News release: Health officials alert salon owners about hair-smoothing products that contain formaldehyde

News Release
April 20, 2011
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Health officials alert salon owners about hair-smoothing products that contain formaldehyde

Exposure to such products can cause health problems

Officials from the Minnesota Department of Health today are warning hair salon owners and their customers about certain hair-smoothing products—sometimes referred to as keratin treatments—that may contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde can present a health hazard if workers or customers are exposed. It can irritate the eyes, nose, and skin; increase the risk of asthma and/or allergic reactions; and is linked to an increased risk of some types of cancer.

Responding to complaints about possible exposure to formaldehyde, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and some state occupational safety and health agencies are conducting investigations and issuing warnings.

Federal OSHA has found formaldehyde in the air when stylists used hair-smoothing products, some of which do not have formaldehyde listed on their labels or in material safety data sheets as required by law.

Some of these products are labeled as “formaldehyde-free,” cautions Dr. Edward Ehlinger, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. “We hope salon owners will double-check their products to make sure they are not exposing their employees or customers to formaldehyde.”

OSHA recommends that salon owners use products that do not contain formaldehyde, methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene or Chemical Abstract Service Number 50-00-0.

The products with the highest percentage of formaldehyde, as tested by either Oregon OSHA or Health Canada, include:

  • Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing solution “Formaldehyde Free” (8.8 percent)
  • Brazilian Blowout Solution (8.0 percent)
  • Brazilian Gloss Keratin Smoothing Gloss (7.3 percent)
  • Brazilian Thermal Reconstruction by Cadiveu (7.0 percent)
  • Global Keratin Taming System with Juvexin Strawberry Resistant by Global Keratin (4.4 percent)
  • Global Keratin Taming System Strawberry by Global Keratin (3.0 percent)
  • Pro-Collagen RX Keratin Treatment (2.8 percent)
  • IStraight Keratin (Advanced Keratin Treatment) by IBS Beauty (2.3 percent)
  • Chocolate, extreme de-frizzing treatment (2.0 percent)

Additional products can be found on the Health Canada website ( and Oregon OSHA’s website (

Individuals who work with these types of products should be aware of the signs of formaldehyde exposure. Health effects include eye, nose and throat irritation; breathing difficulties such as wheezing, coughing, and asthma; headache; fatigue; skin rash; severe allergic reactions. Formaldehyde may also increase the risk of cancer, particularly nasal cancer.

People who often work with these formaldehyde-containing products are at greater risk than those people who may have incidental or occasional exposures. However, MDH has received a complaint from an individual, who, following one of these keratin hair-smoothing procedures, experienced both immediate and long-term symptoms that required ongoing medical attention.

Formaldehyde can enter the body through the skin (dermal exposures), or through breathing in vapors containing formaldehyde (respiratory exposures). If acute symptoms occur, the individual should be immediately removed from the exposure.

It is best to avoid the use of products that contain formaldehyde. If salons cannot find an acceptable product without formaldehyde, the first line of protection should be implementation of engineering controls. Local ventilation is the most common engineering control to use. Hair treatments that require the use of irritating chemicals such as formaldehyde should be carried out in well-ventilated areas.

Employees should also know the location of the nearest eyewash and safety shower, where spill cleanup materials are kept, and carefully read all labels and material safety data sheets before using chemicals. And they should never eat or drink near chemicals, and always wash their hands well with soap and water after using chemicals, even when wearing gloves.

Finally, personal protective equipment should be considered when using chemicals. At a minimum, workers should use a work apron or lab coat, safety glasses or goggles and/or face shield, and gloves. Gloves should be made of nitrile or butyl rubber, as latex gloves will offer little protection.

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For more information, contact:

John Stieger
MDH Communications

Kathleen Norlien
MDH Asthma Program