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Hair Straightening Product Maker Settles With California Over Charges of False Advertising

GIB LLC, the maker of the famous Brazilian Blowout hair straightening products has reached a settlement with the California Attorney General’s Office on multiple charges of false advertising in describing two of its most popular products as formaldehyde-free and safe.

Image courtesy of beautystats.com.

The complaint alleges that the two products – Brazilian Blowout Acai Smoothing Solution and Brazilian Blowout Professional Smoothing Solution – were mislabeled as formaldehyde-free, and the company made no attempt to inform customer that the products released formaldehyde gas into the air during hair treatments.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter with concerns about the products to the maker, saying that based on FDA sample analysis, Brazilian Blowout contains methylene glycol which releases formaldehyde when treated hair is heated with a blow dryer and then a hot flat iron.

The FDA said that methylene glycol is a toxic substance that at the levels present in these products could pose health problems, even when used as directed.

The FDA said that it received reports of “injuries associated with Brazilian Blowout,” including:

  • Eye irritation.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Headaches.
  • Burning sensations.
  • Coughing.
  • Nasal discomfort.
  • Through irritation.
  • Cheat pain or discomfort.
  • Vomiting
  • Rash.

In the FDA’s Hazard Alert Update it also found that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and several state OSHA programs were also investigating questions and complaints from hair salon owners and workers about possible formaldehyde exposure from straightening/smoothing products.

“In most cases, where the label did not state that the product had formaldehyde in it, OSHA found that hair salon owners using those products did not know that smoothing products contain or could expose workers to formaldehyde because manufacturers, importers, and distributors did not include the correct hazard warnings on the product’s label or material safety data sheet,” said the hazard alert.

“The first reports about formaldehyde in hair smoothing products surfaced when Oregon OSHA investigated a complaint from a hair stylist who had nosebleeds, eye irritations, and trouble breathing while using a Brazilian Blowout product labeled ‘formaldehyde-free,’” added the hazard alert.

Oregon OSHA tested more than 100 samples of keratin-based hair smoothing products and found formaldehyde levels in some products well above what could legally be labeled as formaldehyde-free.

The California Attorney General’s Office said that “GIB did not inform customers or workers that formaldehyde gas was being released during a Brazilian Blowout treatment, and therefore product users did not take steps to reduce their exposure, such as increasing ventilation”

As part of the California settlement agreement, the company will be required to meet several obligations, including:

  • Producing complete and accurate safety information sheets on both the products, including Proposition 65 cancer warnings.
  • Affixing ‘CAUTION” stickers to the bottles that inform users of formaldehyde gas emissions when using the products, and the need for precautionary measures including adequate ventilation.
  • Stopping false advertising of the products as formaldehyde-free.
  • Engaging in a substantial corrective advertising campaign, including removing from its website and other marketing materials any reference that these two products are formaldehyde-free or that there are “only trace or minimal amounts of formaldehyde gas.”

The court judgment says that the company isn’t allowed to use any language that will have “the likely effect of undermining or diluting the force of the Proposition 65 warning.”

Proposition 65 requires businesses to notify the public about certain exposures to chemicals in the products they purchase. Formaldehyde is on the Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer.

As part of restitution, GIB will pay $300,000 in Proposition 65 civil penalties, and $225,000 to the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA), and $75,000 to the Attorney General.

In a statement to the New York Times, Michael Brady, GIB’s chief executive officer, said his insurance company would pay the settlement.

As for the judgment, Brady told the Times that this means “We get to sell the product forever without reformulation. We just want people to treat it like they do aspirin – make sure you only use it as directed.”

Brady says his products pose no issues for stylists or consumers as long as they are used correctly in well-ventilated areas.

The Environmental Working Group says that while Brazilian Blowout is now the best known for its hair straighteners’ containing formaldehyde, the EWG’s investigations have found other companies that include formaldehyde in their hair straightening formulas.


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