The cranks at the Environmental Working Group tried to amp up the tired, 35-year scare over formaldehyde yesterday with a release entitled, “Hair Straighteners Release Potent Carcinogen.”
Keying off the hair-straightening treatment known as the “Brazilian Blowout,” EWG wants to terrify salon workers and their customers about formaldehyde-containing products used in the treatment.
As is the case with every substance, overexposure can cause adverse health effects. Overexposure to formaldehyde can cause eye, nose and throat irritation — no argument there. Accordingly, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has promulgated indoor air standards for formaldehyde.
These standards are set well-below the level at which epidemiologic studies indicate a possible increase in cancer risk. It is doubtful that salon workers, let alone their customers, are exposed to enough formaldehyde to incur a cancer risk — if one actually exists.
Regardless, there certainly is no real-world evidence that salon workers or their customers are at any risk of cancer from exposure to formaldehyde-containing products. This January 2010 study reported that salon levels of formaldehyde were less than 0.05 parts per million (ppm). OSHA’s limits are set 10 times higher.