(NaturalNews) The nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG) has filed a lawsuit against the FDA, accusing the agency of failing to address the ongoing use of toxic and carcinogenic formaldehyde in hair-straightening products.
“For years stylists have reported that the application of these hair treatments caused difficulty breathing, eye irritation and nosebleeds,” said EWG counsel Tina Sigurdson. “The FDA has been aware of the health hazards associated with the products since at least 2008. Despite these dangers, the FDA has yet to take action to remove them from the market.”
The ingredient in question is actually labeled as methylene glycol, which is simply formaldehyde in a solution.
The FDA actually once convened an independent review panel on the question, and the panel concluded that formaldehyde in hair-straightening products is unsafe.
The cosmetics industry’s own trade group, the Personal Care Products Council, endorsed this finding. The council’s Cosmetic Ingredient Review is notorious for failing to take toxic cosmetics ingredients seriously. In its entire history, the Review has classified only 11 chemicals as unsafe, of more than 6,000 in use in cosmetics. In contrast, the European Union has banned 1,400.
“This is a chemical that is so dangerous that even the industry’s own self-regulatory program … has concluded that it should not be used in hair-straightening products,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s senior vice president of government affairs.
But Cosmetic Ingredient Review decisions are not binding, so companies continue to use the toxic ingredient. And despite the fact that it would have industry support in doing so, the FDA has taken no action to stop them.
As far back as 2011, EWG formally requested that the FDA investigate more than a dozen companies that were concealing the presence of formaldehyde in their products. More recently, it asked the agency to determine whether a warning label should be placed on these products, or if methylene glycol should be banned altogether.
EWG filed the lawsuit after the FDA failed to respond within a year, as required by law.
When methylene glycol is placed onto hair and then heated, as occurs during a hair-straightening treatment, it gives off formaldehyde gas. This gas is carcinogenic, a major irritant and can produce sensitization that causes people to have major health reactions to even tiny amounts of formaldehyde in the future.
“I talked to one woman who was like, ‘I can’t blow dry my hair. Every time I put heat to my hair, it gases off, and I can’t breathe, and I’m coughing, and my eyes swell up,'” said Alexandra Scranton of Women’s Voices for the Earth, which joined EWG in the lawsuit.
Scranton noted that sensitization cannot be reversed. And because formaldehyde is found everywhere – such as in nearly all treated wood products, from cabinets to floors – sensitization can make life nearly unlivable.
“Formaldehyde is real hard to avoid in our culture, so they don’t know when they’re going to be exposed to it and have this terrible reaction,” Scranton said.
Salon workers could certainly choose not to use formaldehyde-containing products, but often they are unaware that there’s any risk to methylene glycol. Scranton’s group has been doing outreach to workers, but she says “there’s still a general impression that, ‘Well, if it’s on the shelves of the beauty supply store, it must be safe to use.’ Even if it’s got a formaldehyde warning somewhere buried on a safety data sheet.”
U.S. law does not require cosmetics or their ingredients to be safety tested before use. It does require products containing hazardous chemicals to have a safety data sheet attached, but Scranton notes that some of these sheets do not reflect the most recent research into formaldehyde’s risks.
Even under the U.S.’s permissive system, Faber insists, the FDA needs to step up and take action against formaldehyde in hair-straightening products.
“This is one of those cases. … You know, nothing is open and shut — but this is as close as you get!”
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