Are Salon Straightening Treatments Safe?

Perfect Straight Hair

Many people with curly, wavy or frizzy hair want the look of sleek, smooth hair without the time-consuming chore of daily straightening. Often they turn to salon straightening treatments which have come under fire for potential health risks including exposure to formaldehyde.

What is it. The Brazilian Blowout is a semi-permanent keratin hair treatment that originated in Brazil and is now practiced in salons across the U.S.

How it works. In a two-hour multi-step process, a stylist shampoos and towel-dries hair, divides it into sections and applies a keratin smoothing solution through each section from root to tip. According to, the solution “surrounds each hair shaft with protective protein layers to smooth and flatten the cuticle.”

After the solution is applied, the stylist blow dries hair and seals the treatment onto the hair’s outer cuticle with a 450-degree flatiron, according to report in The New York Times. The keratin formula bonds with the cuticle’s rough edges, reportedly trapping moisture for a glossy shine. Prices range from $150 to $600, depending on the salon and location. Treatments last six to 10 weeks.

Side effects. Stylists and customers who breathe chemicals, including formaldehyde, used in the process have reported difficulty breathing as well as eye and nasal irritation.

The findings. Chemists from the Oregon Occupation Health and Safety Administration and the Oregon Health and Science University’s Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology have found significant levels of formaldehyde, a colorless but strong-smelling gas that is released when methylene glycol in the straightening treatment is heated. In 2011, the agency issued a public health alert because many of the products were labeled formadehyde-free. Some labels have been revised to state that the product “contains no formaldehyde.”

The risks. The World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classify formaldehyde as a carcinogen. Oregon OSHA states formaldehyde exposure can cause allergic reactions, nasal and eye irritations, coughing and wheezing. It has been linked to leukemia and lung cancer. Skin contact with formaldehyde can cause an allergic reaction, as well.

Safer alternatives? Two companies have been developing new hair straightening treatments as alternatives to Brazilian Blowout. L’Oreal Proféssionnel has the Xtenso Moisturist treatment, which is a chemical treatment. Bumble and Bumble is offering the Concen-straight Pro Treatment. Both treatments are formaldehyde-free.

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