Hair straightening treatments can contain dangerous chemicals

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor and several State OSHA programs are investigating questions and complaints from hair salon owners and workers about possible formaldehyde exposure from using Brazilian Blowout and other hair smoothing products.

Many agencies have already issued warnings about these products to salon owners, stylists, other salon workers, and clients.

Hair smoothing products contain or release formaldehyde

OSHA has found formaldehyde in the air when stylists use hair smoothing products. Some had “formaldehyde-free” on the label or did not list formaldehyde on the product label or in the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). The MSDS is required to provide users information about the chemicals in a product, the hazards to workers, and how to use a product safely.

In most cases, OSHA found that hair salon owners did not know that a hair smoothing product contained or could expose workers to formaldehyde because manufacturers, importers, and distributors did not include the correct warnings on product information.

What is formaldehyde and how can it affect your health?

Formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas that presents a health hazard if workers are exposed. You can be exposed to formaldehyde if you breathe it into your lungs, if it gets into your eyes, or if it is contained in a product that gets onto your skin. You can also be exposed accidentally if you touch your face, eat food, or drink after using a product containing formaldehyde without first washing your hands.

Formaldehyde can irritate the eyes and nose, and cause coughing and wheezing. Formaldehyde can cause allergic reactions of the skin, eyes, and lungs such as asthma-like breathing problems and skin rashes and itching.

When formaldehyde is in a product that gets sprayed into the eyes, it can damage the eyes and cause blindness. It is also a cancer hazard that is linked to nose and lung cancer. Formaldehyde is a health hazard, whether in a product or in the air.

Formaldehyde in beauty salon products

Formaldehyde in keratin-based hair smoothing products might be listed as methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane, oxymethylene, or CAS Number 50-00-0. All of these are names for formaldehyde under OSHA’s Formaldehyde standard.

Workers can be exposed to formaldehyde during the entire hair straightening process, especially when heat is applied (e.g. blow-drying, flat ironing).

Reduce exposure to formaldehyde when using hair smoothing/straightening products

Salon owners should:

  • Test the air if formaldehyde-containing products are used.
  • Install air ventilation systems in the areas where these products are mixed and used to help keep formaldehyde levels below OSHA’s limit and perform regular maintenance to make sure the systems work correctly;
  • Ensure workers understand the information on a product’s label and MSDS;
  • Tell workers about the health effects of formaldehyde, how to use the product safely, and what personal protective equipment to wear while using the product;
  • Give employees appropriate gloves and other personal protective equipment (e.g., face shield, chemical splash goggles, chemical-resistant aprons) and train them on how to use this equipment while mixing and applying the products;
  • Give workers respirators, if needed; train them to use the respirator properly; and meet the other requirements in OSHA’s Respiratory protection standard;
  • Train workers how to safely clean up spills and properly throw products out.
  • Make sure the workplace has eye and skin washing equipment if products that contain formaldehyde could be splashed onto the workers’ skin or into their eyes;
  • Get workers the right medical attention (e.g., doctor exams) if they develop signs and symptoms of an exposure to formaldehyde or are exposed to large amounts of formaldehyde during an emergency (e.g., a large spill).

Employers must also keep records of the air tests they perform, any medical attention needed by their employees, and respirator fit-testing.

Workers have a right to a safe workplace. Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards.

Source: OSHA Health Alert

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