Revisiting hair products and formaldehyde

I was recently asked by the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) Science Blog Administrator if something new was going on regarding hair smoothing products. Apparently the blog I wrote for NIOSH in 2012 (Hair, Formaldehyde and Industrial Hygiene) received a number of new comments and visits in January of this year. I held my breath – hoping against hope – that perhaps there was finally some good news I had missed: perhaps there might finally be tighter legal restrictions placed on hair smoothing products. Sadly, nope. Instead I tracked a January 2018 headline in the popular press titled “Khloe Kardashian Can’t Get This Controversial Hair Treatment While Pregnant.” In reading the article, a good industrial hygienist simply must ask – are the products stylists recommend or use as substitutes truly formaldehyde free? Sadly, that was a point we hoped to clear up over 5 years ago, but it’s still hard for the average consumer to know the truth, although all stylists should have access to material safety data sheets, the quality of which we can’t always predict.

The one bit of good news, is that our diligent partner, Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE), has attempted to keep up with the inventory of products still used in salons as hair smoothers. In December 2017 they posted the most recent data on formaldehyde concentrations known or believed to be in the products. I would steer any consumer or stylist to this document: Hair Straightening Products Containing Formaldehyde. I am disappointed to learn that two products, cited in the 2010 investigation, still contain what most would consider to be unacceptable levels of formaldehyde/methylene glycol (ranging up to 7%). In light of our lack of ability to control the use of these products, unlike our partners in the EU, we can only hope that the salons still choosing to use them provide full protections for stylists, staff and customers. Or, that customers look elsewhere. And we can continue to push for legislation to reduce concentrations of these chemicals in consumer products.

NIOSH Science Blog: Hair, Formaldehyde and Industrial Hygiene
OccHealthSci Resource Directory:  Industry Topics – Beauty and Salon
Women’s Voices for the Earth – Safe Salons
OSHA: Hair Salons – Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products
Emerging Issues and Alerts: Hair salon product update archive