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Brazilian Hair Straightening Treatments: Are the Controversies B.S.?

Updated on November 15, 2010
Watch: The ‘I Am Not My Hair’ Video At The bottom Of This Page
Watch: The ‘I Am Not My Hair’ Video At The bottom Of This Page

Brazilian straightening treatments are hot new processes to tame curly locks that might be flat out dangerous.

While many salons claim their procedures are safe, the skinny on Brazilian straightening is that all the products contain formaldehyde.

The newest treatment, the Brazilian Blowout, claims to not have any form of formaldehyde, but government tests of the product discovered formaldehyde in small amounts, according to an ABC news report.

Some women exposed to the Blowout product have also complained of sensitivity symptoms like, difficulty breathing, nosebleeds and burning eyes and skin which are similar to formaldehyde exposure.

With so much controversy surrounding these very effective, but possibly unsafe straightening method, salon owners are now sweeping the dust under the carpet and calling the tiger a kitten.

Names like, BKT, or Brazilian Keratin Treatments have become more common than the original hazardous namesake, and some salons claim to use to smallest percentage needed.

But... where safety is concerned... it's best to be an informed consumer.

First, it's important to understand small amounts of formaldehyde are present all around us, it occurs naturally and is found in many man-made products.

Questions arose because the formaldehyde used in manufactured products breaks down slowly under normal circumstances and is not rapidly released into the environment.

However, heat (blow drying) and moderate humidity levels (a steamy bathroom)  hastens the breakdown and release of the chemical into the air.

Since keritan helps the formaldehyde bond to the hair, the chemicals will stick around awhile, meaning it will be hard to wash out in a few shampoos. There are concerns the chemical could accumulate on the hair over time and will be re-released with each wash and dry.

So, long-term use of the straightening method would also mean long-term exposure and accumulation on the hair.

What Are The Effects Of Formaldehyde?

1) Some people are naturally highly sensitive to formaldehyde, others may not be as sensitive but over time develop an allergy to it. It's in the chemical's make up to stir the immune system and cause sensitivity.

2) Runny nose, sore throat, headache, itching, and irritated eyes can occur with low levels of exposure.

3) It is also a known carcinogen, and smokers in particular are at a greater risk for cancers of the airways, including nasal passages when they are exposed to formaldehyde.

How Can We Protect Ourselves?

Pregnant women, people with compromised lung functioning whether from bronchitis or smoking, and formaldehyde sensitive people must make a great effort to avoid exposure.

Ask if Formaldehyde or the Brazilian Straightening System is being used in your salon. There are salons that refuse to use the system because of the risk to their clients.

People working with chemicals are just as at risk as the clients they serve. Wearing gloves, and installing a proper ventilation system could help, but remember you are still exposing yourself continuously thereby increasing your chances of harm.

If you experience the symptoms associated with low level exposure, get outside, if product is in the hair ask the stylist to ventilate the room, and rinse it out ASAP once you feel better.

If you suddenly experience shortness of breath, accompanied by hives, or burning sensations around your head, ask for help, call 911, and get to a ventilated area.

If after a few days with the treatment you or family members start feeling under the weather with respiratory symptoms and fatigue, consult your doctor, and tell him/her about your exposure to formaldehyde.

How Can You Get Straight Hair Without Chemicals?

Ceramic flat irons are great. They smooth, and give just enough lift and curl to make curly heads happy without the unflattering look of flat lifeless hair.

There are lots of people who thought bone straight hair was their dream and got the BS treatment only to find out that the look makes them look all washed up.

But.. if you still have a will to wilt the links below might be helpful.

As for folks happy with the treatment, there are many results.

My daughter had a mild Brazilian treatment to defrizz.

Her hair was still wavy and it gave her a little confidence boost when she started high school without frizzy hair. BUT... she hated the formaldehyde odor when it was wet or even dampened in a light rain. She decided to not go back for more treatments. Her hair grew out fine.

There are good and bad comments below (read them, I don't delete any because they don't agree with me). Some folks had the treatment without incident, others complained of breakage and hair falling out. Some believe it's worth the risks, others don't believe in the hype, and there are many more who have experienced reactions.

In the end, it's your decision to make. However, now you know the risks involved and the danger signs.

Best of Luck

I Am Not My Hair so... Let's Celebrate Our Souls


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