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Salon workers rally on Hill for ban on Brazilian Blowout

by Jeremy P. JacobsE&E News
July 26th, 2012

More than a dozen salon workers from across the country descended on Washington, D.C., yesterday calling on lawmakers and regulators to ban the controversial hair straightening product Brazilian Blowout.

The effort was spearheaded by the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and included visits with members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee as well as a lengthy meeting with high-level administration officials.

Jamie Silberberger, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said approximately 15 salon workers attended the Capitol Hill briefing, many of whom have been diagnosed with health problems as a result of exposure to Brazilian Blowout.

"We're meeting with government officials this week because, despite thousands of women being poisoned in their own workplaces due to the dangerous chemicals in unsafe, unregulated products like the Brazilian Blowout and other nail and hair salon products, lawmakers and the FDA haven't done much to address the issue in any significant way," Silberberger said. "We hope that these meetings will educate lawmakers and encourage them to finally take actions to reduce these risks in salons."

Brazilian Blowout has been a target for public health advocates for some time. The solution, made by GIB LLC, is effective at straightening naturally curly hair and has been used by several Hollywood stars.

However, reports of salon workers suffering bloody noses after applying the solution began surfacing in 2010. Some testing found levels of formaldehyde approaching 10 percent -- far above regulatory limits. Experts believe that the product may be the cause because when heated, it may turn into formaldehyde gas -- a potential carcinogen.

GIB LLC has maintained that its product is safe, but the company agreed to stop advertising the solution as "formaldehyde free" and settled a class-action lawsuit for about $4.5 million in March (Greenwire, March 6).

The group sought to drum up support for Massachusetts Democrat Edward Markey's "Safe Cosmetics Act," H.R. 2359, which would require all ingredients to be listed on a products' label and give the Food and Drug Administration more authority to recall products, which it currently cannot do.

Markey's bill is now stalled at the Energy and Commerce Committee while New Jersey Republican Leonard Lance has introduced competing legislation, H.R. 4395. Silberberger's group prefers Markey's bill, arguing that Lance's bill is closely aligned to industry's priorities.

Yesterday afternoon, the group delivered letters from approximately 60 salon workers to an interagency working group that includes FDA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and U.S. EPA. Officials at the meeting included White House Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu and Linda Katz, director of FDA's Office of Cosmetics and Colors.

Jennifer Arce, an 18-year hairstylist from California, told the meeting that the use of Brazilian Blowout has had a significant effect on her health, including throat, lung and eye problems.

"Throughout all of these years, I have never experienced any adverse effects from any of the chemicals used daily in the salon until a product named Brazilian Blowout completely changed my life as I knew it," Arce said.

FDA has taken some action on the product. Last September, it notified the manufacturer that it had found high levels of formaldehyde in the solution and threatened "seizure and/or injunction" if the company did not take action (Greenwire, Sept. 8, 2011).

OSHA also issued a "hazard alert" last September to warn salon workers (Greenwire, Sept. 26, 2011).

Click here for Arce's testimony.