Formaldehyde in Hair Smoothing Products: What You Should Know: Consumer Update
AUDIENCE: Consumer, Patient, Health Professional
ISSUE: Most hair smoothing or straightening products release formaldehyde gas, a known human carcinogen as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, into the air during the hair straightening or smoothing process. When formaldehyde is released into the air and is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, it can cause serious irritation of your eyes, nose, and lungs. It can also cause skin sensitivity or allergic dermatitis. Formaldehyde exposure can cause both short- and long-term effects that may impact your health.
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BACKGROUND: If you decide that you want to make your hair less frizzy or straighter, you may choose to go to a professional stylist at a hair salon for a hair straightening or smoothing service. Your stylist usually applies a hair straightening or smoothing solution to your hair and follows it with a heat processing step—typically performed with a flat iron device that seals the solution into the strands of the hair. When the solution is heated, the formaldehyde in the product is released into the air as a gas. If the salon is not properly ventilated, you, your stylist, and others in the salon are at risk of inhaling the released formaldehyde.
- Don’t do it yourself. Don’t apply them yourself at home. Go to a licensed hair professional in a salon. Hair professionals should be trained to take precautions such as wearing gloves and safety glasses, as well as making sure that there is proper ventilation when applying hair smoothing products. For more information, please visit OSHA Hair Salons: Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products.
- Read the list of ingredients.
- You may also want to ask your salon professional these questions:
- Does the product contain formaldehyde? Is there an ingredient list available for this product that I could read?
- Would it be possible for me to review the Safety Data Sheet for this product? Have you been trained to apply this product, and do you know the necessary safeguards to minimize exposure to formaldehyde?
- May I see your training certificate from the manufacturer and the directions for product use? Does the salon have proper ventilation?
- Do you periodically test the air for adherence to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s limits for formaldehyde?
- Do you have an alternative hair smoothing product that does not release formaldehyde when heated?
- Report bad reactions. If you experience a bad reaction to a hair smoothing product, stop using the product and report your symptoms to your health care provider. You can also report your symptom to the FDA by contacting the Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your area or by reporting them online at MedWatch, the FDA’s safety information and adverse reporting program. You also may call MedWatch at 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form by mail.
- See a fact sheet and an infographic for more information about hair smoothing products and formaldehyde
Health professionals and patients are encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of these products to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program: