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Nail Polish & the Brazilian Blowout: Are Either Okay?

There has been a lot in the news lately about the Brazilian Blowout hair straightening treatment and the formaldehyde it emits into the air. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and therefore something that nobody should should inhale, especially women who are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant. All this news, however, has failed to inform the consumer about everything else in their daily life that emits formaldehyde. For example, did you know that most furniture is made out of particle board that emits formaldehyde into your home? That is why all of the furniture sold at Sprout is either solid wood or passes the European Union’s more stringent formaldehyde emissions standards.

The worst offender we have found is regular nail polish. Plain old nail polish that many women we know apply and reapply to their nails every single week, often at salons with seat after seat of open bottles of formaldehyde fumes to breathe in. Though some new formaldehyde free brands have come onto the market (we like ella + mila), few women seem to be making this choice a priority. And remember, even if you use a safe brand at a regular nail salon, you are still breathing in the fumes of the other open bottles around you.

We witnessed the proof first hand at a salon in San Francisco.  One hair salon owner we know was so concerned about the safety of his customers and his employees who were performing the Brazilian Blowout, that he purchased a formaldehyde detector. The results were as follows: The machine detected levels as high as 1.44 parts per million (ppm) for a few moments during my hair treatment, but quickly settled back down to around 0.23 ppm. (Yes, even I have done this treatment. It makes my hair look great. Though I decided to stop as soon as I began to think about getting pregnant again.) The machine registered an average of 0.44 ppm throughout the day, decently below the 0.75 parts per million that OSHA (the Occupational Health and Safety Administration) requires.

Here are the OSHA rules:

  1. The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds 0.75 parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (0.75 ppm) as an 8-hour time weighted average.
  2. The employer shall assure that no employee is exposed to an airborne concentration of formaldehyde which exceeds two parts formaldehyde per million parts of air (2 ppm) as a 15-minute short term exposure limit.

Finally, to my shock, the salon owner opened a bottle of a mainstream brand of nail polish, and the held the formaldehyde detector above it. The machine registered 21 ppm of formaldehyde in the air! It could have been even higher, but 21 ppm is the maximum level the machine could register. That is more that 20 times the OSHA limit for short term exposure.

My conclusion: Please don’t use regular nail polish or even go to a regular nail salon if you are pregnant, breast feeding, or even thinking of becoming pregnant in the next few years. Use a formaldehyde free polish at home or find an all natural salon. If consumers demand it, there will be more and more of them popping up in major cities in the coming years. And if you do want to get the Brazilian Blowout, do not believe all the hairdressers that tell you their product is formaldehyde free, we have not found one that is. Please do look for a salon that cares about its customers enough to test the air, like the Patrick Evans Salon in downtown San Francisco. Thanks Patrick!