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Government Response

OSHA and many other federal, state, and non-U.S. government agencies have taken action to address the emerging problem of formaldehyde exposure from hair smoothing products. Some have issued warnings about the products' hazards, and other agencies have identified and acted on violations of labeling rules by manufacturers of hair smoothing products.

Several major U.S. federal and state government actions are listed below. For a more detailed timeline of events, visit OSHA's Health Alert: Hair Smoothing Products That Could Release Formaldehyde Timeline.

Highlights

OSHA has issued an updated hazard alert on formaldehyde dangers to hair salon owners and workers after new agency finding and FDA warning letter. See press release.

FY2011-FY2012 Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) Response

Enforcement Activity

Federal OSHA has responded and continues to respond to complaints and referrals concerning exposures to formaldehyde in hair products. Citations were issued at 49 different work places during the 2011 and 2012 fiscal years (October 2010 – September 2012) under Federal OSHA’s jurisdiction. OSHA issued citations to manufacturers/distributors, salon owners, and beauty schools:

Manufacturers were issued citations for failing to protect their own workers from possible formaldehyde exposure and failing to communicate the hazards of formaldehyde exposure to salons, stylists, and consumers. The violations, of both OSHA's formaldehyde and hazard communication standards, included failing to list formaldehyde as a hazardous ingredient on the Material Safety Data Sheet, or MSDS --the hazard warning sheet provided to downstream users (e.g., salon owners, stylists), failing to include proper hazard warnings on product labels, and failing to list the health effects of formaldehyde exposure on the MSDS. Labels must include ingredient and hazard warning information and the MSDS must provide users with information about the chemicals in a product, the hazards to workers, and how to use a product safely. OSHA's investigations found that these workplaces were manufacturing and distributing hair products that contained formaldehyde without following the requirements of OSHA's formaldehyde standard or hazard communication standard.

Salon owners were issued citations for failing to protect workers from over exposures to formaldehyde and failing to communicate the hazards of exposure to formaldehyde. In at least three cases, OSHA's tests showed that in each of these salons formaldehyde levels were above the OSHA 15-minute short term exposure level and owners were not following the requirements of OSHA's formaldehyde standard.

Salon owners and beauty schools were issued citations for failing to protect workers from possible exposure to formaldehyde by failing to test air levels, provide needed protective equipment, communicate the hazards of formaldehyde to workers, and meet other requirements of OSHA's formaldehyde standard. OSHA's investigations found that some salon owners were using hair smoothing products that contained formaldehyde without following the requirements of OSHA's formaldehyde standard. Owners and beauty schools were also issued citations for failing to provide workers with information about the hazardous chemicals they worked with, a violation of OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard and/or Formaldehyde Standard, by failing to have a written hazard communication program, maintain and provide access to MSDSs, provide information and training on the hazards of the chemicals in their workplace, and meet other requirements of OSHA's hazard communication standard. OSHA's investigations found that some owners and beauty schools were using products the contained hazardous substances without following the requirements of OSHA’s hazard communication standard.

Outreach Activity

  • April 11, 2011: OSHA issues a news release and a Hazard Alert (Hair Smoothing Products that Could Release Formaldehyde) announcing concern and ongoing investigations regarding formaldehyde overexposure in salons as a result of hair straightening product use. The alert draws on analysis and actions by agencies including OSHA, FDA, NIOSH, Cal/OSHA, and Oregon OSHA to communicate the hazards of formaldehyde exposure in hair salons.
  • September 8, 2011: OSHA issues a news release announcing that citations for 16 health violations were issued for two Florida manufacturers (Pro Skin Solutions Inc. and Keratronics Inc.) and two Florida-based distributors (M&M International Inc. and Copomon Enterprises) of hair products containing formaldehyde. Violations included alleged failures to protect their own workers from possible formaldehyde exposure and failure to communicate the hazards of formaldehyde exposure to salons, stylists, and consumers. Penalties total for all 4 workplaces were $49,200.
  • September 22, 2011: Prompted by OSHA air testing that showed hazardous levels of formaldehyde in salons while using hair smoothing products, FDA's August 22 issuance of a warning letter to Brazilian Blowout, and factually incorrect information sent to salon owners by Brazilian Blowout, OSHA issues a news release announcing its revised Hazard Alert regarding formaldehyde in straightening products. OSHA also issues a letter to product manufacturer Brazilian Blowout regarding the undisclosed presence of formaldehyde in its products and disagreeing with factually incorrect statements made by the company to salon owners. OSHA has distributed the Hazard Alert nationwide.
  • September 23, 2011: The Department of Labor posts a blog entry titled Blowout Blowback discussing the hair treatment process, OSHA findings, hazard alerts, and press releases.
  • November 22, 2011: OSHA issues a letter to GIB, LLC, doing business as Brazilian Blowout Brazilian Blowout reiterating the validity of the sampling results indicating overexposures during inspections at two salons using Brazilian Blowout Acai Smoothing Solution. The letter requests the immediate removal of false and misleading information from the Brazilian Blowout website and the distribution of warning letters to salons using the product.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Response
  • August 22, 2011: FDA issues a warning letter Mr. Mike Brady, CEO of GIB, LLC, doing business as Brazilian Blowout. The letter informs the company that its Brazilian Blowout product is considered by FDA to be both an adulterated cosmetic because it contains formaldehyde, which may injure users when used as prescribed on the label. FDA also considers it a misbranded cosmetic as it contains the liquid form of formaldehyde, methylene glycol, but the product label declares that the product contains "No Formaldehyde" or is "Formaldehyde Free."
National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) Response
  • May 16, 2011: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s NIOSH releases a Health Hazard Evaluation [150 KB PDF, 11 pages] that shows six of seven short-term air quality tests conducted during use of Brazilian Blowout products exceeded NIOSH exposure limits, showing that the product is not "formaldehyde free" as labeled.
  • November 2011: NIOSH releases a Health Hazard Evaluation Report documenting that use of Brazilian Blowout products in an Ohio salon exposed workers to formaldehyde in concentrations exceeding both the NIOSH ceiling limit of 0.1 ppm and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' (ACGIH) ceiling limit of 0.3 ppm. NIOSH personal breathing zone (PBZ) air tests found that salon workers were exposed to up to 1.3 ppm of formaldehyde during product application. The 0.1 ppm NIOSH ceiling limit was also exceeded during the blow drying post application, flat ironing, masque application, and blow drying post washing phases of the treatment. NIOSH bulk testing of Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution – Formaldehyde Free Smoothing Formula conducted during the evaluation found that the product contained 11 percent formaldehyde despite its "formaldehyde free" claim.
California Occupational Health and Safety Response
  • September 27, 2010: Cal/OSHA inspects GIB LLC dba Brazilian Blowout, an importer, repackager, and distributor of hair smoothing products on referral from Oregon OSHA. As a result, Cal/OSHA issued eleven citations, four of which were directly related to the product:
    • Not having written hazard determination procedures available
    • Not communicating hazards to users
    • Improper labeling
    • Deficient Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)
      These citations are under contest.
  • November 10, 2010: State of California Attorney General’s files lawsuit against Brazilian Blowout for failure to warn the public of hazards of their products.
  • November 18, 2010: Cal/OSHA issues a fact sheet (PDF) warning the public of the hazards of formaldehyde exposure from hair straightening products. (The California Department of Public health issues its own fact sheet (PDF) on March 3, 2011.)
  • April 13, 2011: Cal/OSHA issues a press release announcing Federal OSHA's Hazard Alert for formaldehyde in smoothing products and highlighting Cal/OSHA's prior and ongoing efforts to address the problem, including testing products, inspecting salons, and issuing citations.
  • January 30, 2012: California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a settlement with GIB LLC dba Brazilian Blowout requiring a payment of $600,000 in fines and changes to Brazilian Blowout Acai Smoothing Solution and the Brazilian Blowout Professional Smoothing Solution MSDS and labeling. Under the terms of the settlement, GIB is required to:
    • Produce a complete and accurate safety information sheet on the two products that includes a Proposition 65 cancer warning; distribute this information to recent product purchasers who may still have product on hand; and distribute it with all future product shipments. The revised safety information sheet will be posted on the company's web site.
    • Affix "CAUTION" stickers to the bottles of the two products to inform stylists of the emission of formaldehyde gas and the need for precautionary measures, including adequate ventilation.
    • Cease deceptive advertising of the products as formaldehyde-free and safe; engage in substantial corrective advertising, including honest communications to sales staff regarding product risks; and change numerous aspects of Brazilian Blowout's web site content.
    • Retest the two products for total smog-forming chemicals (volatile organic compounds) at two Department of Justice-approved laboratories, and work with DOJ and the Air Resources Board to ensure that those products comply with state air quality regulations.
    • Report the presence of formaldehyde in its products to the Safe Cosmetics Program at the Department of Public Health.
    • Disclose refund policies to consumers before the products are purchased.
    • Require proof of professional licensing before selling "salon use only" products to stylists.
Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Response
  • October 29, 2010: OR-OSHA issues a report (PDF) that presents its findings from 105 product samples tested from 54 Oregon salons, which showed significant levels of formaldehyde in products labeled "formaldehyde free." More than one-third of samples with significant formaldehyde levels come from Brazilian Blowout products. Based on the report's findings, OR-OSHA issues a hazard alert (PDF) the same day. The company filed a lawsuit against OR-OSHA that disputed the claims made in the October report, but withdrew the lawsuit on February 25, 2011.
  • February 10, 2011: OR-OSHA issues an updated statement (PDF) on hair smoothing products stating that it has not changed its position and continues to advise salons to take precautions when using such products.

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