Programs & Policy
Ten years ago it was discovered that some keratin hair straightening treatments used by professional salon workers contained high levels of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and was being released when the product was heated, per instructions, with a flat iron. As a result, salon workers were suffering health effects like difficulty breathing, bloody noses, headaches, rashes, chronic sinus and lung infections, and more.
The harmful exposure salon workers experience in the workplace as a result of these products is still very much an issue that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, the agency with oversight over the products, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has done little to nothing to protect salon workers’ health.
In 2011 the Environmental Working Group (EWG) filed a citizen’s petition asking the FDA to review the safety of hair straighteners. A citizen’s petition is a process where individuals and groups can file a formal request for the agency to take action on an issue (for example, the agency could update or change a policy, or issue a guidance document). Under the law the agency is required to respond.
The FDA never responded to EWG’s citizen petition and so Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) and EWG sued the agency for unreasonable delay. The lawsuit was dismissed because the judge ruled that EWG and WVE could not prove the organizations were injured by FDA’s delay in responding.
At that time, we vowed we would not give up until formaldehyde is banned from hair straighteners. And we haven’t. We are going to submit another citizen’s petition to the FDA, but this time we are asking salon workers who have been harmed by these products to sign on with us. This will make the petition much stronger and help show the harm these products continue to pose to salon workers.
If you are a salon worker whose health has been impacted by hair straighteners, please consider signing on to the petition! Your voice matters and will make a difference. Salon workers who sign on to the petition will also have the opportunity to receive spokesperson training, so you can speak to the media and others about what you have experienced. This is not required, but a great opportunity to raise your voice.
You’re not alone
For the last decade, we have heard continually from salon workers whose health has been hurt by formaldehyde in hair straightening products; here are just a few examples. Want to share your experience? Please share in comments below and sign on to the petition today.
Natalija – In the 9 months I did Brazilian Blowouts, my health steadily went downhill. I developed chronic sinus and respiratory infections that got so bad that I couldn’t sleep and gasped for air. Painful blisters showed up in my nose consistently. I am a runner, but I was constantly short of breath and I had heart palpitations. Even now, months later, I use an inhaler often before a run.
I knew there was some formaldehyde in the product, but like so many people, I assumed that it would be banned if it were toxic, and that the FDA would be protecting me.
But I was wrong.
Jennifer – Several of us moved to a salon that was willing to ban all hair smoothing treatments after showing the owner the research we had collected. But the problem is that exposure to formaldehyde doesn’t end with the treatment – the fumes are reactivated every time heat is applied to the hair…
My symptoms escalated into bloody noses, blistery rashes, and choking on phlegm in my sleep. I’ve had Bronchitis for the first time in my life and now I sometimes even cough up chunks of blood.