The Truth About the Brazilian Blowout

Many of us have heard of – or even tried – the Brazilian blowout. But what exactly is this keratin-based hair-smoothing treatment anyway? And what’s all the hype about? To start, the Brazilian blowout was pioneered in – you guessed it – Brazil. It was developed as a hair-straightening treatment that doesn’t burn the skin or scalp.

Posted on | Jodi Sawyer, RN | Comments ()

Many of us have heard of – or even tried – the Brazilian blowout. But what exactly is this keratin-based hair-smoothing treatment anyway? And what’s all the hype about? To start, the Brazilian blowout was pioneered in – you guessed it – Brazil. It was developed as a hair-straightening treatment that doesn’t burn the skin or scalp.

I have naturally curly hair, and it takes a lot of time to keep this mane in check, so I was excited when I found out about the Brazilian blowout. Finally, I could relax my curls and give my hair a beautiful shine. All I needed to do was step out of the shower and let my hair dry on its own. Further, the Brazilian blowout did exactly what it claimed to do – and I would only have to have the treatment every three months.

But as we know, nothing is perfect. There is a price to pay when getting a Brazilian blowout because the blowout – along with other hair smoothing treatments – contains formaldehyde and chemicals that can cause both acute and long-term health effects.

Formaldehyde is a chemical that is used as a preservative, an embalming agent and a disinfectant. However, formaldehyde can also modify our hair proteins, called keratins, causing the hair to return to its original, smooth, healthy state. Some of the other chemicals that can cause health issues are methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanol, oxomethane, oxymethylene and CAS Number 50-00-0. The chemical methylene glycol is formed when formaldehyde gas is added to water; when heated, this chemical turns back into formaldehyde gas and is then released into the air.

According to Jarrod Harms, an industry expert and owner of Detour Salon in San Diego California, these chemicals can be harmful at room temperature. “But when they are heated,­ the intensity is increased and can cause harm to both you and your stylist,” says Harms. Some of the acute side effects include nosebleeds, burning eyes and throat, skin irritations and asthma attacks. These chemicals can also lead to long-term health issues, including nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia.

Formaldehyde, among these other chemicals, is not illegal, and obviously can be used in cosmetic products. Because of these reported health risks, the FDA has now stated that these blowouts are “misbranded because its label and labeling (including instructions for use) make misleading statements regarding the product's ingredients and fail to reveal material facts with respect to consequences that may result from the use of the product.” In other words, these blowouts are not illegal. However, they lead us to believe that these products are safe and have no harmful side effects. The problem here is related to disclosure.

So should you get one or not? Well, think of this blog as a drug commercial. I know you’ve seen them: someone running on the beach, laughing and enjoying life, while the voice tells you how well the drug works. But then the voice quickly spouts off a laundry list of all the side effects. It’s the same thing with these products, except before the FDA stepped in, all you ever heard about were the benefits.

You can decide whether you want to take a risk by getting a Brazilian blowout. It’s like anything in life: You weigh the risk against the reward. Now, when it comes to the Brazilian blowout, you can base your decision on the facts. 

Blog written by Jodi Sawyer, RN
Jodi Sawyer has worked as a registered nurse for over 14 years and was one of the first RNs in Southern California to work with...