Environmental Groups Sue FDA to Take Formaldehyde Out of Salons

August 6, 2017
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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) are suing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of the group’s failure to act on dangerous hair straighteners that contain unsafe levels of formaldehyde and pose a significant health hazard to consumers and salon workers.

The motion, filed July 28 in federal district court, alleges that the the FDA failed to act on a six-year-old petition requesting an investigation into popular hair smoothing treatments such as Brazilian Blowout that are still sold in stores and salons.

In 2011, EWG filed a citizen petition, or formal request, that the agency investigate the products and take appropriate action. When the FDA neglected to act, EWG and WVE sued the agency in December 2016. The new motion argues that the FDA has failed its duty by unreasonably delaying a response. It asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order the FDA to review whether to ban the use of formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals in keratin hair straighteners and to require labels warning of these products’ hazards.

“The FDA has failed to protect stylists and consumers from exposure to formaldehyde,” said Melanie Benesh, a legislative attorney at EWG, in a news release. “Since at least 2008, the agency has known about the health hazards associated with these hair straightening products and done nothing. Despite the complaints, the FDA has yet to take action to regulate these products.”

Alexandra Scranton, WVE's director of science and research, adds that “salon workers have particularly suffered due to symptoms associated with these products, with many reporting long-term health problems.”

Salon workers have reported that the application of these hair treatments caused difficulty breathing, eye irritation and nosebleeds. These injuries – in addition to rashes, blistering and hair loss – are associated with formaldehyde exposure, the groups state.

“To make matters worse, products labeled 'for professional use only' aren’t required to list their ingredients on the bottle,” Benesh says. “Legislation proposed by Sens. Diane Feinstein and Susan Collins would close this labeling loophole and require ingredients to be listed on all cosmetics products.”

In addition, legislation introduced in California would require manufacturers to disclose the ingredients used in salon products. If the bill passes, it will be the first such law to take effect in the nation.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration can issue citations to salons where the procedure is offered if formaldehyde released into the air exceeds permissible limits. Even the cosmetics industry’s own safety review panel declared hair straightening treatments containing formaldehyde unsafe.

Yet the FDA has limited its public action to generating an informational webpage and issuing warning letters to two manufacturers, the two groups state.

Other states and nations, including California, Oregon, Canada, France and Ireland, have taken action against products such as Brazilian Blowout by removing products with dangerous levels of formaldehyde from store shelves, EWG and WVE point out.



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