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Toxicology Research Center Issues Public Alert On Popular Hair Salon Treatment

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Video Interview with Dede Montgomery

Oregon Health & Science University's Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology (CROET) is responding to concerns raised by Portland-area hair salons about a product used for hair straightening. CROET has issued two public alerts describing its findings on the possible negative health impacts of this product.

The product being tested is called Brazilian Blowout. After receiving two samples from Portland-area salons, CROET asked the Department of Consumer and Business Services' Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Division to chemically analyze the products. The results of Oregon OSHA's testing showed that two different formulations of the product contained between 4.85 percent and 10.6 percent formaldehyde. In addition, the second sample, which came from a bottle labeled "formaldehyde-free", was tested using four different methods. The four test methods revealed that the product contained 10.6 percent, 6.3 percent, 10.6 percent and 10.4 percent formaldehyde, respectively. Variations occurred based on the type of test that was conducted. Additional laboratory analysis also detected four additional chemicals in each sample that were not quantified in the lab, including methanol and ethanol.

If a product used in a workplace contains more than 0.1 percent formaldehyde, OSHA requires the manufacturer to list it and address safe work practices on the material safety data sheet accompanying the product. OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard requires employers to educate their potentially exposed employees about safe usage. In addition, OSHA's Formaldehyde Standard applies to occupational exposures to formaldehyde, including from formaldehyde gas, its solutions and materials that release formaldehyde. The formaldehyde standard includes requirements for employers to ensure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde that exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per millionin an eight-hour period. A short–term exposure can't exceed two parts per million in a 15-minute period. The American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, an advisory group, recommends that employees not be exposed to greater than an upper or ceiling concentration of 0.3 parts per million.

"The test results coupled with health symptoms reported to us from stylists using the specified hair product raised concerns at CROET because of the potential long-term and short-term impacts of formaldehyde exposure," explained Dede Montgomery, an occupational safety and health specialist and certified industrial hygienist at CROET who is leading the studies.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, formaldehyde can produce a variety of effects, including immediate irritation of eyes, skin, nose and upper respiratory tract, cough, chest pain, shortness of breath and wheezing. The major concerns of repeated formaldehyde exposure are sensitization, which is similar to an allergic condition, and asthma in those who have been previously sensitized to formaldehyde. Additionally, the Department of Health and Human Services has determined that formaldehyde may reasonably be anticipated to be a carcinogen," said Montgomery.

After obtaining the results of this testing, CROET issued two alerts through its Web site and shared its findings with the Food and Drug Administration, the California Department of Public Health, the state where the company is based, and with Oregon OSHA. CROET will continue to work with Oregon OSHA.

Oregon OSHA is conducting additional testing and is working with California OSHA, Federal OSHA, the Oregon Department of Justice and Oregon Public Health.

Employers and workers with questions or concerns can call Oregon OSHA's technical section at 503-378-3272 for more information. Employers can also request a confidential, on-site consultation by Oregon OSHA to assist in determining employee exposure.

"CROET will continue its research and collaboration with state and federal agencies. Based on the information we have received to date, we felt that additional public notification is required," said R. Stephen Lloyd, Ph.D., interim director of CROET and a senior scientist at the center.

Additional information about CROET's research on the ingredients of Brazilian Blowout is available.

Timeline of events




Portland-area salon contacts CROET with concerns about a product called Brazilian Blowout Solution. The salons reported nosebleeds, eye irritation and breathing problems and had discontinued use of the product. The material safety data sheet accompanying the product listed no hazardous ingredients

7/29/2010 The Portland-area salon provides CROET with a bottle of the product and documentation that it was shipped to the salon on Aug. 27, 2009. CROET sends the product to Oregon OSHA for testing.
8/19/2010 Oregon OSHA completes its testing and shares results with CROET. Testing shows the solution contains 4.85 percent formaldehyde. CROET shares theis information with the affected salon. CROET continues researching information known about this product and learns about the existence of a newer formula.
9/02/2010 OHSU CROET receives a second sample of the Brazilian Blowout from a second salon. The product is labeled "Acai Professional Smoothing Solution" and a shipping label reports the product was shipped to the salon by the company on Aug. 12, 2010. The bottle is also labeled "formaldehyde-free." CROET sends the product to Oregon OSHA for testing.
9/17/2010 CROET posts a public alert to its Web site while awaiting sample analytical results for sample 2.
9/23/2010 Oregon OSHA completes its testing and shares the results with CROET. Four separate testing methods reveal the sample contained 10.6 percent, 6.3 percent, 10.6 percent and 10.4 percent formaldehyde, respectively.
9/24/2010 CROET posts a second public alert to its Web site, begins additional public communications


Additional information about formaldehyde

Federal Occupational safety & Health Administration

The National Cancer Institute

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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The Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology is a center within OHSU dedicated to health and safety in the work force. The center's mission is to promote health, and prevent disease and disability among working Oregonians and their families during their employment years and through retirement. This is achieved through basic and applied research, outreach and education. CROET offers the public information on occupational health and safety online through the CROETweb resource directory and the Toxicology Information Center. CROET is comprised of more than 100 scientists and research staff. The center's base funding is provided through the Oregon's Workers' Compensation system.

About OHSU
Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and only academic health center. As Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves more than 184,000 patients, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,900 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.

About Oregon OSHA
Oregon OSHA, a division of the Department of Consumer and Business Services, enforces the state's workplace safety and health rules and works to improve workplace safety and health for all Oregon workers. The Department of Consumer and Business Services is Oregon's largest business regulatory and consumer protection agency. For more information, visit

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