We’re all familiar with the phrases “no pain, no gain” and “you have to suffer to be beautiful”, but how far should we really be taking that?

When it comes to hair care, you’d think the main aim would be to keep your hair as beautiful and healthy looking as possible, never mind ensuring it all stays on your head. But these days, a surprising number of high-end “hair treatments” can end up doing exactly the opposite.

Professional hair smoothing

Brazilian blowout hair lossOver the past couple of decades sleek, smooth, poker-straight hair has been the perceived ideal for women the world over. Celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Halle Berry and Beyonce have all been reported to spend thousands on achieving the look, and US brand Brazilian Blowout has topped the rankings for most popular haircare treatment almost every year since its launch in 2007.

Brazilian Blowout, like many of its counterparts in the hair smoothing industry, claims to be “formaldehyde free”, which has no doubt played a part in its success. However, after various complaints from salon workers, reporting breathing problems, skin and eye irritation – all of which are known side effects of formaldehyde – the formula was found to contain 11.8% methylene glycol, which is the name for liquid formaldehyde.

Hair today…

Formaldehyde a gas, so methylene glycol is not technically formaldehyde, which is why the product can claim to be “formaldehyde free”. However, when combined with heat methylene glycol will turn into formaldehyde, and these professional hair smoothing treatments work by heating the hair, which is why so many hairdressers were suffering from complaints associated with formaldehyde poisoning.

For the client, the problems can be just as serious – not only can formaldehyde cause breathing problems and irritation of the skin and eyes but that irritation, if it reaches the scalp, can cause trauma to the hair follicles resulting in hair loss.

Why is it still around?

Although the company behind Brazilian Blowout has payed out millions in lawsuits and has reduced the level of methylene glycol in its product to 3-5%, this is still significantly lower than the 0.2% recommended by the US regulatory body, The Cosmetics Ingredients Review. So why is the treatment still available?

Well, it seems that the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited power over personal care products, and so although they can issue strong warnings, they cannot actually remove a product from the shelves. And its popularity continues, with American Salon Magazine readers voting Brazilian Blowout Best Professional Smoothing treatment in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The bottom line is, if you want to avoid hair loss, check the ingredients of anything you put on your hair, and ask your hairdresser to do the same.



By Ian Watson


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