Brazilian Blowout? Women Fight Off Fumes For Beautiful Hair

Some hair products may require women to wear masks in pursuit of straight hair.

ByABC News via logo
August 12, 2009, 10:32 AM

Nov. 5, 2010 — -- Just how far will women go for straight hair?

A new wave of life-changing chemical, straightening products is becoming a must at salons across the country.

But they could be damaging your hair, and your health.

Word is spreading about a salon product that promises longer-lasting results.

Some U.S. women are lining up to get the Brazilian Blowout, a pricey method of hair-straightening that has been used by Jennifer Aniston, Lindsay Lohan, Reese Witherspoon and other celebrities.

But recent government testing shows that the trademarked products may pose serious safety risks, which the manufacturer has flatly denied.

One salon in New York is now issuing gas masks to its customers.

"When I tell my friends that I get my hair straightened and I wear a gas mask they think I'm nuts but I'm still here and it works really well, it's life changing to me," said Melanie Gotlin, a hair salon client.

At the Mark Garrison Salon, stylists take every precaution to keep their clients safe from the potentially harmful chemicals used in the treatment.

"I am not going to take any chances I am going to be safe," said Mark Garrison.

The salon uses a special room equipped with air ventilators and industrial strength gas masks.

But not every salon goes to those lengths for the hair straightening trend sweeping the nation with promises of amazing before and after results.

Staffers at an Oregon hair salon complained of eye irritation, nose bleeds and difficulty breathing after they applied the products, so state officials tested them.

Chemists at the Oregon Occupation Heath and Safety Administration and the Oregon Health and Science University's Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology tested a sample from the complaining salon and from other salons in the area. They found that the samples contained significant levels of formaldehyde, even though the product was labeled as formaldehyde-free.

The Oregon Health and Science University issued a public health alert about the product, in which it said that two formulations of the product contained 4.85 percent to 10.6 percent formaldehyde.

If a hair treatment solution contains more than 0.1 percent formaldehyde, the manufacturer is required to alert the stylist.

Additional laboratory analysis also detected four additional chemicals in each sample that were not quantified in the lab, including methanol and ethanol.

Everyone is exposed to small amounts of formaldehyde in air and some foods and products. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says low levels of exposure can cause irritation of the skin, eyes, nose and throat. High levels of exposure may cause some kinds of cancers, the CDC says.

Until salon employers can confirm that hair care products contain no formaldehyde, they should stop using them or use them in accordance with the formaldehyde standards, which recommends the use of masks, goggles and even respirators, depending on the level of airborne exposure, an OSHA official told "GMA."

Additional testing of air samples, however, showed acceptable levels of formaldehyde exposure in the air, but the makers of the Brazilian Blowout maintain that there is no formaldehyde in their product.

In addition, the company released a statement which said, "We have initiated formal legal proceedings against Oregon OSHA for damages arising out of misconduct for manipulating test results."