Can Keratin Treatments Make You Sick?

young woman with long hair( — You love that straight, glossy look that can last for months. But did you know that brazilian keratin treatments, according to various government reports and warnings, may actually be hazardous to your health?

How Brazilian Keratin Treatments Work

The Brazilian keratin treatment involves soaking the hair with a cocktail of keratin and oils to form a hard outer shell around the cuticle, which helps strands hold their new shape. The treatment works on all types of hair—even damaged or chemically treated tresses, says Dror Kraft, a stylist and treatment specialist at Pierre Michel Salon in New York City, who has been performing the service for several years.

Formaldehyde: The Toxic Chemical Culprit

The solution doesn’t alter your hair – instead, it locks in the temporary straightening results with formaldehyde—a chemical used in low levels in household cleaners, hand soaps, glue, and synthetic fabrics. “In higher concentrations formaldehyde can cause respiratory problems, skin allergies and irritation, and sometimes even cancer,” says Richard Parent, a board-certified toxicologist in Damariscotta, Maine. “And most—but not all—salon keratin treatments produce varying amounts of it,” says Wilson.

Formaldehyde is released during the final stage of the treatment process. Once a keratin-based complex is applied, the stylist flatirons the hair, “freezing” the new texture into place. When that happens, the heat from the iron sends fumes into the air.

How Harmful Is The Treatment?

After stylists began complaining about nosebleeds, eye irritation, and breathing problems after chemical exposure, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) decided to investigate. It tested samples of keratin treatments with the air quality in various salons. The report indicates that some solutions, like Brazilian Blowout, despite being marketed as “formaldehyde-free,” contained up to 10 percent of the preservative (according to OSHA, a “safe” product should contain no more than 0.1 percent formaldehyde).

What’s Being Done To Protect You?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has limited reach in protecting consumers at salons. “It doesn’t review cosmetics for safety or effectiveness before they go on the market. However, manufacturers do bear responsibility for making sure their products are safe to use,” says Siobhan DeLancey, a spokesperson at the FDA Office of Public Relations. One reason to breath easy: while some people might develop a sensitivity to the treatment, it’s unlikely that you’ll get sick from a few hours in the chair. Still, it’s a good idea to find a salon that offers Pravna Keratin Fusion, JK Smoothing Treatment, or Bio Ionic Kera Smooth—all with less than 0.1 percent formaldehyde. Or better yet, try Curl Interrupted, which has been independently tested to be free from the chemical.

What Should You Do To Better Protect Yourself?

Before you schedule any appointment, size up the salon. “Make sure the treatment is performed in a very well ventilated space,” says Paul Dykstra, CEO of Cosmetologists Chicago and America’s Beauty Show. A smart owner will limit the days the salon offers the treatment so fewer people are exposed to the fumes. In addition to this, the stylist should wear a gas mask and always offer one to his or her client.

If you experience any skin irritation or breathing problems during or after the treatment, see your doctor immediately. “At the end of the day,” says Parent, “your health is more important than your hair.”


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