Article by: Perry Romanowski

I thought I would weigh in on this topic as it’s been in the news a bit and have a little history researching in the field.

When I was at a former employers, I accidentally stumbled on the notion that formaldehyde donor molecules could react with hair under room temperature or slightly higher conditions. This was way back in 2002 or 2003. We worked hard to launch a product to straighten hair (among other things) but were never able to make the product effective enough due to the high level of formaldehyde donors we needed to use.

Regulations inhibit innovation

It was disappointing never to have launched this interesting discovery, but we were looking to do an at-home, world-wide product. The regulations on formaldehyde donors are just too strict.  Not that they shouldn’t be as strict as they are.  They are perfectly reasonable.

Apparently, the people behind the Brazilian Straightening system skipped that part of the research and just went ahead and launched the product.

Now, they have to pull it off the market because the CIR has ruled that use of Formaldehyde in these products is unsafe. This pretty much kills the Brazilian hair straightening brand and much of the company. Perhaps they made enough money so it won’t matter to them. Perhaps not.

Consider regulations

It is a good lesson for cosmetic chemists and entrepreneurs alike. When you find a new technology or a new application of an old technology, be sure to take head of any regulatory problems you might face. This may result in you not launching a product but it could be the difference between your company still existing or being shut down.

We eventually found a molecule that was similar to formaldehyde and had a similar effect without the regulatory problems. I left before the product was launched but I know it works and we may see it on the market some day.

That is more that can be said for the Brazilian Hair Straightener. That brand is done.

Incidentally, who says the cosmetic industry in the US is not regulated? Here is proof that it is.


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    Thanks for weighing in on this hot topic Perry! As a hairdresser and a formulator, this is one area of particular interest to me.
    I appreciate you pointing out what I often refer to as “just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.” Too often we get caught up in the excitement of being ABLE to do something that we don’t stop long enough to accurately and ethically evaluate if we SHOULD. This is true in many fields today- from cosmetics to medicine to technology- often resulting in some serious ethical dilemmas.
    While it is unsettling to know that one company failed to put on the brakes and released a dangerous product, it is refreshing to learn that another company, when faced with the same situation, chose safety over financial gain.
    I must point out that the company who released the product was outside the US while the company who held back was here in the US.
    Yep, we here in the US sure are unregulated! (Please note sarcastic lean to previous comment)

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    I haven’t read the CIR report, but I sincerely hope their decision was based strictly on science and not influenced by pressure from NGOs, who I’m sure will argue that the fact that some individuals may have been exposed to dangerous levels of formaldehyde is “proof” that self-regulation in fact doesn’t work.

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      Yeah, it’s difficult to say whether NGO pressure got to them. Or maybe pressure from the government (e.g. OSHA). I think they did it just to show they aren’t in the pockets of industry and the government can count on them. But maybe there is sound science backing them up.

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    Out of curiosity, the Brazilian Straightening was originally created here in Brazil by a hairdresser with no background in Chemistry. But “our FDA” (ANVISA) also doesn’t allow it.

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    Great information. Thanks Perry.

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