FDA Faces Lawsuit Over Popular Keratin Hair Treatments

Last week, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a report that claimed beauty products marketed to African-American women usually contained more harmful ingredients than those marketed to non-African Americans. This week, in hopes of righting wrongs within consumer products and their consequences, its sights have shifted towards hair salons—more specifically, the all-too-popular keratin treatment.

The organization, as well as Women's Voices for the Earth, has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alleging that the FDA hasn’t responded responsibly or adequately to health concerns concerning keratin hair treatments (these services are meant to semi-permanently straighten hair by applying a variety of liquids to “relax” the hair before heating them with straightening tools) with products that contain formaldehyde. According to the EWG, this process of heating the liquids creates a formaldehyde gas that is released into the air, which in high levels (these vary in every treatment), per the lawsuit, can cause health problems for salon employees. 

“For years, stylists have reported that the application of these hair treatments caused difficulty breathing, eye irritation and nosebleeds,” said Tina Sigurdson, EWG assistant general counsel, adding that the FDA has been aware of the health hazards associated with these products and treatments since at least 2008. “Despite these dangers, the FDA has yet to take action to remove them from the market.” Even worse, in 2011, EWG filed a request that the FDA investigate the “Brazilian blowout” products and take the appropriate course of action, but has yet to respond to the letter, leaving the health of many salon workers less than stable. “My health has been impacted by formaldehyde in hair straighteners to the point where I am no longer able to work in a salon environment since I have no control over the products used by other stylists,” New Jersey salon worker Dawn Marino told the EWG. “The FDA needs to take action to remove or restrict these dangerous products to help protect stylists. Professional stylists shouldn’t have to choose between their job and their health.”

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While a spokesperson for the FDA, Theresa Eisenman, tells Yahoo Beauty that the Administration is unable to comment on pending litigation, she notes that under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, with the exception of color additives, cosmetic products and ingredients do not need FDA premarket approval. “Companies and individuals who manufacture or market cosmetics have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their products, but [the FDA] does not have the authority to require companies to present data demonstrating the safety of their products before they are marketed,” Eisenman explains. “Similarly, cosmetic labeling must be truthful and not misleading, in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. However, cosmetic labeling is not subject to premarket review and approval by the FDA…Companies also do not have to register their products with the FDA, nor is there any requirement for cosmetic companies to share information about adverse events with the FDA.”

In the midst of this litigation, we’ll be sure to bring you more updates once we have them. Stay tuned to NewBeauty.com in the meantime! 

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