Is Brazilian keratin straightening safe?

HLBrown asks…My hairdresser swears by a process called the “Brazilian Blowout,” saying it can actually change and rebuild the hair’s structure. A shampoo is first applied which removes all build-up. Then the solution, using the solution by Brazilian Blowout is applied all over the hair with a comb. The hair is then flat-ironed to “bake in” the treatment. Once entirely flat-ironed, the solution is washed out with Brazilian Blowout shampoo and a deep conditioning cream conditioned is left in for 5 minutes. Could this $300 + in chair treatment make the hair healthier?

The Left Brain responds:

The Blowout sounds like another name for the so-called Brazilian Keratin Straightening process which uses a high concentration of formaldehyde (or similar compounds) in combination with flat ironing to restructure hair.

Does it work?

Does it make your hair healthier? Well, it certainly makes it straighter. (Did you read our post on 7 Ways To Get Straighter Hair?) And as I pointed out in our Forum, the reason hair looks shinier after one of these treatments is because the hair is straighter. Straighter hair has less curves, reflects light better, and thus looks shinier. Straightened hair also feels softer and smoother because the cuticles are flattened down. A rough feel is a result of uplifted cuticles.

The treatment doesn’t actually re-build hair in the way that is implied (or directly claimed). The protein structure of a hair fiber is much more complicated than a simple straightening iron + hair treatment could ever reconstruct. It would be like trying to fix a hole in a blouse by putting it in a waffle iron with yarn and glue. You might cover the hole but you certainly haven’t “rebuilt” the purse.

Is it safe?

The problem with this process is safety. While low levels of formaldehyde don’t pose any problems, exposure to high levels has been linked to health problems, including cancer. Unfortunately, this is exactly the scenario that the Brazilian kits promote – the heat of the flat iron vaporizes the formaldehyde and exposes you to unacceptably high levels of the gas.

In the UK, the Cosmetics, Toiletries and Perfume Association recently reported that some products contain up to 10% formaldehyde (the limit under the UK Cosmetic Products Safety Regulations is only 0.2%). They’ve posted a warning on their website to inform the public that there are legal, safe limits of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde and glyoxal that are allowed in cosmetic products and that some ‘Brazilian’ hair treatments may use dangerous levels of these chemicals.

What do YOU think? Would you use a risky product to get straighter hair? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with the rest of the Beauty Brains community.