The price of beauty

Straight hair has become an increasingly popular trend. Chemical hair straightening and more recently Keratin hair straightening is a popular means to tame the frizz. You as hairdressers are exposed to these chemicals repeatedly throughout the day every day as they treat one client after the other. Have you ever stopped to think about the price of your client’s beauty? Not the amount the pay but the risk it poses to your health.

It is well known that over the years that formaldehyde has received a bad wrap, several products were discontinued due to their high risk.  Formaldehyde free products have recently been marketed as safer as they are less hazardous. It has however been found that manufacturers are substituting formaldehyde with other chemicals. These are however not necessarily less hazardous. Chemicals that have been substituted include:  Methylene Glycol, Formalin, Methylene Oxide, Paraform, Formic Aldehyde, Methanal, Oxomethena, Oxomethylene or CAS Number 50-00-0 (OSHA, 2018)

Although the ingredients don’t contain formaldehyde and sound like they are ‘formaldehyde free’, when Methylene Glycol is mixed with water and exposed to high heat, formaldehyde is released into the air. This is not only inhaled by the customer but you, the stylists/ hairdressers.

Formaldehyde and similar chemicals are predominantly absorbed through the respiratory system. Even in low doses, formaldehyde poses a risk to adverse health affects. These include both acute and chronic illness. Complaints raised by hairdressers include: burning eyes and throat, watery eyes, a dry mouth, reduced or loss of smell, numb fingers, dermatitis and epiglottitis. formaldehyde has also been linked to several cancers with high levels of exposure which is most likely to effect the hairdressers (Boyer et al., 2013).

There are many ways that you can product yourself and other employees. Salon owners should implement the following hazard reduction techniques including: checking the ingredients of the product to ensure no chemicals listed above are included, ensuring employees are aware of the risks and understand data sheets It is important that there is adequate ventilation, opening a door or putting on a fan is not sufficient. Hairdressers should also reduce the heat from the hair dryer directed onto the chemical and personal protective equipment such as gloves and a mask should be provided to all hairdressers in the salon. It’s not too late to start protecting our workforce (OSHA, 2018).


Boyer, I. J., Heldreth, B., Bergfeld, W. F., Belsito, D. V., Hill, R. A., Klaassen, C., D, . . . Anderson, A. F. (2013). Amended Safety Assessment of Formaldehyde and Methylene Glycol as Used in Cosmetics. International Journal of Toxicology, 31(4).

OSHA (2018). Hair Salons: Facts about Formaldehyde in Hair Products. Safety and Health Topics.
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Submitted by
Kerry Jechilevsky