Straightening frizzy hair without the formaldehyde
In the quest for silky smooth locks, wavy haired women are paying small fortunes for salon treatments, ignoring health warnings and driving a moral rift in the beauty industry.
But there’s an awakening afoot on the high end, hair straightening front. Amid renewed health concerns, an alternative market is appealing to a new following, promising the holy grail of hair solutions: straightening products that don’t belch out cancer causing fumes.
It’s a winning pitch, because at the heart of the frizz free fuss is an effective, yet deadly, ingredient: formaldehyde. A known carcinogen, it’s also a strong preservative that delivers lasting results for products that restore natural keratin proteins to damaged hair shafts.
"Every company is working on (alternative treatments)," said Alexander Ptschelinzew, of Alexander’s of Australia salon in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "Because there’s so much money to be made from it."
Not all keratin products use formaldehyde, but many of the longest lasting ones do, though mostly at "safe" levels. This despite strongly worded warnings, citations and national health alerts from the Food and Drug Administration and the Occupational Safety Health Administration over the Brazilian Blowout brand.
A formaldehyde free hair straightening in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Below, the result.
Complicating the issue: Clients are willing to pay top dollar for Brazilian Blowout, long the hottest brand on the keratin products market $250 to $350 for the 90 minute treatment. Each 1 liter bottle costs the salon just $350, and yields about $9,000 in service sales, by some industry estimates.
So salons have broken into two camps: those that cater to a persistent demand for the popular formula, and those that refuse to use it.
"I think it’s our responsibility to not put (our clients) in danger, number one, and not to put ourselves in danger, either," said Henry Amador, who removed Brazilian Blowout products from his salon.
Grace Metzger at Salon Mantra in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, after the new, safer, formaldehyde free hair straightening process is complete. (Ginny Dixon/Sun Sentinel/MCT)
He now uses Bumble and bumble, a formaldehyde free Estee Lauder brand that is among a growing cornucopia of alternatives vying for a piece of the straightener pie. Despite the blowup over Blowout, or perhaps because of it, Bumble and bumble’s CEO told Women’s Wear Daily in August that sales of smoothing treatments "are on fire." And the competition is fierce.
In 2009, there were just three in salon straightening systems on the market. In 2010, there were 19, a booming, high end service credited for driving a 4.5 percent growth in salon services in a down economy that usually hits such luxury businesses hard, according to Women’s Wear Daily.
In walks the formaldehyde free market with a timely angle. "the Queen of Curl," for example, offers a softening system that promises "smooth, frizz and formaldehyde free hair without any damage."
GKhair says its reformulated blend "contains all the benefits and features of formaldehyde, but without the use of formaldehyde."
Pantene Pro V says, "luckily, you won’t have to put your health in jeopardy to achieve frizz free locks" when using its specially formulated shampoo, conditioner and smoother.
Earlier this year, OSHA said its air tests found that workers in salons using Brazilian Blowout had been exposed to dangerous levels of methylene glycol, or liquid formaldehyde. The agency issued fines for multiple citations and a national health hazard alert. In August, the FDA warned the Brazilian Blowout company to stop misleading customers by misbranding itself as "formaldehyde free."
Brazilian Blowout CEO Mike Brady denies his product has failed any air standard tests and disputes the accuracy of OSHA’s results. In e mailed statements for this story, Brady said OSHA "has confirmed that Brazilian Blowout has passed 24 out of 24 controlled air monitoring tests," and that OSHA was reviewing its "faulty report," though he could offer no documentation for either claim.
OSHA spokeswoman Diana Petterson refuted both assertions and said the agency has warned Brady about making such "misleading and false statements" before.