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Keratin Companies Respond to Controversy with New Formulas

by Michelle Breyer on Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Long Beach, CA—With recent attention spotlighting the keratin smoothing treatments and rumors that environmental groups would be picketing outside some salons offering the service—several hair-care brands unveiled new formaldehyde-free formulas and safety devices at the Long Beach International Salon & Spa Expo.

“Safety is my No. 1 concern,” said Lilly Balasanyan, president of Cadiveu USA, which showcased its new Acai Therapy formaldehyde-free formula as well as Aerovex Systems, a leading work ventilation system for professional salons doing keratin treatments, at its booth. “It’s very important to me.”

In addition to promoting formulas that are “100% formaldehyde free,” many companies also took steps to distance themselves from their Brazilian roots. Farouk named its new formaldehyde-free formula “CHI Enviro American Smoothing Treatment.”

Other companies, including Zerran International, Farouk Systems and Enjoy Hair also promoted their formaldehyde-free formulas. On its marketing materials, the Zerran Reallisse formula is described as free of aldehydes, methylene glycol, formol, formalin “or any other substance that produces formaldehyde. At the Zerran booth, a stylist poured some of the Reallisse Catalyst formula into her ungloved hand to demonstrate how gentle it is.

A few booths over, Croc introduced its Greenion smoothing system, which is 100% natural and contains no formaldehyde, aldehydes, thioglycolates or other toxic chemicals. GK Hair, formerly Global Keratin, swill be launching a new patent-formula in April called Light Tame with a formaldehyde level of 0.18 percent. It will join the company’s three existing formulas.

Gloss Moderne changed its name as well as its formulas over the past year in response to the growing concerns about formaldehyde. Originally called Brazilian Gloss, the company no longer imports its products from Brazil, instead developing its formulas in the United States. Gloss Moderne pledges to send each batch of the upcoming salon treatment, due out in January, for laboratory testing to reassure stylists and salon patrons that the formula is free of methylene glycol and formaldehyde — or any type of aldehyde.

“We found that by going formaldehyde-free, we could feel good about [promising results] of eight weeks or longer,” Kuen Rameson, founder of Gloss Moderne, told WWD.

Aware that some stylists may be wary of a brand’s formaldehye-free, aldehyde-free claims, many companies had copies of laboratory reports at their booths to prove the absence of these chemicals while others have reports verifying that their formulas fall within the safe limits set by OSHA. Brazilian Blowout, which has been the target of a lot of the controversy, had a large sign at its booth that said “proven safe by OSHA.” Based on the huge crowds of stylists at its booth, and at the Keratin Complex Booth around the corner, keratin treatments were still a major draw for stylists drawn by the frizz-fighting results and large profit potential.

Balasanyan understands that her industry’s credibility has been tarnished by recent reports that several keratin brands claiming to be free of formaldehyde did in fact have high levels of the known carcinogen. In addition to developing its new formaldehyde-free formula, Cadiveu USA has placed a call to action on the industry to update testing standards that will provide both accurate information and safety for stylists and the consumer.

Keratin-based treatments exploded on the scene over the past three years, with dozens of companies their frizz-fighting formulas and customers flocking to salons for the treatments, which cost several hundred dollars.

But as popularity grew, there were growing concerns that some formulas contained unacceptable levels of formaldehyde. The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the International Agency for Research on Cancer all list formaldehyde as a suspected or known human carcinogen. Much of it started after hairstylists in Portland, Ore., reported nosebleeds, breathing problems and eye irritation connected with the use of keratin-based smoothers. That prompted an investigation by Oregon OSHA, which then issued a public alert about possible dangers related to the presence of formaldehyde in the products.

In its 30-page report issued in October, Oregon OSHA said there’s a lack of information available to stylists about the safety of keratin products, many of which it says are wrongly labeled formaldehyde-free. The workplace safety agency has initiated further testing and concluded “there are meaningful risks to salon workers when they are confronted with hair smoothing products.”

Doug Schoon, a California chemist who consults with the beauty industry on salon product safety, contends that both Oregon OSHA and Health Canada got it wrong. Schoon criticizes many reported beauty product health hazards as bad science or media exaggeration. He said the agencies wrongly tested the keratin products for formaldehyde in the bottle rather than in the air.

“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,” Schoon said in a recent posting on the ISSE web site. “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.”

Balasanyan, and many others in the industry, do take issue with the testing criteria. She said Cadiveu conducted scientific tests at both room temperature and at 450°F to simulate the conditions of use in salons, e.g. heated with a flat iron. The results of these tests show formaldehyde levels in the product were below 0.0002% , or 2/10,000 percent—a level considered safe.

But Balasanyan says salon professionals must be educated about the safety of the products and how to create a safe work environment for both customers and salon professionals.

Mark Garrison, the owner of a salon on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that bears his name, set aside a floor for keratin treatments, equipping it with special ventilators and began providing industrial-strength respirators to his clients and stylists.

Sasha Polit, marketing manager believes the companies in her industry need to be open and honest with stylists and consumers.

“If you’re honest and transparent, people will still use the products,” she said. “But you have to give them that choice.”

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Begin having frequent staff meetings and collaborate on business building techniques used by others that you work with. Every salon has success right inside. Get the top booker to explain how they do it. Pair the weakest with the strongest and let them work next to each other. They can learn from what they hear and see. Do the same with retail sales. Share the ways that the top stay on top.

With cross marketing other services, know who the salon leaders are and copy them. Your staff becomes a resource to each other and by sharing dialouge that works, we all win.

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