Markey asks FDA to investigate hair straightening products

WASHINGTON -- Can vanity cause cancer?

Representative Edward Markey and some of his congressional colleagues are imploring the US Food and Drug Administration to investigate hair straightening treatments, such as the popular Brazilian Blowout, that contain formaldehyde, a carcinogen.

Markey, a Democratic member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat; and Representative Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat, sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg on Tuesday urging the administration to protect salon workers and consumers from adverse health concerns resulting from hair-straightening products and their toxic fumes.

Customers and workers across the country have complained of nose bleeds, breathing problems, vomiting, and hair loss associated with the use of products such as Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, the letter said.


Markey and his colleagues first contacted the FDA in May 2011, requesting the agency to initiate a voluntary recall of the products and institute better labeling practices and warnings. They also asked the agency to conduct a review of whether formaldehyde should be banned given associated health risks.

The FDA warned the makers of Brazilian Blowout that the agency considered the Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution to be misbranded because the product label falsely promoted the solution to be formaldehyde-free. Despite the August 2011 warning, the company has not reformulated its product to reduce or eliminate the levels of formaldehyde, the letter said.

Instead, the company sent letters to salons reaffirming the safety of its product and launched a new product, Zero+ Solution, which it claims does not release formaldehyde. To date, the FDA has not publicly taken any additional enforcement action against the company or substantiated its statement regarding its original Brazilian Blowout solution or its new product.

In January, the California attorney general's office reached a class-action settlement with the company, requiring it to stop deceptive advertising practices and to slap caution labels on the Brazilian Blowout treatment warning of the release of formaldehyde gas.


"The FDA should not blow-off investigating the serious health impacts associated with Brazilian Blowout and other hair straighteners that contain toxic levels of formaldehyde," Markey said in a written statement. "The FDA should immediately take action to stop the sale of these potentially carcinogenic hair straightening products and continue to evaluate whether to ban formaldehyde from hair straighteners altogether."

The $50 billion cosmetic industry sells the least regulated consumer products on the market, lawmakers said. Consequently, companies are allowed to use virtually any ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products, even if the chemicals are known to damage health or the environment.

Markey and Schakowsky introduced the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 to protect American consumers from being exposed to dangerous and cancer-causing ingredients. The bill calls for the removal of ingredients in cosmetics that are carcinogens or cause birth defects, gives the FDA authority to recall dangerous cosmetic products, and requires disclosure of all ingredients on a label so that customers know what they are purchasing.

Tracy Jan can be reached at tjan@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeTracyJan.