Hair Straighteners

What you need to know

Smooth shiny hair monopolizes the runways and spills over into the pages of fashion magazines. Hair smoothing (or straightening), as you can imagine, has become hugely popular in the beauty industry. Along with the wave of new product introductions comes questions and concerns about the safety of these products – specifically exposure to formaldehyde for salon staff and clients alike.

In light of recent public concerns, we set out to determine the safest and most efficacious method of delivery for the highest salon-quality hair smoothing and straightening. We not only researched the finest product offerings, but spoke directly with medical experts in skin protection and breathing to ensure that we were doing everything possible at our salons, during delivery and hair treatment, to protect our staff and clients above all else.

The Federal Government has responded by engaging the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and several State OSHA programs in investigating questions and complaints about possible formaldehyde exposure. Some products labeled "formaldehyde-free" may be "misleading" according to recent OSHA reports, with formaldehyde derivatives used under a different name. According to Dr. Andrew Scheman, a Northbrook-based dermatologist with expertise in contact allergy and occupational dermatology, and co-author of Consumer Reports Cosmetic Buying Guide, "even some Keratin (top-of-the-line) hair straighteners contain formaldehyde, which can be listed on product labels under other names. Responsible salons using these products will have proper ventilation systems to ensure client safety."

Dr. Michael Heniff, a Chicago area pulmonologist, agrees with the importance of proper ventilation to mitigate any chemical effects or reactions. "Particularly for asthma sufferers or anyone with lung or general breathing deficiencies, it's important to minimize exposure to formaldehyde and like chemicals, and to only be exposed, if necessary, when proper ventilation is in use."

To that end, we have recently invested in and introduced in our salons a fume extraction system to reduce the risk of harmful vapors. During a Keratin treatment, built-in ventilation chambers above the flatiron suck in the fumes – such as formaldehyde or derivative gas and odors – and put back out purified air.

As salon owners and employers:

  • We should all agree to facilitate the safest possible work environment for our staff and the customers they serve.
  • We should strive to use only products with zero derivatives of formaldehyde.
  • We should provide our stylists with certifications and on-going training in the art of hair straightening.

As salon patrons and guests:

  • Seek out salons that prioritize training and require certification of their staff.
  • Inquire about a stylist's specific area of expertise and certification.
  • Ask about brands in use and their respective formaldehyde content
  • Visually inspect cleanliness, and inquire about ventilated workspace and the use of up-to-date tools such as fume irons.

I believe that everyone should be their own safety advocate, and keep in mind that no beauty service is worth risking your health.

Next month: Protecting your hair (and hair color) from the sun!