Unwanted Side Effects of Brazilian Keratin Treatments

African-American girl with hair damaged after keratin treatment

Keratin treatments have become very popular over the past decade due to their ability to dramatically change the appearance of frizzy and unmanageable hair. A keratin straightening treatment is known for its ability to turn frizzy and curly strands into pin-straight and smooth hair. It makes hair more manageable and gives that healthy, shiny, and sleek look for up to four months. Keratin treatments are typically performed in a salon by a certified hair professional. However, several smoothing treatments suitable for home use have entered the market recently.

Are Keratin Treatments Safe for Your Health?

To make hair straight, the formula– along with keratin – must contain chemical straightening agents. Many straightening systems use formaldehyde or its derivatives for straightening purposes. However, these chemical ingredients can cause both acute and long-term health problems. Your biggest concerns as a client are the short-term effects, which may include irritation of your skin, eyes, nose, and throat.

One of the main problems with keratin treatment products is that manufacturers don’t stick to the regulations that determine the concentrations of formaldehyde. The information on the label may not be completely accurate or may miss to include the correct hazard warnings. In such cases, even hair salon owners might don’t know that hair straightening products contain formaldehyde. Some of the formaldehyde-containing products may even be labeled as “formaldehyde-free”. An air test performed by Federal OSHA has shown high formaldehyde fumes level in salons using Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, which has been labeled as “formaldehyde-free”.

Dangers of being exposed to the chemicals during and after the straightening procedure include

  • Dizziness
  • Eye irritation
  • Skin irritations, particularly on the scalp
  • Ears and nose irritation
  • Coughing and difficulty in breathing
  • Hair loss
  • Allergic reaction

Allergic reactions manifest in the form of itching, skin irritation, burning eyes, burning throat, and asthma attacks. Your dermatologist will give you advice on substances you should stay away from. Make sure to inform your stylist if you have any history of allergic reactions.

Many salons take special safety precautions during the procedure, like proper ventilation and protective masks and gloves for their workers. However, continuous exposure to chemicals could pose health risks and cause both acute and long-term health problems for the stylists.

Health Risks of Exposure to Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde is present in many products as a preservative, embalming agent, or a disinfectant. Formaldehyde can also modify our hair proteins, causing the hair to return to its original, smooth state. Formaldehyde is classified as a suspected human carcinogen, according to Agency and federal OSHA. It can cause acute and long-term health problems in sensitive persons, including breathing difficulties, nausea, and bloody noses. Formaldehyde levels of above 0.1 ppm in the air can irritate the nose, throat, and lungs. If formaldehyde levels go up, the symptoms will get worse.

You can be exposed to formaldehyde by:

  • Breathing it in through your nose or mouth
  • Getting it on your skin
  • Getting it in your eyes or mouth
  • Being used on other customers in a saloon

Is there a Formaldehyde-Free Keratin Treatment?

There are many formaldehyde-free formulations that are now available due to raised awareness of the problem. As the public awareness grew, salons began offering “no-formaldehyde” and “low-formaldehyde” treatments. However, some hair-smoothing products listed as formaldehyde-free actually contain ingredients that break down into formaldehyde during the heat application stage. These formaldehyde-producing ingredients may be listed as formalin, formic aldehyde, methanol, methylene glycol, methylene oxide, paraform, oxomethane, and oxymethylene. Other products that claim to be formaldehyde-free, were found, when tested by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), to contain significant levels of formaldehyde. The low-formaldehyde products, while not as toxic as the original formulations, still carry health risks.

Alternatives to Keratin Straightening

If you want smooth, frizz-free hair without possible side effects, there are some highly effective alternatives to formaldehyde-based straightening treatments.

To get the quality, long-lasting straightening results you need to spend good money on very high quality, ceramic plated flat iron. Quality flat iron should go at least up to 400 degrees, as this is the temperature that really helps smooth the cuticle and infuse hair with intense shine. Other features to look for are tourmaline and ionic technology. These features mean that the product uses negative ions to make the hair shiny and frizz-free.

Other options to get straighter, shinier, and more manageable hair is to do Botox hair treatment or to opt for a gentle amino acid-based smoothing treatment. Some of these mild smoothing treatments you can do yourself or with a little help from your more experienced friend.

The following is the list of keratin treatments that are known to contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde donors.

PRODUCTS LISTED IN HEALTH CANADA ADVISORIES WITH LEVEL OF FORMALDEHYDE (Source: d-scholarship.pitt.edu/19728/1/Frawley_MPH_essay_8_2013.doc)

PRODUCT/LEVEL OF FORMALDEHYDE
Brazilian Blowout Smoothing Solution by Brazilian Blowout 8.4 %
Brazilian Keratin Treatment by Marcia Teixeira 1.8 %
Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy Treatment by Copomon (Coppola) 1.8 %
Global Keratin Taming System Strawberry by Global Keratin 3.0 %
Global Keratin Taming System with Juvexin Strawberry Resistant by Global Keratin 4.4 %
Pro-Collagen RX Keratin Treatment 2.8 %
IStraight Keratin (Advanced Keratin Treatment) by IBS Beauty 2.3 %
Brazilian Thermal Reconstruction by Cadiveu 7.0 %

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