Members of Congress are asking the Food and Drug Administration to issue a voluntary recall of two hair-straightening treatments sold in salons under the brand name Brazilian Blowout, citing concerns about unacceptably high levels of formaldehyde, a suspected carcinogen.
Congressional representatives including Jan Schakowsky (D., Ill.) and Ed Markey (D., Mass.) earlier this month wrote to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg calling for a voluntary recall of the Brazilian Blowout treatments. The letter cites a 2010 study by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Division that found formaldehyde—considered a probable human carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency—in the Brazilian Blowout Solution and Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution.
The Oregon OSHA study measured samples of the two products and found they contained average formaldehyde levels of 8% for Brazilian Blowout Solution and 8.8% for Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, a product labeled "formaldehyde free." Oregon OSHA's threshold for disclosure of formaldehyde is 0.1%.
"These dangerous products are still available and used on a daily basis in salons across the United States," the representatives wrote to the FDA. The lawmakers want the FDA to test chemical hair straighteners and recall those with high levels of formaldehyde.
The Los Angeles marketer of Brazilian Blowout says its products are safe. Mike Brady, chief executive of Brazilian Blowout, says the line is "a perfectly safe product that gives people the hair of a lifetime and generates money for the economy." As for the letter to FDA, he says, "it's not based on any fact. It's just based on emotion."
The FDA encourages consumers to report complaints related to the products on its website. "We're still evaluating the data on these straighteners," says Stephanie Yao, an FDA spokeswoman.
Congressional representatives also want the FDA to require warning labels for products with formaldehyde. There are a number of hair-straightening salon treatments besides Brazilian Blowout on the market, some of which are called "keratin treatments" and "Brazilian treatments."
At a Congressional staff briefing Wednesday, salon workers and technicians are scheduled to describe adverse health symptoms following their use of Brazilian Blowout products. The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and advocacy groups Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and National Healthy Nail Salon Alliance are hosting the briefing.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration, along with several state occupational safety agencies, has been investigating complaints about formaldehyde exposure. In one salon using Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, the agency's air tests found formaldehyde at levels exceeding permissible exposure limits. Last month OSHA issued a hazard alert to salon owners and workers about potential formaldehyde exposure resulting from hair-smoothing treatments.
Jennifer Goeres-Arce, a 37-year-old California hair stylist, says she purchased the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution in September after clients at the salon where she worked at the time requested the treatment. Working with her sister, Gina Griffin, also a hair stylist, Ms. Goeres-Arce tested the treatment on herself, applying the product to the hair, blow-drying it and then applying a heated flat iron. "Within ten minutes, our eyes started to sting," Ms. Goeres-Arce says. "Our throats were getting sore. The worst part of everything was difficulty breathing and headache."
Ms. Goeres-Arce, who is now a stylist at Elements Salon in Escondido, provided evidence for California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris's updated complaint filed earlier this year. Ms. Goeres-Arce says she experienced symptoms for two months after using the product. "I went to the doctor and was put on an inhaler," she says.
Rep. Schakowsky and Rep. Markey were among the sponsors the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010, which aims to give the FDA regulatory authority over cosmetics and personal care products and labeling. Rep. Schakowsky plans to re-introduce the bill this year.
Besides calls for more regulation, the company also faces private-party legal complaints and a suit filed by the state of California. In April, the California attorney general filed a motion seeking a preliminary injunction to stop GIB LLC, the entity doing business as Brazilian Blowout, from selling the treatment line. The cases are being heard in Los Angeles County Superior Court.
In an earlier interview, Mr. Brady said Brazilian Blowout products contain methylene glycol, produced when formaldehyde reacts with water, not formaldehyde per se.
Mr. Brady said the Oregon OSHA study measured formaldehyde not just in the products but also in the air in seven salons while Brazilian Blowout Acai Solution was in use and found levels below the permissible exposure limit.
Still, the company has released Brazilian Blowout Zero, a treatment it says is free of formaldehyde and methylene glycol. "Adversity is a fact of life," its website says. "It can't be controlled. What we can control is how we react to it. We reacted." - WSJ