French authorities pull hair straightening treatments with high formaldehyde levels

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

France’s health authority (Afsapps) has warned consumers and hairdressers against the use of hair straightening treatments that contain high levels of formaldehyde, and removed a number of products from the market.

The move follows investigations undertaken by authorities in Canada, North America and Ireland, regarding similar products that are claimed to contain free formaldehyde at levels higher than the current regulation allows.

In addition, the authorities have questioned the levels of formaldehyde released into the air during the treatment and the effect this may have on the health of salon workers and consumers.

Eight products removed from sale

According to Afsapps and the DGCCRF (the French competition, consumption and anti-fraud authority), their own investigation has revealed the presence of formaldehyde in a number of products at concentrations between 0.61 per cent and 5.87 per cent – higher than the 0.2 per cent stipulated by the current EU Cosmetics Directive.

Eight such products have been removed from the market, according Afssaps and the DGCCRF.

The authorities have reminded all those responsible for placing products on the market that contain formaldehyde, formaldehyde liberators and/or methylene glycol, that the levels of free formaldehyde cannot be above 0.2 per cent.

In addition, they said, the words ‘contains formaldehyde’ must be present on the product label, if levels fall between 0.05 and 0.2 per cent.

Afssaps and the DGCCRF have also warned of the negative effects of inhaling the formaldehyde that can be released during the use of such treatments.

According to Afssaps, inhalation at high levels can be carcinogenic as well as leading to allergic reactions in the respiratory tract.

Professional hairdressers administering the treatment must ensure proper ventilation, according to Afssaps and the DGCCRF.

The list of products removed from sale in France can be found here​, and Afssaps opinion on the effects of formaldehyde here​ (in French).

Controversial testing methods

The testing for levels of free formaldehyde in cosmetic formulations is not uncontroversial, with a number of manufacturers claiming that they do not produce reliable results.

GIB, the company which operates as Brazilian Blowout and distributes a product called Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution, has even filed a lawsuit on the topic.

The company claims that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in Oregon has wrongly asserted that its product is unsafe, and says that the high levels of formaldehyde are in fact high concentrations of methylene glycol.

OSHA previously told this publication that they could not comment on litigation.

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