Last June, before we left to spend three weeks travelling through the sweaty and humid East Coast, I decided to get something done that I otherwise normally would never do. I got a Brazilian Blowout. Now, before you go thinking this has something to do with coloring my pubic area hot pink or something, let me 'splain.
It's a keratin based, formaldehyde free hair "straightening" process that was being offered at my Aveda salon. It's not a true straightener in that it coats the hair shaft and doesn't remove the curl so much as remove the frizz. It's not exactly the most eco-friendly thing to do, but I did it partly as part of my book project and partly, well, because I wouldn't mind having a frizz-free, trouble-free, hair-dryer free, flat-iron free vacation. And, for that, it delivered.
I had received a 50% off coupon as well as another deduction otherwise I never could justify the $350 price tag. Or, could I? Since the coating lasts about three months before it wears off and you go back to your formerly frizzy glory, I would save, literally, hours working on my hair. How much was that worth to me? Well, if it was something I wanted to continue doing, I could certainly justify the cost.
In any case, I had looked into a previous version of the process and had read that there were complaints about the process, but this new version (introduced last winter) was all-natural! Formaldehyde-free! And so good for your hair that my Aveda salon was offering it. Sign me up.
I went and had it done and, I have to say, I couldn't smell anything while my stylist was working on my hair. When she applied it to my scalp, however, it stung like a mother-fucker. Sorry, there really isn't any other way of accurately describing the burning sensation. It lasted for about 30 seconds after she "painted" it on various section of my head.
Next came the "blowout" where I had two stylists blow dry my hair with the solution on it. One of the stylists, who hadn't done this before, was complaining that it was making her eyes sting. The other stylist showed her how to direct the hair dryer away from her face so the atomized product didn't blow into her face. Problem solved.
Let me just say, the results were nothing short of miraculous. My hair was glossy straight without having to do anything to it, and this lasted for months, as advertised. Not advertised was the fact that my scalp flaked off in huge chunks for a month afterwards. Not really something I wanted to deal with on vacation, that's for sure. I had to make sure I dried my roots to blow off all the scalp chunks and flakes that were coming off of my head before going out.
Also not advertised was the fact that I actually missed the natural body of my hair. I wasn't used to having stick straight hair and, honestly, I didn't like it. It felt flat and weird instead of big and poofy. And, I'll take frizz and body any day over the alternative.
So, it wasn't with much surprise that I saw this article from NPR about how a salon stylist, who was experiencing health problems after offering this new salon service, looked into the ingredients of the Brazilian Blowout and, after several lab tests, they showed varying levels of formaldehyde in the product. Samples tested in various Portland salons showed formaldehyde levels between 8.85 and 10.6%, which is far higher than the 0.2 percent considered safe by the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Panel. This, of course, explains the effects I and my stylists encountered.
The manufacturer, at the time I had it done, was claiming that their product was 100% safe and made of the same material that constitutes your hair. It sounds like they are changing their story after these results were made known and after the Canadian government started warning stylists and consumers not to use their product.
Formaldehyde, which is a chemical the National Cancer Institute calls a cancer-causing substance, is really not something I want painted on my scalp and inhaled into my lungs. Am I mad? You bet. This is false advertising at it's worst - convincing consumers that you are selling something blatantly containing something you say isn't there. Am I partially to blame? You bet. Going in to get a salon treatment where you don't know the ingredients is always risky and I, of all people, did a hell of a lot more research than your average consumer.
In fact, the entire time I was getting the treatment done, I was discussing the "previous" version with my stylist, explaining the health risks of the "previous" version that contained formaldehyde and how this newer version was allegedly an improvement. She even went to check the bottle to check on the ingredient list. Of course, there wasn't one.
No surprise there. It's safe to say I'll never be doing this again. Hell, I even stopped coloring my hair 10 months ago since I wasn't sure what was in the Aveda products.
As with most products sold in this country, always remember: buyer beware. There's no U.S. government entity looking out for your safety.
Special thanks to Jenny K. for alerting me of these latest findings!