A court in Los Angeles County is about to take ownership of one of the most watched alleged false-packaging, health and safety cases in hair care history.
This story first appeared in the April 15, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The proposed preliminary injunction filed on April 6 against GIB LLC, the makers of Brazilian Blowout, which was filed by the attorney general of California in Alameda County, has been taken off the May 2 court schedule as of Wednesday. The case is going to be consolidated “with all the different cases” and “many class action suits” that have been filed against the company in Los Angeles, said Claudia Polsky, deputy attorney general. “We don’t know when…it should be quickly. We don’t want delay.”
According to the state’s lab testing, the document said, Brazilian Blowout’s “Smoothing Solution contains approximately 8 percent formaldehyde by weight, which is in the range typical of embalming fluid used by funeral homes.” It orders that GIB refrain from selling its Smoothing Solution without providing a material safety data sheet, or MSDS, warning that users of the product risk exposure to formaldehyde, a chemical known to cause cancer.
The news didn’t faze Brazilian Blowout’s chief executive officer, Mike Brady, who discussed the case with WWD.
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“If it were so serious, do you think [the judge] would take it off the schedule?” said Brady, who maintains his popular hair-straightening treatment, which retails for $300 to $500, does not contain formaldehyde.
“This has been so blown out of proportion,” he continued. “I am not concerned with any of it.”
Brady said the issue with his product’s formula comes down to science, and that his formulas contain methylene glycol, a liquid, not formaldehyde, a gas, and that state testing improperly combined the levels of both. “And I have the science to prove it,” he said.
However, the federal Occupational Health & Safety Administration on Monday issued a hazard alert, warning salons and workers to avoid using products that contain formaldehyde, methylene glycol, formalin, methylene oxide, paraform, formic aldehyde, methanal, oxomethane or oxymethylene. The agency is investigating complaints from stylists and hair salon owners about exposure to formaldehyde while using Brazilian Blowout and other hair smoothing products. OSHA said it has found formaldehyde in the air when stylists use these items and that some had “formaldehyde-free” on their labels or did not list formaldehyde as an ingredient.
Brady said he had never been contacted by federal OSHA.
An investigation into Brazilian Blowout was sparked in September after several Oregon salons and stylists complained they were suffering from nosebleeds, itchy eyes and coughing fits after and during administering the straightening treatment. Oregon OSHA tested the formulas, and results that they contained as much as 10 percent formaldehyde. Brady filed a lawsuit in December seeking an injunction against Oregon OSHA for it to cease reporting these results.
In November, the office of the attorney general of California filed a lawsuit against GIB, mainly concerning its “formaldehyde-free” packaging, and subsequent investigations by the California Labor Department, Department of Public Health and Food & Drug Administration concerning its formulas began. Health Canada issued a ban on Brazilian Blowout in Canadian salons in October, among other hair straighteners, which they also found to contain formaldehyde.
Reactions by salon owners and stylists to the proposed preliminary injunction varied, ranging from “very surprised” to ambivalent.
Lori Kremsdorf, manager of OC61 on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, said demand for the service has eased since September.
“We bought a bottle a couple of months ago and it’s unopened. We don’t have demand for it anymore because of all the press. Its reputation was tarnished,” she said.
But stylist Dror Kraft, who performs four to eight Brazilian Blowouts a week at Pierre Michel salon in Manhattan (during off hours, surrounded by carbon filters and near an open window), said he was shocked.
“The important thing for us is the information we get from a manufacturer, because that is the connection to the client. Without the proper packaging and information, we can’t tell them the truth,” said Kraft. “I am very surprised, because what counts as formaldehyde-free is very specific.”
Hair colorist and salon owner Rita Hazan said she was very surprised to hear the recent news of Brazilian Blowout’s alleged formaldehyde content, especially after all of her due diligence in investigating whether the formula, which she said “makes hair unbelievably smooth and shiny and frizz-free,” was the real deal.
“I am very disappointed. When I got into doing this treatment I was adamant about doing a healthy treatment both for the stylist and the client.…I am obsessed with chemicals and know the difference between chemicals,” she said. But what’s most frustrating for her is the regulatory process.
“What is disappointing is the FDA and the court system. This has been going on for six months!”
Despite her strong feelings, Hazan will still offer the treatment, at least until a judge rules on the proposed preliminary injunction.
“No one here has gotten any symptoms. We have major ventilation here, since I am a colorist and this is a color salon. We had an engineer do it because I didn’t want it smelling like chemicals. No one smelled [the Brazilian Blowout] and we didn’t have reactions. No one was coughing or had a sore throat. I feel like I want to call [Brazilian Blowout] again.”
The Los Angeles County court judge will decide whether the preliminary injunction proposed by the state will be signed, rejected or modified.
Once the new proposed preliminary injunction is filed, Brazilian Blowout is allowed to file a response brief, and the state gets to file one short final brief, all before the court date.
Ultimately, Kraft at Pierre Michel salon said, the consumer is king.
“The client loves it. I got so many texts and e-mails since [Wednesday] asking if they can still have it done. They don’t want to give it up.”
Kraft said he would continue to do the service despite the state’s test results and that he has tried at least 20 other keratin-type straightening treatments. None, he said, worked as well as Brazilian Blowout, formaldehyde or not. He added he wasn’t thrilled about the firm’s new product, Brazilian Blowout Zero.
“I have tried Zero and to compare it would be a joke. It is not anything like the original. Nothing compares to the regular Brazilian Blowout. It doesn’t straighten the hair that much and it is also oily. The product is like a cream, so it behaves differently.”
Hazan agreed with Kraft on the results of Brazilian Blowout Zero.
Brady, however, said the newer version, which declares on the packaging that the product is formaldehyde-free and utilizes completely different formulas from the original, is “kicking butt.”