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

11 Responses to “An Afterhours Brazilian Blowout Scene…In Brazil?”
  1. It’s so true! Why can’t we embrace the nature of our hair? Celebrate our natural hair colors, our natural hair textures! Why do we give in to the marketing ideas that our hair is not straight enough, not blonde enough, not full enough of chemicals. From formaldehyde in straighteners to toxic dyes and carcinogen-laced ethoxylated compounds in conditioners…what are we doing to ourselves?!

  2. Danielle says:

    I keep hearing all of this negative stuff about the Brazilian Blowout, but I got it done and there were no fumes, no tingling, no anything. Also, my hair looks amazing! Its shiny and full of life, and this is after 12 weeks! Could my treatment have contained no formaldehyde? Honestly, my experience was nothing like the horror stories that people have been writing…

  3. Andrea says:

    I’ve tried to embrace my curls, but they just look crappy. It was my New Year’s Resolution, and I broke this week and started blowing out my hair. I think curly hair looks good on other people, but it doesn’t do anything for me. It just looks so much sexier when it’s straight. I feel like a different person. Men actually look at me on the street. Of course other people disagree with me about how my hair looks, but what I think is what matters. Maybe I just got made fun of so much in middle school, that I’ll never be able to accept my texture.

    That said, I quit getting Brazilian blowouts and now deal with trying to keep my hair out of humidity and rain in order to have it look reasonable. I’d like to find a product that isn’t as heinous as the Brazilian blowout. I’m considering asking my hairstylist if she would consider using a perm to take some of the curl out. Wavy would be fine with me. I just think my curls are heinous looking. Is a perm any worse than coloring every so often? I’ve lessened my chemical load in every other product. Would a little texture change really hurt too much?

  4. C. Pace says:

    Companies like Pravana and Brocato claim their Keratin treatments are safe, formaldehyde free, and that they use plant based Keratin. Is this true? What brands are safe? Please advise.

  5. Jordana Lorraine says:

    I have received the Brazilian Blowout 10 times and performed it over 500 times! It is a brand-name product and not a general term that refers to whatever someone mixes up in her kitchen. I have never seen any of the awful things described here, in my experiences. I think a lot of people (stylists and clients) are misinformed or misled. Do your research, on both the product and the salon/stylist!

    Danielle, I am glad to hear your treatment went so well. As it should!

    Brazilian Blowout has also just released a new treatment solution, which uses a plant-based bonding system that contains/produces no formaldehyde before, during or after the treatment. I don’t know if I’m allowed to post links here, so I’ll just say to go to the BB website, where they have lots of information on it.

  6. Melissa says:

    IVisiting (the north of) Brazil for 2 months now. Apparently shampoo is by definition mostly Sodium Laureth Sulfate here, and nothing is without fragrance. So, I´m trying to make a 3 oz bottle of dr bronner´s last for 2 more months as shampoo by not washing my hair everyday. Brazillians, you are all beautiful! You don´t need all those chemicals!

  7. joann durand says:

    I am so happy you are continuing on the horrors of these products…They are preforming this treatment all over South Florida with zero reguard for the toxicity…I have been a hairdresser for 24 years and have never seen anything this bad….please keep fighting…I am fighting on the state level!!!!!

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