Skip to main content

Formaldehyde on my Hair? No Thanks!

Sep 28, 2011 09:30AM ● By Tony Gordon

Originating in South America, the Brazilian Keratin Treatment started becoming popular in the United States in 2007. This straightening system creates smooth, frizzless hair for up to four months. What many people don’t know or choose to ignore is that this treatment contains formaldehyde, an extremely toxic chemical. With ongoing exposure, formaldehyde can affect many areas of the body, may cause cancer and can be deadly.

The maximum level of formaldehyde for safe cosmetic ingredients, as set by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, is .2 percent. Most professional keratin treatments contain concentrations ranging from 3.4 to 22.1 percent, which is 100 percent times the “safe” level. These treatments also have not been approved or regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Formaldehyde is classified as a carcinogen and also causes many other serious problems for the lungs, skin and eyes. Formaldehyde has been associated with brain and nasal cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Unfortunately, there is no safe way to apply the Keratin Treatment. These toxic fumes are always released into the air when the procedure is applied, affecting the client, nearby clients and the stylist. Every time the person who received the treatment applies heat to their hair, through blowdrying or styling, the toxic fumes are again released into the air, affecting everyone in the area.

Formaldehyde also causes difficulty breathing, coughing, and burning of the nose and throat. Severe respiratory tract injuries can occur, which can then lead to pulmonary edema, an abnormal buildup of fluid in the air sacs of lungs. This buildup causes a variety of unpleasant symptoms. It can also lead to inflammation of the lung tissue, or pneumonitis.

Formaldehyde also causes cracking, discoloration, burning and drying when it comes into contact with the skin. Long-term contact with the toxic chemicals through daily salon exposure can lead to numbness, hardening and tanning of the skin—even loss of vision. Formaldehyde is scary for both customer and salon professional, to say the least.

Fortunately, there are several alternatives to this harmful treatment. One of the most popular alternatives is Japanese Relaxing. Also known as thermal reconditioning, the process permanently straightens wavy or curly hair. Not only does it make hair silky and smooth, it improves its overall condition. Japanese Relaxing uses protein-rich maintenance products that last seven to 10 months. Only touch-up appointments for the roots are necessary. Some salons also offer their own formulations of relaxing and retexturing systems that are free of formaldehyde and other carcinogenic chemicals.

When choosing a straightening system, talk to the salon owner and your stylist. Find out what products they are using and ask to see the labels. Be wary of words such as keratin, Brazilian blowout, sulfates, petrochemically derived ingredients and formaldehyde. Instead, look for a system that mentions thermal straightening, naturally derived ingredients and ammonium thioglycolate. Please be kind to your body and the environment in the pursuit of personal beauty.

Tony Gordon is the co-owner of Gordon’s Aveda Salon & Spas, with locations in Highland Park, Wilmette and Lakeview (Chicago). Gordon brings every client his passion for excellence and keen eye for style, and is a fourth-generation hair stylist who has trained with top world stylists and designers. For more information call 847-266-7777 or visit