Brazilian Blowout Hair Straightener, Friend or Foe?

Brazilian Blowout is a hair-straightening product used in a growing number of Houston salons. But experts say chemicals in the product may cause cancer. Brazilian Blowout has been pulled off the shelves in Australia, Canada and some European countries, but it's still being used right here in Texas. KUHF NewsLabs Edel Howlin finds out why.

To straighten or not to straighten with Brazilian Blowout, that is the question. The answer depends on which of the salons in town you talk to — if they’ll even talk to you that is. One stylist in a salon near the Heights, who didn’t want to give her name, said she had a bad reaction from applying Brazilian Blowout.

"I would get really, really bad headaches and the odor was really strong and my eyes would burn and my nose would run."

On the other side of town it was a different story. In a salon where two of the stylists were the first ones to bring the product to Houston, the stylist who also asked not to be named, had nothing but praise for Brazilian Blowout.

"Um I thought it was a pretty remarkable product and I still do think it’s a great product. And from the response we’ve gotten from our clients, they love it so, I still think it’s a good product."

So why all this controversy over something that straightens your hair? Stacy Malkan is with the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. She warns that not only has the product been falsely marketed but it’s also a health risk.   

"The Brazilian Blowout has often been advertised as Formaldehyde-free. But unfortunately many government agencies have looked at the product, they’ve determined that it contains high dangerous levels of Formaldehyde."

The International Agency for Research of Cancer classifies formaldehyde as a known carcinogen.

Dr. Adelaide Hebert is professor of dermatology at UT Health Science Center here in Houston. She has concerns about people coming in contact with Formaldehyde regularly.  

Brazilian Blowout Back"Well, formaldehyde is a known sensitizer. And what that means if you touch it, you can develop an allergic contact dermatitis, much like poison ivy. Certainly if you breathe it in on a regular basis it does go into the body and that poses risks including cancer risks over the long term."

Brazilian Blowout stands by its original statement that their product does not contain formaldehyde.

When you look at the label what it does contain is methylene glycol.

David Hoffman is Chemistry Department Chair at University of Houston. He says the company can’t make that kind of claim. And that when it comes to the relationship between methylene glycol and formaldehyde, you can’t have one without the other.

"Ok well that’s absolutely false. When you have formaldehyde in water, there will always be methylene glycol present. Conversely whenever you have methlyene glycol in water, you will always have formaldehyde present."

The main concern for someone like Stacy Malkan from the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is the risk it poses to the salon worker who deals with it on a regular basis.

Right now California’s Attorney General has filed an injunction requiring the company to put health warnings on their product. Whether this comes to pass and we’ll see Brazilian Blowout gone from Houston salons remains to be seen. For now to help salon workers Malkan has this advice:

"Like really making sure that the ventilation is good, wearing masks, protective gear and clothing."

From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Edel Howlin.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...