A popular hair treatment is facing widespread scrutiny -- and a class action lawsuit -- after the Canadian government issued an advisory warning that the solution contains jaw-dropping levels of formaldehyde.
Brazilian Blowout, a straightener that promises to leave hair "totally frizz-free, shiny, effortlessly manageable and with plenty of body and bounce," according to its website, was found to contain up to 12 percent formaldehyde. Canadian law forbids formaldehyde levels higher than 0.2 percent.
In its advisory on Thursday, Health Canada said it has received six complaints from consumers and two from hair stylists, all complaining of "burning eyes, nose, and throat, breathing difficulties, and one report of hair loss associated with use of the product."
That report apparently came from Suzanne Harvey, a Calgary woman who told the Times Colonist that her hair was "dropping on my arms to the point where my husband said, 'What's going on with your hair?'"
The shocking amounts of formaldehyde allegedly contained in the product are even more surprising in light of the manufacturer's claim that the product is totally formaldehyde-free. According to Brazilian Blowout's website, the product is: "The ONLY Professional Smoothing Treatment that improves the health of the hair. No damage! No harsh chemicals! NO FORMALDEHYDE!!"
Classified as probable carcinogen Formaldehyde is a probable carcinogen, with even one part per million potentially causing watery eyes, nausea, wheezing, and burning in the eyes, throat, and nose. Testing has shown that exposure to the chemical may have caused nasal cancer in lab rats.
For its part, Brand Building Communications, which distributes the product, said in a statement that the test results were inaccurate and the result of improper methodology. "It is important to understand that formaldehyde is not a cosmetic ingredient and never has been," according to the statement. "It is a gas that cannot be added to cosmetics and only exists in tiny trace amounts."
But the company's steadfastness wasn't enough to stave off a class action lawsuit, filed by salon owner Kim Ryley of Victoria, who has used the product since last October. Ryley said that, even in that relatively short period, she has experienced burning eyes and developed problems breathing. "I'm shocked and angry," Ryley told the Times Colonist. "The fact that we were sold and promoted a product that claims to be safe and formaldehyde-free is upsetting."
Her suit seeks compensation for both physical and financial injury as a result of using the product. Brazilian Blowout's website, which boasts that the product was American Salon's "2010 Professional's Choice Winner," says the product "will actually improve the health of color-treated/highlighted hair by conditioning the hair while sealing the cuticle for enhanced color, reduced frizz, and radiant shine."