by a hairdresser. Though Mr. Spingarn declined to discuss those reports, he said that salons and clients seldom know what is in the products they use. “We expect that somebody somewhere is checking everything, but that expectation is false,” he said.
He said “responsible manufacturers” should measure how much formaldehyde exposure salon workers are likely to receive while applying the products. But he cautioned that the potential dangers should not be exaggerated.
“I can’t imagine why you would panic over this,” he said.