The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) needs to step up and take action on dangerous hair straighteners used in salons. When testing found that a popular hair straightening treatment, Brazilian Blowout, contained high levels of cancer-causing formaldehyde (as much as 11%!) I thought for sure the FDA would step in, even with the agency’s limited authority, and do something to protect salon workers and customers. After all, several other countries including Canada, Ireland and France took immediate action and got Brazilian Blowout off the shelves. Sadly, it’s been two years since the Brazilian Blowout scandal broke in the U.S. and this product is STILL being sold and used across the nation.
Unfortunately it’s not a new story. Despite the FDA knowing for years about mercury in high fructose corn syrup, the agency never forced companies to change manufacturing processes that led to the contamination. In a story that made headlines across the nation last year, at least 35 people were killed as a result of contamination in steroid drugs manufactured and distributed by the company New England Compounding Center. The FDA was aware of serious problems at the Center as far back as 2002. A tragedy had to occur before the agency forcefully reacted.
Which makes me think—what is it going to take to get the FDA to actually DO SOMETHING about Brazilian Blowout? We know that over time exposure to formaldehyde may cause cancer. And cancer kills.
Over a year ago (in August 2011 to be exact), the FDA sent a warning letter to the makers of Brazilian Blowout telling the company that the agency considered the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution to be misbranded and adulterated under federal law. Not only did the product have high levels of formaldehyde, but the company actually labeled the product formaldehyde-free (thus the misbranding)! According to the FDA, a product is considered adulterated “if it contains any poisonous or deleterious substance which may render it injurious to users under the conditions of use.” In other words, the FDA considered formaldehyde in the product to be unsafe.
Okay, great, the FDA recognizes that the product is unsafe — that means the company has to reformulate, right? Wrong. Just last year, after the state of California reached a settlement with the company that required them to properly label their product, the chief executive responded, “We get to sell the product forever without reformulation.” Clearly the company is thumbing its nose at the FDA and the California Supreme Court and doesn’t care that their product is exposing their customers to cancer-causing formaldehyde and causing other adverse reactions and injuries.
And what has the FDA done since that warning letter? Nothing. The Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution is still being used in salons across the country. Now, granted, our cosmetics laws in the United States are so weak the FDA has limited authority over cosmetics and salon products. But when a product is considered adulterated, and the manufacturer takes no action to fix the problem, the FDA does have the power to take legal action. In fact, several years ago the FDA ordered U.S. Marshals to seize an eyelash conditioner from store shelves because the agency determined it was an adulterated product.
As coordinator of the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance, I continually hear from stylists whose health has been harmed as a result of using hair straightening treatments that contain formaldehyde. People like Jennifer, Dawn and Natalija whose lives (and health) have been forever changed as a result. Last year Jennifer, along with other members of the Alliance, delivered 40 letters from stylists to the FDA pleading with the agency to get these dangerous products off of the market. The stylists I talk to can’t understand why the FDA hasn’t taken any concrete action to protect stylists and their customers from harmful exposure to formaldehyde. I honestly don’t understand what is taking the agency so long either.
Even the Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel (CIR), a panel WVE, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Alliance have been very critical of because of its industry ties, ruled that the current use of formaldehyde in hair straighteners is unsafe. Still the FDA has done nothing. And, not surprisingly, the makers of Brazilian Blowout haven’t heeded CIR’s advice. We know Brazilian Blowout isn’t going to do the right thing and pull their products from the shelves. That’s why we need the FDA to take action.
What gives me hope is the stylists who have mobilized on their own to stand up for their right to work in a safe and healthy environment. Natalija, a stylist in New York, has started her own petition on Change.org asking the FDA to keep stylists and consumers safe from the dangers of hair straighteners.
It’s a sad story, but not a new one. Will the FDA ever learn that ignoring a problem won’t make it go away?