An Afterhours Brazilian Blowout Scene…In Brazil?
According to lore, formaldehyde’s hair-straightening powers were discovered by a mortician in Brazil. Whether or not this is true, this Associated Press article is looking to that country to get to the root (their pun, not ours) of the now-infamous Brazilian blowout.
In case you’re new to the topic: Brazilian blowouts can and often do contain formaldehyde, even when the packaging or salon says it doesn’t, which is why Canada and France have both yanked it, and why the California government is suing a company that manufactures the solution. Formaldehyde is considered a human carcinogen. Also? Brazilians make your hair look like crap.
But back to the article: The first half tackles well-covered territory about the blowout’s controversy, but further down there are some serious jaw droppers about the treatment’s history and its ongoing use in Brazil. Specifically:
Hairdressers in Brazil used to mix their formaldehyde treatments DIY! But thankfully the sale of formaldehyde was banned from supermarkets…in 2009.
From the article:
When the straightening treatment started in Brazil, hair dressers mixed their own formulas in beakers with formaldehyde, water, keratin and other ingredients. In 2009, the government agency in charge of health and safety, Anvisa, started cracking down on salons that overuse the chemical. In January alone, they investigated 202 salons suspected of spiking their products, according to a spokesman. The sale of formaldehyde in pharmacies and supermarkets was forbidden in 2009 to stop the practice.
Because some women will go to any lengths to straighten curly hair (more on that below), there’s now an after-hours bootleg-blowout scene that is still thriving in Brazil. Why? Lots of reasons, but racial discrimination and Euro-normative beauty ideals appear to play a pretty big part.
The article goes on to explain that until recently, job ads would ask for applicants with “good appearance”—which Eliza Larkin, the director of IPEAFRO, an institute focusing on Afro-Brazilian studies, says is a euphemism for white. Curly, kinky hair simply wasn’t seen as professional or attractive.
The kind of beauty Brazil exports—the Victoria’s Secret glamazons with the barbie bodies and windblown hair—exists in pretty stark contrast to the 40% of Brazilians who identify as having some African ancestry (and presumably many have the curls that come with it). It’s not that this irony hasn’t been explored at all (thank you Jezebel), but thinking about the Brazilian blowout in a racial context makes it all the more insidious, wouldn’t you agree?
And while the idea of late-night secret blowouts, and homemade formaldehyde formulas is not without a little dark comedy, let’s recall that a healthy 33-year-old woman did die in Brazil from doing one of these home treatments—asphyxiated in her shower by the formaldehyde fumes. Sorry to get all dramatic, but it’s true! It’s right here in this Allure expose from 2007, back when they were exposing stuff.
Hmm. Anything I would add is too painfully obvious to write down, but it all loosely translates to this: Frizzy hair can suck, but there’s something to be said for embracing your hair’s texture no matter how unruly (or just plain curly! or wavy!) it is. And if there’s one thing we’re sure of it’s that no matter how many headaches a bad hair day can cause, it can’t cause respiratory problems, eye irritation, skin rashes or cancer.
Image from Vanity Fair’s Viva Brazil Issue