Expert Advice

What's Up With Those Brazilian Relaxers?

Web Editor | July 10, 2011 | 6:20 PM

What's Up With Those Brazilian Relaxers?

Consumers are amped about the hair-straightening Brazilian Keratin Treatment (BKT). They say Brazilians do the job and then some.

But pros retort that the treatments’ active ingredient is often two to four percent formaldehyde, a carcinogen that releases noxious fumes and adheres to hair.

Still other versions claim to be formaldehyde-free. What’s the real story?

The Cosmetic Ingredient Review Expert Panel, which sets safety standards, has determined that .2 percent is a “safe” level of formaldehyde. Since some of the Brazilian products contain nearly 10 times that, you’d think they’d be banned by the FDA. No chemists are complaining, say sources (who prefer to remain anonymous, because it’s like physicians attacking the American Medical Association. In fact, when interviewed for PROCESS, several manufacturers’ chemists refused to discuss the issue.)

According to Patrick Obukowho, the president and principal consulting chemist at Advantage Research Labs in Woodbridge, New Jersey, when used as a preservative, formaldehyde is held to very low levels—.1 to .2 percent—and is usually in a rinse-off product, so the possibility of retaining residual chemicals is much minimized.

Hairdressers using BKT have greater exposure than consumers. What can they do to protect themselves?

“Always wear gloves and work in highly ventilated areas,” advises Obukowho.

Add to that, say dermatologists, read the ingredients label and never use products with more than .2-percent formaldehyde on pregnant or nursing women.


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