By Michael J. Sacopulos, JD


Early this week came news that the California Attorney General’s Office and Brazilian Blowout makers had come to an agreement. Brazilian Blowout is a product that straightens hair. The problem was that it contains formaldehyde even though its label specifically screams the product was “Formaldehyde Free.”  Fines will be paid and products will be relabeled. Life moves on without the Brazilian Blowout.

As part of the settlement, North Hollywood GIB LLC, the company that makes Brazilian Blowout, will warn consumers that two of its formulations emit formaldehyde, and pay $600,000 in fines and penalties for failing to do so sooner. Going forward, the company will have all its products tested for toxic substances at a state-approved lab, and supply salons with a pamphlet outlining recommended safety precautions.

Brazilian Blowout has been popular for some years now. The product’s Facebook page has more than 28,000 followers and displays articles that report its use by Jennifer Aniston, Lindsay Lohan, Halle Berry, Nicole Ritchie and other beautiful people I am too unhip to recognize. Treatments go for $300 to $500. How very nice.

Remember when you dissected a frog in freshman biology class? The frog was preserved in formaldehyde. These days our government lists the chemical as a “known carcinogen” and warns to limit exposure to only a few parts per million. It has been reported that some versions of Brazilian Blowout exceed Canadian safety standards by more than 40 times. However, the long term effects of prolonged exposure to Brazilian Blowout remain unclear.

According to the American Lung Association, Formaldehyde irritates the nose, eyes, and throat and can increase tearing of the eyes. These irritations are often seen at levels ranging from 0.4 to 3 parts per million (ppm) and may affect hypersensitive individuals (those who are particularly vulnerable to formaldehyde) at concentrations as low as 0.037 ppm.  Other short-term effects include headache, runny nose, nausea and difficulty breathing. Exposure may cause wheezing and other respiratory symptoms.

What is clear is that a person can become a “Certified Brazilian Blowout Original/Brazilian Blowout ZERO stylist” after a two hour course. In addition to teaching about the Brazilian Blowout products, the course imparts marketing wisdom and offers “the opportunity to purchase one-day only promotions.”  There is no mention of client or stylist safety regarding formaldehyde exposure. We all have our priorities.

The legal community has responded with class action lawsuits and governmental sanctions. It seems to me that it is time for the aesthetic medical community to step up. Surely, we all can agree that dousing people’s heads in formaldehyde should be done with cause and after some degree of training. A two-hour course offered at the Dubuque Grand Harbor Resort and Waterpark this weekend, (yes; this comes from the Brazilian Blowout Facebook page) seems silly. Those in the aesthetic medical community should work to see that the public’s exposure to these products is safe.

Despite the new labels and greater awareness of formaldehyde, people will continue to sell and use these products. I predict that most of these people will not have any problems. I also predict that either via hypersensitivity or improper use some individuals will experience health problems from the Brazilian Blowout.  Finally, I am reminded of Robin William’s joke about the impact of cocaine on his life. “Cocaine is God’s way of saying you’re making way too much money.” The same could be said for a $500 hair rinse of formaldehyde.

Michael J. Sacopulos is a Partner with Sacopulos, Johnson & Sacopulos, in Terre Haute, Indiana. His core expertise is in medical malpractice defense and third party payment disputes. Sacopulos may be reached at [email protected].