The Hair Smoothing Controversy

Internationally Known Scientist/Chemist, Doug Schoon, Speaks Out About:
The Hair Smoothing Controversy
Ask Doug Schoon what he thinks about the recent Hair Smoothing controversy and he’ll say
the following, which may be freely quoted, posted or distributed:

“I’m a scientist and chemist that has been researching and writing about salon product safety for over 20 years and have studied the use of Formalin in cosmetics and personal care products. I’ve been researching Formalin containing hair smoothing products for almost two years and am considered a leading expert on this subject. In light of all of the misinformation, worry and confusion, I believe it is important to provide information that might help to clarify the situation.

The 15 things I believe the public should know about this controversy:

1. In general, “hair/keratin smoothing products” use Formalin as the functional ingredient. Formalin treatments provide the superior results and provides services that last up to three to four months.

2. Formaldehyde is a GAS, not a Liquid. Formalin is a generic name for a substance that contains 59% Methylene Glycol and 0.0466% Formaldehyde, mixed in water with a small amount of Methanol to prevent the Methylene Glycol (which is a Liquid) from converting into a solid polymer.

3. A change accepted in late 2008 and published in the International Nomenclature of Cosmetics Dictionary (INCI), 2010 edition, corrects the error in previous editions and now recognizes Formalin by its correct name, Methylene Glycol, making this the name manufacturers will be using to label cosmetic products containing Formalin.

4. Products containing 5% Formalin (or less) contain less than 0.0025% Formaldehyde. The reason Oregon OSHA (and others) quote a much higher percentages is: The test methods they use actually measure both Methylene Glycol and Formaldehyde together as though they were one chemical, and do not report them separately, or use their proper chemical names. A “10% Formaldehyde” report from Oregon OSHA would be scientifically correct if it reported 9.96% Methylene Glycol and 0.04% Formaldehyde instead.

5. Why is Oregon OSHA taking this stance? They cite regulations which repeat the 100+ year old misunderstanding that Formalin is nothing more than dissolved Formaldehyde, which is chemically and scientifically incorrect. Methylene Glycol is a unique and different chemical substance and Oregon OSHA knows this to be true, but is required by regulations to call Methylene Glycol by the incorrect chemical name, Formaldehyde.

6. Science has known about this chemical identity crisis for over 35 years. In 1972 the American Chemical Society gave Methylene Glycol and Formaldehyde two separate and unique registry numbers (CAS#) to recognize them as two different chemicals. Federal OSHA should require Methylene Glycol and Formaldehyde to be measured and reported separately, which would help avoid confusion and provide for a better understanding of these two separate and unique chemical substances.

7. Why do I believe this misunderstanding should be corrected? Confusion created by this long held misunderstanding is causing medical, environmental and other scientific researchers around the world to be misled. For example, researchers often perform scientific studies with 37% Formalin and are misled to believe it is 37% Formaldehyde, when in fact its 0.0466% Formaldehyde and mostly Methylene Glycol, Methanol and Water. This makes researchers more likely to report erroneous information and draw incorrect conclusions, which in turn, can prevent the proper study of Methylene Glycol.

8. When Formalin containing hair smoothing products are heated, they can release low levels of Formaldehyde gas. The limited salon studies I have performed over the last 18 months have indicated that inhalation exposure levels are within the Federal OSHA safe limits. Even so, sensitive individuals may experience acute (short term) symptoms such as irritated eyes or skin, headaches, difficulty breathing, sore throat and/or nausea, even at levels considered safe by Federal OSHA guidelines. Safe and proper use largely depend on the salon ventilation, as well as, cosmetologists’ product control and application procedures. Cosmetologists sometimes apply far too much product to the hair, which unnecessarily increases inhalation exposure, while wasting product and money.

9. The safety of these types of products and services is currently being examined by the FDA and OSHA. They will look at the results obtained by monitoring cosmetologists’ and clients’ exposure to Formaldehyde gas in salon air. This type of testing is proper and accurate and will address the real issue: What are the levels of exposure for clients, cosmetologists, and other salon workers? This information is needed before any final conclusions can be reached. I have great respect for OSHA, their mission and work. I am convinced that they will provide valuable information to help determine if levels of Formaldehyde in salon air are safe. I would expect this information to be released over the coming weeks.

10. Yes, there is a Safe Level for exposure to Formaldehyde and this substance is NOT automatically harmful at any concentration. Both Methylene Glycol and Formaldehyde is a natural, organic substance normally found in trace amounts in many foods, e.g. pears, apples, tomatoes, radishes, cabbage, carrots, green onions, meat, fish and shellfish. They are also naturally found in human blood and breath and both can be found naturally in organically grown foods and traces of Formaldehyde exists even in the purest mountain air.

11. In general, one or two, or even a million molecules aren’t likely to cause harm, since the potential for harm is caused by prolonged and/or repeated overexposure to unsafe levels; usually over an extended period of time. Less frequent exposures are less likely to result in harm or injury. Controlling the amount of exposure, e.g. proper ventilation, lowers exposure, lessens the risks and improves safety. Even so, persons with a previous history of allergic sensitivity to Formalin or Formaldehyde may adversely react with one exposure. Therefore, individuals who have or suspect allergic sensitivities should NOT receive or perform these services.

12. My (limited) experience with testing the air in salons over the last 18 months leads me to believe that a well-ventilated salon, performing two or three hair smoothing treatments per day will not exceed the Federal OSHA safe levels for Formaldehyde gas.

13. Cosmetologist and client safety can further be improved by using proper ventilation. The most useful type is called “chemical source capture” or “local” ventilation, meaning these devices pull much of the vapors into an overhanging hood, down a flexible tube, and through at least a 3 inch bed of activated charcoal to absorb a sizeable amount of Formaldehyde and lower exposure. Such systems can also be designed to safely ventilate to the outdoors.

14. Even salons that do not perform these types of hair smoothing treatments should still always use proper ventilation. Other services also create vapors, mists and dusts which must be controlled. I have evaluated and recommend the source capture system sold by Aerovex Systems, Inc. I suspect that similar systems on the market may also be effective, but I haven’t evaluated them.

15. Cosmetologists should always wear impervious gloves, e.g. nitrile gloves, to help avoid the potential for adverse skin reactions from accidental skin contact to Formalin containing products. Safety eye protection equipment should be worn to prevent accidental eye exposure. Read and understand ALL warnings provided by the manufacturer, including the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) and call to ask the company questions.

Fair Disclosure: I do not have any commercial interest in selling products containing Formalin (Methylene Glycol), nor do I derive any profit from the sale of Formalin containing products. I provide scientific assistance to many cosmetic/personal care/beauty companies, some of whom sell Formalin containing products, as well as work with governments, associations and advocacy groups on cosmetic/personal care related matters.

This document is not intended to be a complete or comprehensive guide. If you experience significant problems which you believe may be related to these treatments, you should seek the advice of a qualified medical doctor. “

Protect Yourself From Airborne Toxins In Salons

Hair and nail salons can provide a great environment to relax and unwind. Customers enjoy leaving their worries at the door for a few hours while they do something special just for themselves. However, there may be something to worry about in many salon environments. Hair treatments such as perms, dyes, and straightening methods have been linked to health risks including respiratory problems and mucus membrane irritation.

Hair salon workers and frequent customers are exposed to formaldehyde and other toxic fumes from salon products like hairspray. Nail salons also harbor toxins in the air from nail polish and tiny particles released when manicures or pedicures are filed.

However, these dangers can be avoided by taking proper action. The Three Zone Ventilation System offers a way for salon owners to purify the air in their workplace and make it safe for customers and employees. “The One That Works” air purifier is a system designed to remove not only harmful fumes but also tiny particles like hair clippings and dust from nails. It will eliminate undesirable odors from cigarette smoke, acrylics, and styling products. It even removes bacteria and viruses from the air, promoting the health of customers and stylists alike. This lightweight, portable machine traps particles as tiny as one micron! It’s convenient to maintain, and you can run it all day long.

You pay a lot for cosmetic treatments, and you have a right to protection from airborne toxins. Salons are currently not regulated and required to meet safety standards. Therefore, it is up to the consumers to demand safety measures. A Chemical Source Capture System is the best way to ensure the safety and comfort of salon workers and their clients.

Busting The “Formaldehyde Free” Myth

Formaldehyde is often used as a preservative in household products such as glue and nail polish. Intense exposure can be irritating and cause severe reactions in the mucus membranes and respiratory system.

Contrary to popular belief, all Brazilian Keratin Treatments (also known as Brazilian Blowouts) contain formaldehyde or other “hydes” that are just as dangerous. Manufacturers and distributors have also started using formaldehyde substitutes, like Urea, that are just as toxic, but don’t have the stigma that is associated with formaldehyde.

In order for the straightening process to work, formaldehyde or a similar substitute is a requirement. This is the active ingredient which binds keratin to the hair, making it feel thicker and healthier. According to chemist Doug Schoon, of Schoon Scientific in Dana Point, CA, a chemical process is required to achieve the shiny, straight hair offered in these treatments.

Attempting to research the ingredients in Brazilian Keratin Treatments will yield poor results, as manufacturers use the excuse of protecting their “Secret Formula” as a way to deny you the right to know what is being applied to your hair. As long as a hair product is labeled “For Professional Use,” manufacturers are not required by the FDA to list the ingredients.

Taking proper precautions creates safer air quality in salons using Brazilian Keratin Hair Treatments. Installing a Three Zone Ventilation System ensures the safety of the hairstylists performing these treatments, as well as their clientele.

How Safe Is The Air In Your Salon?

After spending a day in the salon do you expect to leave feeling light headed from chemical fumes?

It’s time to raise your expectations and demand that beauty salons invest in air quality measures.  Salon owners have a responsibility to maintain a healthy environment for their clientele and employees, most of whom are women of childbearing age, who experience prolonged exposure to high levels of toxins.

The problem is, there are no regulations in place to force salon owners to maintain proper air quality.  There are solutions out there, the most effective being a Three Zone Ventilation System.  This system ventilates the breathing zone of both the client & stylist, their work station, and the general air in the building.   Proper protection will help you avoid serious health issues that can come from inhaling the cocktail of harsh toxins associated with salon services.


Brazilian Keratin Treatment:  This popular new treatment uses ingredients such as formaldehyde and glutaraldehyde to chemically straighten hair.  The majority of salons simply rely on opening windows to get rid of the strong fumes and vapors released during this treatment.  This is an unacceptable practice, and we must demand that salons invest in the proper Chemical Source Capture System for this treatment, especially when you consider the prices that are being charged for this high end service.

Hair Spray:  Used continuously throughout the day in salons, the chemicals released from hair spray linger in the air, causing a considerable drop in air quality.  When exposed to these chemicals, adverse symptoms such as sneezing, watery or burning eyes, scratchy throat and headache can all occur.  Those who suffer from allergies or asthma may feel the unpleasant systems almost immediately.

Perms, Strippers & Dyes:  It’s no secret that the chemicals found in these solutions are not only unsafe but pose many heath risks.  Gloves may help protect stylists from direct contact with the solution, but without the proper air purifying system in place, there is nothing to protect stylists and patrons from the dangers of toxic inhalation.

Manicures & Pedicures:  Every time these services are performed, the number of airborne particles released into the air gradually increases. These popular procedures also require the use of nail polish, hardeners and other adhesives that evaporate easily into the air.  Putting a Source Capture Ventilation System in place will remove these contaminants before they come into contact with people.