FDA Cautions: Hair-smoothing Products Can Release Formaldehyde


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a statement to consumers concerning the release of formaldehyde gas from hair-smoothing and straightening products.

According to the agency, hair stylists often apply hair-straightening or smoothing solutions to hair and follow this application with a heat processing step, e.g., flat ironing. This step seals the solution into hair strands. When the solution is heated, however, the formaldehyde in the product is released as a gas. If the salon is not properly ventilated, those in the immediate vicinity risk inhaling the released formaldehyde.

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Formaldehyde gas is a known human carcinogen, as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and formaldehyde exposure can cause both short- and long-term health effects, the FDA cautioned. More specifically, when formaldehyde is present in the air at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm, it can cause serious irritation to the eyes, nose and lungs, as well as skin sensitivity or allergic dermatitis.

"It’s important to note that some people are very sensitive to formaldehyde, whereas others have no reaction to the same level of exposure," the agency noted. "If you are sensitive to formaldehyde, you should not use this type of product."

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The FDA added consumers should not use hair-smoothing products at home, rather go to a licensed professional who takes precautions such as wearing gloves and safety glasses, and ensuring proper ventilation. For those who opt to apply these products at home, the agency encourages, "Read the list of ingredients. If there isn’t one, don’t buy the product. If the hair-smoothing product lists one of these ingredient names on the packaging or company website: formaldehyde, formalin or methylene glycol, then it means the product contains formaldehyde or will release formaldehyde."

The FDA added that not all hair-smoothing products contain formaldehyde, which is why users should read the label to see what is in the product. While not explicitly stated, this editor suspects the boost in use of at-home professional-like hair products during COVID-19 quarantines has triggered this warning.

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