Brazilian Blowout: is it safe? (and the moral of the story)

**Update Jan 30, 2012***Legal settlement against the company that makes Brazilian Blowout requiring “caution” labels to be on every bottle. See full story here.

When I first heard about a “Brazilian Blowout” it sounded like the title of a new reality show that mixed Carnival with dynamite.

Brazilian Blowout is actually a hair treatment that is supposed to give those with frizzy or wavy hair, smooth shiny hair that lasts for months.  The treatment, done in a salon and costing from $200 – $500 per treatment,, consists of several products that are applied to your hair in a series of steps — similar to getting a perm.  The term “brazilian blowout” has become synonymous with the dozens of products out there that straighten hair.  

The first company (GIB, LLC) trademarked the name “Brazilian Blowout” and that is the product mentioned here.  There are many other products that are brazilian blowout type treatments.
The Brazilian Blowout story goes something like this:

Once upon a time, in September of 2010,  there was a greedy man who lived in North Hollywood who acquired a product for straightening hair.  This product worked so well that everyone was asking for it from teens to hollywood stars.  He saw lots of money in the product and wanted to cash-in fast.  He named the product “Brazilian Blowout”.

But there was one problem:  the formula contained  high levels of formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals — over 100 x what is legal.

“No problem”, thought the greedy man, “I just won’t include those ingredients on the list that I am required to print on the bottle.  I also won’t include any precautions for salon professionals or anyone else.  I mean…what could happen?”

So the Brazilian Blowout became a huge success.  This product was in salons from coast to coast and soon went national.  Everyone wanted this amazing new treatment.

But soon, salon professionals began complaining of symptoms while working with the Brazilian Blowout product.  These symptoms included:

  • dizziness
  • headaches
  •  shortness of breath and worsening asthma (for those who had it)
  • cough
  • burning eyes
  • bloody noses
  • itching skin
  • sore throats
  • chest pain
The US government began getting calls from salon owner across the country and all the complaints were the same.
Starting with California and Oregon, US government agencies seized samples from  salons and warehouses where the product was sold.  Testing on these products revealed that they contained:
  • extremely high levels of formaldehyde (6 – 10%) Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.  It does cause cancer with exposure.  Those working with formaldehyde must wear protective clothing and respirators as the fumes are highly toxic.  US regulations require products containing 0.1% or more of formaldehyde list safety precautions on their MSDS or Material Safety Data Sheet.
  • methanol —used in antifreeze, highly toxic and fatal when combined with formaldehyde, and causes blindness in very small doses
  • ethanol– booze
  • beta hydroxyl ethyl methacrylate  taken from the data sheet for this chemical it states:  “Asthma-like symptoms may continue for months or even years after exposure to the material ceases…….the material may produce respiratory tract irritation, and result in damage to the lung including reduced lung function.”

None of these chemicals were listed on the MSDS of the Brazilian Blowout product and the Brazilian Blowout products were labeled “Formaldehyde Free”

The chemicals in the Brazilian Blowout were at the same levels and combination as used in enbalming fluid.  I guess if you died during your hair treatments, you’d be in luck!

By late October 2010, the warnings spread across the US and Canada to be aware of these mislabeled products and to avoid using them as they were toxic.  California department of health issued a complete breakdown of the problem.  Alerts went out by every form of media possible warning salon owners and the general public.

Updates are being issued by the US FDA (Federal Drug Administration) regularly.

Complaints mainly involved salon professionals because of their constant exposure.  But customers were also exposed.  Your skin is a sponge soaking in what is applied to it.  Is it healthy to get regular doses of toxic chemicals applied to your scalp?

So after the makers of Brazilian Blowout paid their fine,  they filed a lawsuit against the Oregon safety departments that were doing the investigation and getting the word out that this product was dangerous.  The makers of Brazilian Blowout  claimed that “publicity surrounding the formaldehyde findings damaged the company’s name and caused irreparable harm” and they accused Oregon OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) of “overstepping its bounds as the state’s workplace safety watchdog.

The suit has since been dropped and is gone.  But the Brazilian Blowout isn’t!

The company has since launched a new product “Brazilian Blowout Zero”.  This product claims to use a “plant derived bonding system with 0% formaldehyde”.  And for those of you that still want the “original formula”, it is available with full disclosure of their chemical ingredients which they clan are completely safe.  Hmm…..really?  You can read the Safety Data Sheet here. I’ll let you decide.

For women who want straight hair, a little exposure to toxic chemicals is worth it..  Women will put themselves in danger every day in the name of “beauty”.  That’s why this company is still in business.  And that’s why you can’t spit without hitting a tanning salon in the USA.

The moral of the story:

Big money does not care that your health is in jeopardy when you are exposed to their products.  They want your money and they are willing to put your health at risk to get it.  You need to pay attention to what you are putting in and on your body.  Get as much information as you can, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.

You have a right, AND a responsibility to know what is in every product that touches you.  Decide if it’s worth it to you to find the healthier options.

Here are some natural treatments you can try:

Hot Oil Treatment:  heat 1 cup olive oil in microwave for 15 seconds. Stir so it’s not hot enough to burn you. Apply to entire head working it into hair from ends to tips.  Wrap our hair up “turban style” in a warm towel (straight from dryer) and let it soak for 20 -30 minutes.  Wash as usual. Use 1 – 2 times/week only.  (You can actually dry your scalp out if you use too much oil by “turning off” your scalp’s natural oil producers).

Coconut milk and lemon juice:  Mix 1 cup coconut milk with 1/2 cup lemon juice. Put mixture in the fridge for 15 minutes until it thickens.  Apply evenly to hair and massage in.  Apply a shower cap and leave on for 1 hour. Wash with regular shampoo.  Over time, the treatment will soften and straighten your hair.

hair straighteners

But you know….curly hair is “in”.




Update July 2012: rally at Washington to ban Brazilian Blowout

Categories: environmental hazards, health, health and beauty, healthy living, natural beauty recipes

Tags: , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. So…is the Brazilian Blowout Zero safe to use?

    • One of the ingredients is Methylene Glycol, which is another name for formaldehyde. They list it as <5% composition in the formula (Legal amounts) so by the industry's standard, it's safe.
      It also contains other chemicals that are questionable in their safety
      It's up to the user and the stylist to determine if "legal" is "safe" to them.

      You decide what it's worth to you.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  2. It’s terrible that these products are advertised as formaldehyde-free when they’re not. There’s a case for the Brazillian Blowout products for its false advertisements going on right now:

  3. Wow, this was one bedtime story to give me nightmares! Sounds like a job for a tort lawyer and a class action suit against said greedy North Hollywood man! I have just learnt to style my hair with it’s natural wave, I never colour and rarely straighten with an iron. I just search youtube for different everyday ways to wear my hair and I’m never bored then, and feel special and different everyday!

    • You are one smart cookie. And there is a class action lawsuit pending. A few drops (no more than that) of olive or sunflower oil in your palms and pressed into your hair will control flyaways.

      What have you found on youtube? Do tell!

  4. We messed with formaldehyde in high school when dissecting froggies and the like. Not excited for my cancer!

    I’m in love with your blog.

    • You are so sweet! Thanks!
      I know…frogs, right?. In nursing school it was cats, we each had our own, and I had the bright idea of making my cat’s tail into a key chain! So I washed the chemical smell off, but I’m sure I inhaled my fair share of that stuff every day!
      Thanks for your comment!

  5. Coconut milk and lemon juice for hair straightening sound like a great idea. Are they are other safe and organic methods for straightening hair you check out further? Thanks for sharing.

  6. What an excellent article. Thanks for all the research that went into this. Really makes me hope that curly hair truly makes a fashion comeback, as I see my family members opting for these straightening treatments. I think the results are not worth the risk and as you laid it out…it’s pretty scary stuff.

    • Thanks for your comment. Isn’t it true that you always want what you can’t have? The curly haired people are going straight while the straight haired people are getting perms……People can choose to do what they like, but it’s always healthier to be informed before the choice.
      Thanks very much for thinking enough of this subject to include my post!

  7. Waoo, I’d never heard of this. Being African, I can empathise with wanting straight hair. But who knows this “blow out” treatment could be so dangerous? It’s all the vanity of beauty, I guess. I’m probably (definitely) guilty. Thanks for sharing those hot hair tips! 🙂


  1. Brazilian Blowouts & Why Can’t People just Appreciate the Beauty of Curly Hair | Tiny Island

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