Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Brazilian that could cause cancer

The Brazilian blow-dry is the hairstyle that's turning heads worldwide. But few women in Britain realise it has also sparked a major health scare.

While governments around the globe have sounded alarm bells over the treatment, in Britain the authorities' response has been lukewarm at best.

One of the blow-dry's main ingredients is formaldehyde, a pungent gas which is used to bind the protein keratin to the hair, resulting in poker-straight locks.

Widely used to manufacture building products, in liquid form formaldehyde is also used as an embalming fluid.

But Canadian authorities declared the chemical a toxic substance as far back as 1999.

It is banned for some uses in Europe and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has declared it a known carcinogen — or cancer-causing substance.

Yet British lawyer Karen Jackson — of legal firm Roberts Jackson, who specialise in dealing with industrial diseases — says: "Here there have been no official warnings about the use of these kinds of treatments, despite alerts issued in the US and Europe."

In America the Department of Health and Human Services has added formaldehyde to its list of carcinogens and advised avoiding exposure to it.

Earlier this year American health authorities issued a hazard alert to salon owners and workers about the risk of using the chemical.

Now it has been branded "dangerous" by the US Food and Drug Administration who have issued a warning that many Brazilian blow-dry products — even those labelled "formaldehyde free" — can contain methylene glycol. This is simply formaldehyde dissolved in water, which can release the gas into the air.

A-list fans of the style include Liz Hurley Jennifer Aniston, Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie.

Yet there have been hundreds of complaints by US stylists complaining of allergic reactions after carrying out Brazilian blow-dries.

In the US the makers of Brazilian Blowout — the country's top-selling brand — are facing legal action by 200 people who say the product has damaged their health. Although Canada banned it in 2010, the manufacturers are continuing to maintain it is safe.

In Britain Emma Meredith, of trade body the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, said: "The CTPA issued an information sheet about the Brazilian blow-dry a year ago because we were concerned about what was coming to light about the product.

"It was being marketed as a totally natural and chemical-free treatment, but there is no such thing as chemical-free."

At Fabulous Hair Salon in East London they are doing a roaring trade in Brazilian blow-dries.

Stylist Nikki Henderson says: "They are hugely popular, as they can really tame frizzy hair. But we only use formaldehyde-free solution in our salon."

How it works
THE Brazilian blow-dry is hailed as miraculous by women who hate their frizzy hair. It calms tangled locks, leaving hair shiny, sleek and perfectly straight for up to four months.

Created in Brazil six years ago, the technique uses "natural" products such as the protein keratin. A solution is put on to the hair, then sealed in with extra-hot hair straighteners.

But one of the other main ingredients of the blow-dry is the chemical formaldehyde, which is used to bind the keratin to the hair — and which is causing the worldwide concern.

Potential dangers
US studies of mortuary workers using high levels of formaldehyde have shown raised incidence of a rare kind of nasal cancer.

Among reactions reported by stylists doing Brazilian blow-dries are hair loss, blisters, rashes, blistered scalps, dizziness, vomiting, mouth ulcers, eye irritations and breathing problems. Experts say there are also fears that if absorbed into the scalp the chemical can affect the growth of new hair.

Brit lawyer Karen Jackson says: "Beauty is not worth this level of risk."

EU rules state that Brazilian blow-dry hair solution must contain less than 0.2 per cent formaldehyde to be considered safe.

But in the US some straightening treatments have been found using 50 times this amount.

And there are fears here that some beauty salons are ignoring the warnings and continuing to use unsafe products.

Last year the EU issued warnings about four straightening treatments used in the UK — Brazilian Blowout, Coppola, Global Keratin and KeraStraight.

They should have been cleared from store shelves but earlier this year trading standards officials found they were still being used in salons all over the UK.

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