JOEH Study: Popular Hair Styling Product Could Pose Health Risks to Cosmetologists

Posted July 25, 2013

A popular hair-straightening product used in salons could expose hair stylists to airborne formaldehyde at levels above limits determined by OSHA, NIOSH, and Cal/OSHA, according to a study published in the August issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH). The study investigated the hair product Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Hair Solution and discovered that cosmetologists and customers could be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of formaldehyde while using the product.

“Our study found that using Brazilian Blowout, without proper engineering controls like local exhaust ventilation, could expose hairdressers and their clients to formaldehyde at levels above the short-term occupational exposure limits,” said Michelle Stewart, who conducted the study as a graduate student in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.

According to Stewart and her colleagues, breathing-zone formaldehyde concentrations during some treatment steps in the study exceeded OSHA's 15-minute time-weighted average (TWA) exposure limit of 2 parts per million (ppm). And, during all treatment steps, concentrations exceeded the NIOSH recommended ceiling limit of 0.1 ppm. The product used in the simulation was found to contain formaldehyde at 120 mg/mL.

“While installing local exhaust ventilation is a traditional exposure control, that solution may not be feasible in small salons due to the cost of ventilation systems, permits, installations, ongoing maintenance, and efficacy checks,” said Stewart. “The recommendation is that salons use products containing no more than 0.1 percent formaldehyde, but the product we investigated contained 12 percent formaldehyde.”

View the full study from JOEH.

A 2011 episode of AIHA's podcast Safe & Sound features a guest from Oregon OSHA who discusses the exposures related to the Brazilian Blowout hair treatment.