The Brazilian Blowout Hoax, Part 1: Media Parrots Faulty Conclusions from Faulty Study by Lawrence Meyers 10 Nov 2011 post a comment Share This: A controversy has erupted over the alleged danger posed by formaldehyde being released during Brazilian Blowouts, the immensely popular hair treatment offered by GIB, LLC, the company behind the product. My exclusive investigation into the truth behind these allegations has revealed a series of faulty studies by both government and private research firms, which were picked up by a lazy media, and propagated to stylists and consumers -- who never realized the negligence and incompetence involved in the faulty conclusions of these studies. Thus, contrary to media reports over the past 18 months, the Brazilian Blowout hair treatment is safe for use. Safe. End of Story. In this first article of a series regarding the baseless hysteria surrounding the Brazilian Blowout treatment, I'll debunk a just-released study by the San Francisco-based private chemical consulting firm ChemRisk, which contains a fundamental flaw so egregious that this study should never have been made public. This is not the first time a ChemRisk study has had questions raised about it. The company got caught in a big scandal involving PG&E a number of years ago. Nevertheless, the media parrots whatever it hears without doing simple fact-checking, feeding the baseless hysteria surrounding the Brazilian Blowout treatment. 8th Grade Science Mistakes As mentioned, the controversy regarding Brazilian Blowout centers around the amount of formaldehyde allegedly released during a treatment. A harmless alcohol known as methylene glycol is in every bottle of Brazilian Blowout solution. During a treatment, methylene glycol can be converted to formaldehyde in tiny amounts -- amounts so tiny they fall well below OSHA's strict safety levels. Nevertheless, even the release of these negligible amounts has given rise to irrational fears -- fears that ChemRisk and the media have regrettably perpetuated. Dr. Jennifer Pierce, the senior industrial hygienist for ChemRisk who authored the study, conducted a pro-bono test in a Chicago salon to see just how much formaldehyde is released in a treatment. A stylist, identified by Dr. Pierce as "having been trained in the Brazilian Blowout treatment," conducted four treatments on a mannequin with a human hair wig of medium length. Air samples were taken continuously during the treatments, and also during just the blow-drying and flat-ironing phase for ten minutes. But ChemRisk appears to have botched the most important part of the experiment. Dr. Pierce told me in a telephone interview that she obtained the bottle of Brazilian Blowout solution from a third party vendor and that "the bottle had no instructions on it, there was no instructional insert, and no external instructions were provided…so we relied on the stylist's training as to the correct amount." The correct amount for medium length hair is one ounce, or 2 capfuls of product. According to Dr. Pierce, the stylist used 2 ounces -- twice the amount that is directed for use. Indeed, instructions for the proper dosage are included in an online video on Brazilian Blowout's website, which the stylist had access to and had been trained to follow. [local /files/2011/11/BB-instructional-for-BJ.mov] So of course the amount of formaldehyde released was a lot higher than if the product were actually used correctly! Thus, ChemRisk's claim that the product violated OSHA's Short-Term Exposure Limit (STEL) by emitting 2.35 parts per million (ppm) -- vs. OSHA's STEL of 2 ppm -- is invalid. The result of this mistake is that the amount of formaldehyde released by the treatment is grossly overstated compared to what would be released had the treatment been done properly. Oops! Even worse, the peer-reviewed Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene (JOEH) is publishing this faulty study. Not only did ChemRisk apparently blow it, but a group of "expert scientists" reviewing the work didn't bother to track down the proper dosage. Wow, if this is all it takes to get media attention and publication in a scientific journal, I'm going to do a study on the dangerous effects of what happens when two hydrogen atoms are covalently bonded to a single oxygen atom! And wouldn't you know it, this is the same Journal that published the scandal-plagued PG&E study, and later had to retract it. Of course, it took them 9 years to do so. I wonder how long it'll take for this debacle to get pulled, as it should. There's another reason why I look upon this study with skepticism. Its findings contradict every single other study done on the product -- including a recently released university study, and the OSHA study. As I will report here exclusively next week, the OSHA citations were based on mistaken sampling, and I have obtained evidence to substantiate this allegation. Study Proves The Opposite: BB is Safe So as it turns out, the opposite of what ChemRisk asserts is true: Brazilian Blowout is safe. The amount of formaldehyde released by a treatment is well below OSHA standards, and I'll illustrate just how insignificant this formaldehyde exposure really is. 1.0 ppm means that in every kilogram of air, there is 1 milligram of formaldehyde. See that little milligram cube below, and the gram cube next to it? Every one thousand gram cubes has less than 1 tiny little milligram cube. So relax. Go get your hair straightened. Media creates another Boogeyman I found out all of this information in about 30 minutes, simply because I was familiar with the controversy and saw an L.A Times blog that offered the company's perspective. As for the blog's author, Susan Carpenter, shame on her (and the Times) for not asking ChemRisk the hard questions, or even bothering to do the simple research. I thought a journalist's job was to seek out facts and present a balanced story, not parrot what a study says, stoke the fear of stylists and consumers, and wipe her hands of the matter. But here's the real story: this isn't just about a faulty study and the media's witless demonization of a perfectly safe product. It's about the thousands of stylists and salon owners across the country that have probably seen their income drop significantly because of sloppy journalism and sloppy science, stoking fear in their customers. Fear is a powerful dissuader, and chemophobia can scare consumers away from a lot of things. This is just one more piece of evidence I've discovered that journalists haven't bothered to seek out -- evidence that should totally dissipate the fear regarding formaldehyde exposure during Brazilian Blowout treatments. If ChemRisk can blow it, anyone can -- and has -- including Oregon OSHA, which is what Brazilian Blowout asserts. While the rest of the media abandons its responsibility, your intrepid reporter is on the case. So, ladies, go get that soft and silky hair again. Us guys love it.