Keratin hair treatments might lead to cancer, blindness

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    Keratin smoothes hair, but is it worth it? (Shutterstock photo)

    Won’t miss your salon appointment to ‘de-frizz’ and smooth your hair? If you are using keratin, you are simply putting your health at risk. Keratin’s health concerns are traced back to the use of formaldehyde as an active ingredient.

    The salon product, which tames frizz and wild curls for up to four months, has gained in popularity since its debut in Brazil. Though most users are thrilled with their smooth locks, almost everyone complains about the potent odor associated with the procedure. This odor is what prompted an investigation by the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

    These investigations have revealed the following:

    •  The straightening agent in all keratin products is formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent in humans and lab animals. Even products claiming to be “formaldehyde-free” have traces of the toxic product, according to the OSHA study.
    • Skin issues reported by OSHA include cracking or scaling of the skin, drying, burning, and light discoloration. If left in contact with skin for too long, keratin products can cause dark discolorations, numbness, and possible surface hardening.
    • Eye irritation caused by formaldehyde ranges in severity from mild discomfort to permanent vision impairment or clouding of the cornea.
    • Lung irritation has also been noted by the National Cancer Institute. Short term effects may be coughing or shortness of breath; long term exposure to
      formaldehyde products may result in a higher incidence of lung cancer. Dr. Ellen Marmur from Mt. Sinai Medical Center told CBS News that the fumes from formaldehyde treatments can kill respiratory cells, creating a possibility for lung-related illnesses later in life.
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    There are no FDA approved keratin treatments (Shutterstock photo)

    The discovery of a known carcinogenic in popular keratin treatments is a tell-tale sign of things to come where beauty products are concerned. Many products and ingredients are still unregulated by the FDA. Currently, though widely used across the country, there are no government approved keratin treatments on the market.

    If you’re looking for alternatives to this controversial beauty treatment, Arun Nandagiri, a researcher at Bria Laboratory, told The Wall Street Journal that a once-popular treatment known as “thermal reconditioning” is significantly safer and does not use any formaldehyde. Thermal reconditioning takes as long as six hours to complete, but it lasts longer than a keratin treatment.

    Alternative straighteners using thioglycolic acid are also in the works, with L’Oreal planning to debut the first of these commercial products in April, 2012. Thioglycolic acid is more benign than formaldehyde; however, studies have shown this chemical to have adverse effects on reproductive organs. While this exposure concern is mainly for the beauty technicians working with the chemical daily, hair care clients should be aware of the possible risks.


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