Hairsylist speaks out: It’s time to ban toxic Brazilian Blowout

Guest blog by Jennifer Arce

I was glad to see Good Morning America’s hidden camera investigation about Brazilian Blowout. It’s shocking that so many salons are ignoring the many government warnings about these products. As a hairstylist seriously affected by this toxic treatment, I and so many of my colleagues know firsthand just how dangerous these products really are.

Going undercover is the perfect way to expose what’s really going on in salons across this country and revealing how clients are continually being lied to. I commend GMA for bringing this story to light, but sadly, they have only begun to scratch the surface here. Unfortunately, a three-minute story can’t capture all the escalating illnesses and severe health problems that this product and others like it have created for so many people working in salons, along with the turmoil and infighting that is going on behind closed doors.

Grown adults are being bullied for speaking up about being sick or for not wanting their clients to be exposed to the toxic fumes of formaldehyde. Many stylists are choosing to listen to a company that has done nothing but lie to them, instead of numerous government health agencies that are trying to protect and warn them about these dangers. If sore throats, bloody noses, rashes, respiratory problems, and even CANCER doesn’t scare them, maybe OSHA fining 26 salons for up to $17,000 each will get their attention!

Brazilian Blowout continues to blame the stylists for these ill health effects instead of the high levels of toxic formaldehyde. Now that the California Attorney General’s lawsuit has forced Brazilian Blowout to stop lying about being “safe” and “formaldehyde free” they may have come up with their craziest spin yet:

“Brazilian Blowout, like a number of products that we use each day, offer great benefits when used as directed. Aspirin, for example, can ease mild pain such as headaches. However, taking 12 aspirins at one time would result in adverse effects. Yet, no one has a fear of aspirin.”

Since when is cancer a great benefit? As ridiculous as it is to compare Brazilian Blowout to aspirin, unlike Brazilian Blowout, those aspirins would only harm the individual foolish enough to take 12 of them, and not innocent bystanders. That’s the story here: unsuspecting clients are being exposed to dangerous formaldehyde without their knowledge or consent.

The woman getting a hair smoothing treatment may be okay with exposing herself to the sensory irritation and carcinogenicity of formaldehyde, but what about everyone else in the room? Salons are filled with clients who have cancer and are going through chemotherapy, clients who are pregnant, clients with asthma, and mothers bringing their kids. People are getting sick when using this product “as directed” by the manufacturer and I have yet to see any of these companies set limits on how many of these toxic treatments a salon can do in one day. When we were performing this service in our salon, there were four Brazilian Blowouts done consecutively in one day alone.

The exposure doesn’t end when the client is finished with this service and walks out the door; these products reactivate every time you apply heat to them. Our salon owner had to put up a sign for our clients saying we can no longer provide any heat services on their hair if they’ve had ANY Keratin Smoothing Treatment in the last four months, because many of us were getting sick.

The GMA investigation exposes exactly why these products need to be recalled and taken off the market. The government warnings obviously are not getting to the stylists and these products are too dangerous to be used in salons. Innocent people are being exposed and people are getting sick. Visiting a salon should be a pleasurable experience, not a potential health hazard.

Five countries have already banned Brazilian Blowout, let’s make ours the sixth!

If you have been affected by Brazilian Blowout, the FDA needs to hear from you! Please go to the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance website and click on “tell the FDA your story.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Brazilian Blowout has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit for $4.5 million. As the New York Times reported today, Michael Brady, CEO of the company, said the settlement would be paid by his insurance company. He said the fact that the product does not need to be reformulated is “the acquittal we’ve been waiting for.” As I wrote in my earlier blog, Brazilian Blowout is the perfect case study for our broken system of consumer protection. A huge thank you to Jennifer Arce (that’s her above) and all the brave hair stylists who are speaking out about this injustice. – Stacy Malkan

30 Responses to “Hairsylist speaks out: It’s time to ban toxic Brazilian Blowout”

  1. Erin Says:

    Thank you for saying what so many others are afraid to, Jennifer! It’s just pathetic that the FDA is refusing to DO THEIR JOB by recalling toxic products.

  2. Natalija Says:

    Great job Jennifer!! I started a petition to the FDA to ban Brazilian Blowout a couple of days ago. Please go to it and in the comments I would love if you would post a link to your blog!

  3. DC Says:

    So basically this treatment exposes every Client and Stylist in the salon to toxic formaldehyde gas. Everytime you blow dry, flat iron or hot curl it at home you expose all of your family and pets as well. Isn’t this the same as smoking in a room full of people? It’s just like second hand smoke. If you want to expose yourself to it that’s one thing but how can you prevent an entire Salon from the effects as well? The U.S. needs to ban this like the other 5 Countries have done. We are just as educated and don’t need to put up with Mike Brady’s carelessness about our health!

  4. Jan Says:

    I am not surprised, especially since the FDA refuses to enforce lead levels in lipstick, and allows highlighting shampoos which can cause blindness. I am glad California has prop 65 to help (once you call calOSHA and turn them in). Then at least you can get a heads up on exposure. I can NOT believe they did not throw the book at them for falsifying their MSDS, though. Maybe CalOSHA will.

  5. Nicole Says:

    Thank you Jennifer for writing this blog. I am in skin care and don’t even work in a hair salon but was exposed to a client receiving this treatment from our spa owner, which is a hair stylist. Within minutes of asking the client if she wanted a magazine I returned to my treatment room down the hall only to become extremely dizzy and nauseous. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong for the remainder of my 8 hour shift, but as soon as I got home all of my symptoms had seemed to be gone. Not only until I kept repeatedly seeing and hearing how sick people have and can become from this treatment did I put it together that this is what happened to me.
    Mike Brady comparing this to aspirin and stating to, ” Use as directed” is still neglecting the fact that this treatment is harming the stylist that gives these treatments as well as their co-workers/clients surrounding them. Not to mention a salon doing multiple treatments in one day how harmful these fumes can increasingly become and linger. I strongly believe these products should be removed from salons all together and become banned as other countries have.

  6. Jason Says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! You pretty much just described my life and the hell that I’ve been through the last 2 years! I’m surrounded by greedy people who don’t care that their coworkers and even clients are getting sick and they lie to their clients all the time!

    To top it all off they do these Brazilian Blowout’s ALL THE TIME with kids and even babies in the room. They don’t care!

  7. Jason Says:

    You’ve hit the nail on the head! You pretty much just described my life & the hell I’ve been through the last 2 years! I’m surrounded by greedy people who don’t care that their coworkers & clients are getting sick & they lie to their clients about this being “formaldehyde free” all the time! They KNOW BBO has formaldehyde because we’re constantly putting warnings from Osha in the backroom, but they get torn down because they don’t want us messing with their money. To top it all off they do these BBO ALL THE TIME with kids & even babies in the room.
    I get a headache, sore throat, bloody nose every time they do a BBO & I feel like I’m going to faint. I’ve never had a sinus infection in my life & I get them all the time now! If these things don’t get banned I’m going to have to look for another career.
    The FDA needs to step in immediately and ban these things like so many other countries. It’s a shame this is happening in the U.S.

  8. Gina Says:

    Thankyou GMA for doing this story. And also to Jennifer for being the voice for so many salon workers. We need this information to get out to the public and to the people who can get these products off the market. I DO NOT understand how they have not been pulled off the shelves along time ago. Or for that matter even allowed to be on the shelves in the first place! I don’t think people realize how sick salon workers are really getting. Everytime I leave work, I leave work in tears. I feel so sick and I feel completely helpless. It doesn’t feel like a common cold “sick”. It actually feels like this product has taken years off my life. I do not ever feel “normal” anymore. Life as I new it is no longer. I have become so “sensitized” from exposure to this product that now common everyday products affect my ability to breathe. And that’s only one of my daily symptoms. I don’t want anyone else to feel like I do. Please get this product and all others like it pulled off the shelves immediately!

  9. Irene Says:

    I was a client at a salon for over 15 years when I suddenly started having breathing problems and severe asthma attacks while having my nails done. After several visits, all having these issues, I asked what was being used in the salon that was new or different. The answer was “Brazilian Blowout”. After another couple of visits, I decided that I could no longer continue as a client at that salon. Fortunately, my nail technician also was having issues with the Brazilian Blowout fumes and she changed salons, I followed her, and have found a new hair stylist. The new salon does not allow any Keratin treatments and since changing salons, I no longer need a daily inhaler and have not had any problems with asthma.
    These products need to be removed from the market and banned totally.

  10. Christi Says:

    Jennifer thank you for being a voice and protecting
    Yourself, coworkers and clients from such a harmful
    Treatment. It truly makes me sick that there are salons
    Out there that allow hairdressers to continue to provide these treatments knowing
    they are exposing harmful chemicals to everyone else in the
    Room. As a parent, I would be furious if my children
    were exposed to these chemicals in a salon while getting
    A haircut. I agree that these products should be banned
    Just as cigarette smoking is in public places.

  11. CL Says:

    I saw this on Good Morning America and I’m disgusted and appalled that any salon would continue putting their employees and clients in danger. I’m glad Osha is fining salons $17,000 hopefully they will go a step further and shut them down! Shame on the FDA for letting this drag on for so long. People are getting sick!

  12. Cindy Says:

    I’ve worked in a salon for over 14 yrs. and have never had any problems until my exposure to this product and now my life has never been the same. I’ve become very ill with raw sore throats, tightness in my chest, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, red burning skin, and I always have fatigue. I’m getting sicker and sicker with every exposure to this product and I’m unable to go to the doctor because I have no health insurance.
    I do not want to expose myself or my clients to TOXIC FORMALDEHYDE, but I have no choice because others around me choose to ignore these warnings. I should have the right to not expose myself to a harmful carcinogen while I’m at work, but because the government is failing to step in that right is being taken away from me!

  13. Jen Says:

    Thank you, Jennifer, for your bravery in being the voice of reason. Having known you for 20+ years it makes me so proud to see your strength and commitment in standing up for something you truly believe in. You are not a money hungry stylist that sees the dollar signs in the opportunity of such a service. You actually care about your clients! Bravo and thank you!

  14. Mary Says:

    I find it very disheartening that people really don’t care about this. I am wondering why stylist are continue using it in salon. Do they work in a booth rent situation or for an owner that makes them perform the service. I have a 2 chair salon and I for one WOULD NOT ALLOW IT! I also have realized that for new clients, I need to inquire if they have had it done, so I do not expose myself to those fumes if I style them out w/ a flat iron.
    So sad to see what this industry has turned to.

  15. Mandolyn Says:

    As a private studio owner with other studios around me, I thought I was getting away from it. I was wrong. Last night a studio owner near me did a BB. Instant my chest tightened and my eyes became red and irritated. I can’t stop coughing and it feels like there is junk in my lungs. Thanks to Jennifer and all her hard work trying to educate everyone on this toxic matter!

  16. Jennifer Arce Says:

    @Natalija~ your petition has been signed by myself and my family! Thank you for being PROACTIVE! It’s people like you that will be instrumental in getting these toxic treatments banned. Knowledge is power and our clients need to be educated and told the TRUTH about what might be going on around them. If our government isn’t going to step up we need to take matters into our own hands!

  17. Jackie Says:

    I can not thank you enough Jennifer for posting this and helping fellow stylist understand the dangers of this product. I have been in the industry for 13 years as a manicurist and I have never been as sick as I am now because of this product. It saddens me that I can’t do the things I want to do with my 4 year old daughter because most days I am battling ear pain, neck pain, sinus pain, and fatigue. The worse part is that I have been working in a Brazilian Blowout Free salon for over a year but the damage has been done. I am now on my second round of antibiotics to clear up yet another sinus infection and if it doesn’t go away I need to see an ear, nose and throat specialist. I look at my daughter everyday and wonder at what price having straight hair has done to my family and the salon community. I am a manicurist who only works 2 days a week and my symptoms are bloody noses, migraines, flu like symptoms and more. ( And the girls that were doing the product were Brazilian Blowout Certified and used it AS DIRECTED!!!) I pray every day that the symptoms will go away and that this product will not give me cancer leaving my little girl with no mother. I am so hurt and angry words can’t even describe.

  18. Anne Says:

    Outstanding job on educating people on the harmful effects of this product on salon employees and clients but what about if either of those individuals is PREGNANT! My daughters stylist had issues with her pregnancy, delivery, her baby was is the ICU for days and she also has problems with nursing. You would think with this many issues it might cross her mind that …duh there might be a connection. Keep up the good work as there is clearly more to learn.

  19. Michelle Says:

    Thank you Jennifer for shining a light on the dangers of Brazilian Blowouts. I have friends who pride themselves on living a healthy, organic lifestyle, yet, continue to get Brazilian Blowouts because their stylists insist that they are safe. Is there website or other materials that I can direct them to in order for my friends to read for themselves what they are doing to their bodies? Thank you for being so brave and speaking out about this DANGEROUS product!

  20. Jonathan Says:

    I want to thank you Jennifer for all the great work you are doing for stylists and clients. As a stylist for 15 years and was an owner of a salon who first allowed these so called “treatments” which i latter banned. I am disgusted with Brazilian Blowout and compaines a like that have no regards for humans safety. I have seen these symtoms in my salon and am outraged that they still continue to do business. In my opinon they should be held responsible for any medical issues that have occured from these “treatments” and when people do start showing signs of cancer they are held with manslaughter. Once again i want to thank you Jennifer for all your great work and keep it up, you have my full support and admiration for all you are doing…

  21. Jennifer Arce Says:

    @Jan~ I called Cal-OSHA back in 2010 and was told because I am “booth rent” there was absolutely NOTHING they could do to help me! The guy said he had been getting phone calls from people getting sick from these products, but there was nothing he could do about it because they were all calls from people who were “self-employed”. He said he was just waiting by the phone for an “employee” to call so he could get out there and do something.
    So, a government health agency is getting multiple phone calls from people getting sick at work, all from the same type of formaldehyde exposure, and they are unable to do anything about it. The problem with this is…the majority of hairdressers in California are self-employed!!

  22. T Says:

    Just want to thank Jennifer for letting other hairdressers feel like they can say no to using these types of hazardous products. I only hope that the effects felt from these products are not long term. I hope clients now realize the adverse side effects that this product has one hairdressers and themselves.

  23. Joan Says:

    Where to begin? As the mother of an adult daughter who is a hairdresser suffering from the adverse effects of Brazilian Blowout, it angers me that these treatments are still being allowed in salons throughout the country. After much thought, she felt her only alternative was to leave behind her co-workers and changed to a salon that did not allow these “hair smoothing treatments”. Unfortunately some of the co-workers in her new salon would do these “treatments” at home because they really are quite profitable. The problem then occurs when these clients come into the salon for other routine hair procedures. When this processed hair is exposed to the heat of a blow dryer, curling iron or a flat iron, the toxic gases of formaldehyde are then again released into the air. My daughter again suffers from this exposure along with other salon employees and unsuspecting clients. It makes no difference there is a sign posted in front of the salon claiming it is a Brazilian Blowout (and other hair smoothing products) free salon. I saw the GMA piece and applaud Jennifer’s efforts to get the product off the market. I cannot understand why the FDA would ignore all the reports of the adverse health effects of this known carcinogen and allow it to remain on the market. And finally, it saddens me that my daughter who loves being a hairdresser and is so very talented and respected by her clients, is in the process of looking for an alternate career for the sake of her health. She cannot continue to work in an environment in which she becomes severely ill and suffers respiratory distress. PLEASE–I implore we explore all efforts to get this product off the market!

  24. Jeannie Says:

    As a client and friend of Jenny, I have seen firsthand all of the time and hard work she has put into this cause! This is not an easy fight. I am so grateful to have a hairdresser who cares enough about her clients that she refuses to work in these conditions. If it weren’t for Jenny, I would be sitting in that toxic chair getting “pampered” every six to eight weeks. Worse even, my children would be in that same chair being poisoned as they were getting their hair cut. Heck, I don’t know any better. I believe what the warning label does or doesn’t say. I also understand that for some, across the nation, it is not that simple to find another salon that holds the values that Jenny’s does. This is why this needs to end! It is not fair to those people who have no choice! Thank you Jenny, for taking this on, and good luck to all of you that have been affected by this sad, sad issue!

  25. Nancy Says:

    I too have more than concerns about this product, in fact this company! How long were they going to let this product be sold knowing the terrible side effects it was causing? If it was not for the people who are now in the forefront of stopping this madness, it would still be out here in full strength. Have you who are still doing the Brazilian Blowout noticed that you are not getting the same results as you did with the original formula? Wow. Why is that? And have you noticed that there are not so many phone calls for this service? I have and that is because it has taken a while but the consumers are finally using their brains and not letting a hair dresser who’s main agenda is making money, talk them into doing something that is flat out WRONG.

  26. Linda Says:

    Any hair products are a major concern. Maybe now the government will look into any chemical in products used, not just consider the monies involved, but the health of the worker and the client.
    It is time to take a stand. Thank you

  27. Jennifer Arce Says:

    @Michelle~ that’s what’s so incredibly wrong about this. People who would normally NOT expose themselves to high levels of this TOXIC chemical are not making informed decisions because they’re not being given correct information. Even worse….so many people are being exposed to this and have absolutely NO CLUE! This is the one time where I will say don’t put your health in the hands of the hairdresser you may trust because WE HAVE BEEN LIED TO ALSO!!
    I suggest getting information from credible government agencies that have nothing to gain, rather than a company that is trying to sell a product and make money…even if it’s at your expense.
    These dangerous products aren’t still on the market in the U.S. because the government thinks they’re safe. Outdated federal laws from 1938 give the FDA almost no authority to regulate these cosmetics, unlike other countries that have already banned these hazardous products. It’s not just Brazilian Blowout either, please read….

    This is a HAZARD ALERT from Federal OSHA:

    If you would like to watch this story unfold from the very beginning and see all of the GOVERNMENT WARNINGS, click on this link and scroll down to where it says September 16, 2010 and work your way up to the top:

  28. Dede Montgomery Says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. I would continue to encourage conversations between stylists and scientists and regulators in our efforts to provide safe and healthy work spaces and products. As you can see from the Emerging Issue citation you listed above, this has been a long journey already. I would also encourage you to see the related discussion, if you haven’t already, on the NIOSH Science Blog: Hair, Formaldehyde and Industrial Hygiene at:

  29. Jelena Says:

    I think Brazilian Blowout should be put out of business, I have not had any sickness nor have my clients, but i say we were lucky I believe. I would get burning eyes, so I made SURE I was in a ventilated area, however I have stopped doing BB and only offer Keratin to my clients now. I was furious that BB had lied, and they are still LYING! At the salon where I work, we get literature and phone calls all the time from BB saying their product is safe! Some of the girls had purchased the “new” BB ZERO, it doesnt work! The old formula is different now too. I think that a company that lies like BB has; should not be allowed to conduct business here, they need to be punished for what they have done. As for these salons where there are rental stations and the owner is telling you they cannot do anything? That is BS, as an owner they can say that for the overall health and wellfare of EVERYONE they cannot offer that service. You dont tell your clients and stylist they can smoke inside right? It doesn’t make any sense, the owner is just that, the owner, they can tell the stylist no, and if they don’t like it they can leave, go rent elsewhere. I can tell you if they advertise that empty chair in a BB FREE salon it would fill up really quick! IF YOUR HEALTH IS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU THEN FIND ANOTHER SALON TO WORK IN! DO NOT STAY THERE!

  30. Nancy Says:

    Yesterday a Brazilian Blowout was done in our salon. We have not had one done, at least not while I was there, for about two months. The owner of the salon is very much against the blow out procedure, but some of the stylist say they are making money from it and will not stop doing it. They will follow her guidelines but not stop doing them. The salon had the tell tale steam in it during the processing, and only one was being done! Last night I found my self short of breath several times. This is something that happens now every time a blow out is done. I went to my Dr. last year and he told me I was allergic to something that had given me bronchitis. I now use an inhaler. Last night I had to use it. It has been months since I used it. I know what is causing it. I want this terrible product off the market, you should want this off the market. If you haven’t had any breathing problems, and you work where these are done, it is only a matter of time. It is frighting not to be able to breath.

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