Blumenauer asks feds to investigate hair-care products with formaldehyde

Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., on Tuesday asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate two hair-smoothing products shown in recent Oregon tests to contain high levels of formaldehyde, even when labeled “formaldehyde-free.”

Brazilian Blowout and Acai Professional Smoothing Solution last week prompted an alert after the Oregon Occupational Safety & Health Division tested samples from three Portland salons and found they contained potentially harmful levels of the chemical. Studies link workplace formaldehyde exposure to higher-than-expected incidence of nose and throat cancer, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“It is completely unacceptable,” Blumenauer said, “for salon workers and customers to be exposed to formaldehyde without their knowledge.”

In letters dated Tuesday, Blumenauer asked the FDA and FTC to investigate whether the “formaldehyde-free” label on the smoothing solution constitutes misbranding, whether the product packaging identifies proper safety measures for those who use it, and whether the products expose consumers to health and safety risks.

Blumenauer also asked whether a recall is warranted.

Health complaints leveled by Molly Scrutton, 31, a stylist at Platform Artistic Salon in the Pearl District, led Oregon OSHA and Oregon Health & Science University’s Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology to test samples of the products in recent weeks, and testing continues. Scrutton suffered chest pains, sore throats and the first nosebleed of her life after using Brazilian Blowout on clients.

The first sample OSHA tested contained between 4.85 percent and 10.6 percent formaldehyde. The second, from a bottle labeled “formaldehyde-free,” was tested using four different methods. Results showed the product contained 10.6 percent, 6.3 percent, 10.6 percent and 10.4 percent formaldehyde, respectively. A third sample, the Acai smoothing product, contained 8.4 percent and 8.6 percent formaldehyde when analyzed two different ways.

OSHA requires manufacturers of products used in workplaces, and which contain more than 0.1 percent formaldehyde, to list the chemical and to address safe work practices on the material safety data sheet accompanying the product.

Scrutton said Tuesday she was pleased federal agencies might look into the issue. “In beauty and cosmetics,” she said, “there needs to be some regulation going on to ensure people’s safety.”

No one from the California company that makes Brazilian Blowout and Acai Professional Smoothing Solution returned calls for comment. On its website Tuesday the company said results of its own tests show “trace elements of formaldehyde at a level … considered safe and allows for use of the term ‘formaldehyde-free.’ ”

Last week, after the company blasted Oregon OSHA’s testing as invalid, OSHA spokeswoman Melanie Mesaros said her agency would be happy to test a sample right from Brazilian Blowout’s manufacturing line. Tuesday, she said the company had not taken OSHA up on the offer. The agency’s phones, however, have been busy with calls from concerned beauty professionals across the nation.

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