Heat is crucial to the process: Directions call for applying the product to the hair, blow drying the hair with a hair dryer, and then using a flat iron heated to at least 380 degrees to straighten the hair. The concern is that heat converts the liquid formaldehyde into a gas and releases it into the air.
Reached by phone in early October, Monte Devin Semler, who is listed in California business records as the trustee of an entity that manages GIB LLC and who says on his LinkedIn profile that he is the owner and founder of Brazilian Blowout, hung up after being asked to comment. He did not respond to emails.
Another manufacturer, Van Tibolli Beauty PR, was told by the F.D.A. on Sept. 2, 2015, that its GK Hair Taming System products contained formaldehyde, and that labels warning consumers of possible health effects, including cancer, were required. F.D.A. officials said last week that the case had been resolved, but refused to provide further details. The company’s president, Van Tibolli, said in a phone interview that some of his company’s hair straightening products still contain methylene glycol, the liquid form of formaldehyde.
Products containing formaldehyde may soon be taken off the market in at least one state: Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed the Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act into law. The law prohibits the use of a dozen chemicals in cosmetics, including formaldehyde, mercury, phthalates and parabens.
Salon workers experience the most exposure to the hair straightening products, according to the nonprofit group Women’s Voices for the Earth. Many hair dressers say they always assumed products that were on the market were safe.
“When I would try to speak up about this, my co-workers always said, ‘If it was that bad for you, it wouldn’t be legal,’” said Emily Baedeker, a hair dresser in Alameda, Calif., who got migraines when Brazilian Blowout was used around her. “The assumption is that there is an invisible safety net that protects us.”
Susan Beachy contributed research.