Brazilian keratin hair treatment product linked to formaldehyde

TAMPA - Editor’s Note: A previous version of our web story included an incorrect number for the Oregon OSHA testing results on Keratin Express Brazilian Smoothing Treatment. The inaccuracy has been corrected.

Fashion magazines are filled with stars showing off sleek, straight hair. The frizzy look is out, stylists say.

That’s why Evelyn Martinez is fighting her naturally frizzy hair.

 “I’m always straightening my hair and buying all kinds of creams to make it straight,” Martinez said.

Evelyn turned to what some call a miracle hair straightener.  It goes by many names, such as “Brazilian Blowout”, “Brazilian Keratin Treatment”, or “Brazilian Hair Straightening.”

But the popular hair treatment is being tied to a harmful, potentially cancer-causing chemical. The product is still used every day, but it is now under federal investigation.

The process costs anywhere from $150 to $300, and it’s done in a salon by a stylist. It typically takes 1.5 to 2 hours.

After washing and drying the hair, the stylist typically separates the hair into sections with clips and a comb. Then, the keratin product is brushed into the hair. A hairdryer and flatiron are used to seal the product into the hair. It’s not unusual to see steam or smoke coming from the hair as the flatiron is used.

When all is said and done, the hair will be much straighter and smoother for several weeks.

But some stylists refuse to use this “miracle” product, because one of the key ingredients is formaldehyde.

“There’s got to be an endpoint where people realize the dangers overwhelm the shiny, healthy hair that they think they’ve got,” said Brandon Wagner of Tribeca Color Salon.

In small doses, formaldehyde is approved for use, and is found in several everyday products, including makeup. But the FDA says prolonged exposure can cause burning eyes, breathing difficulties, and even cancer.

Most keratin treatments claim to use less than .1% formaldehyde. However, in an October 2010 study, the state of Oregon’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found several keratin products had much higher formaldehyde levels than advertised.

According to the report, issued by Oregon’s OSHA and Oregon Health & Sciences University, one of the most popular keratin treatments, Brazilian Blowout Solution, was found to have an average of 8% formaldehyde. The Brazilian Blowout company proudly claims on their website that the product has “no formaldehyde”.

Keratin Express Brazilian Smoothing Treatment was found to have 1.2% formaldehyde.

Several other brands were found to have more than 1% formaldehyde. For complete details on the testing of those products, you can find the report at

Several manufacturers of keratin products dispute the findings of Oregon OSHA. Their responses are included at the bottom of this page.

The FDA says they have heard complaints from stylists reporting eye irritation, breathing difficulty, and headaches. The FDA has not put out a warning about keratin treatments, but is currently investigating the safety of the products.

Brandon Wagner of Tribeca Color Salon in Ybor says his business is losing money because he refuses to do Brazilian keratin treatments.

“I don’t have a problem with that. I can sleep at night knowing that no one is going home with a possible dangerous product on their head,” Wagner said.

ABC Action News has learned that Ulta Beauty in Brandon was fined more than $2,000 in January by the federal branch of OSHA. The fine was for not properly training employees on the hazardous chemicals used in keratin products.

Ulta would not comment on the specifics of the investigation, but provided a written statement which reads, in part, “no government gency that Ulta is aware of has definitively said that Keratin straightening products should be discontinued.”

Many people swear by Brazilian keratin treatments. Stylists and customers told ABC Action News investigative reporter Michael George that they have used them for years without any problems.

At Janettics Hair Studio in Tampa, they have used keratin products for years on hundreds of clients.

“We haven’t had any bad results. People that get it done here, come back, reschedule 4 to 6 months later,” said owner Janette Hull.

Despite the controversy, one thing everyone agrees on is that Brazilian hair treatments work. They are extremely effective at straightening frizzy hair.

“I love it!” exclaimed Evelyn Martinez, upon seeing her new, straight hair for the first time.

For her, the benefits outweigh any potential risk. She says she would get it done again.

Written Statement from Ulta Salons

Ulta Policy for Keratin Product and Service Offerings

Ulta Salons offers an array of hair care straightening products and services, including a product called Keratin Complex. While there has been an ongoing debate about Keratin straightening products, no government agency that ULTA is aware of has definitively

said that Keratin straightening products should be discontinued. To ensure the safety of our associates and guests, ULTA has a required internal training program for all ULTA team members who administer the Keratin treatment, as well as for several other treatments.

Ulta continues to investigate the issues currently being discussed about straightening products and will act accordingly to ensure the best performing and most healthy products for use in our salons.

ULTA cannot comment on our dealings with OSHA in Florida as it is an ongoing discussion.

Keratin Express has put out a statement in response to the testing conducted by Oregon OSHA. Read the entire statement at .

Brazilian Blowout referred ABC Action News to the statement found at .

The company is now suing Oregon OSHA over the test results. Brazilian Blowout argues one of the chemicals they use, methlyene glycol, should not be considered the same as formaldehyde.

Oregon OSHA tells ABC Action News they stand by their report, saying there are “meaningful risks” to stylists using the product.

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