Salons are magical places where women get to forget their woes, read trashy magazines, and come out feeling like movie stars. But as many of you know, for a clean girl, the beauty parlor is a place shrouded in dangerous mysteries, where products and treatments are pumped out of big unmarked bottles and toxins waft through the air. And where there is no legal requirement to reveal ingredients.

As it so happens, S and I are currently doing a little research on some of the more nefarious treatments happening in salons these days. But no research is complete without you guys, our fingers on the pulse.

What treatments are you (or your not-so-clean friends) getting these days? Some we’re looking at are: gel nails, Brazilian blowouts (yep, still popular), and these new eyelash growth potions. But are people also still getting perms, going to tanning beds, and using hair relaxers? Have you heard of anything else creeping on the scene?

As you guys know, in these parts, the salon is no longer our main hangout. Sure, we’re getting occasional manicures but even the so-called natural polishes are hotly debated (see comments). We also both go for occasional highlights. It’s been about a year since I got mine, and yes, I’m currently debating a spring pick-me-up (and I dreamt I dyed my hair red last night!). But, while far from clean, these treatments are pretty vanilla compared to some others.

Help your girls out here, and tell us what you—or your friends and colleagues—are getting done.

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For those new to the site, one of our kind-of claims to fame is for being early to sound the alarm, if you will, on the dangers of the Brazilian Blowout. Our book opens with a scene of us sitting in a fancy West Hollywood salon, choking on the formaldehyde fumes of this now infamous hair treatment. It marked the beginning of our journey into clean beauty—without the BB, there would be no book and no site.

Behind closed doors, we were later told that the negative attention brought upon the blowout, by us and other clean-beauty and public health advocates, helped serve as a catalyst for the lawsuit thrown down by California’s Attorney General back in November 2010. California has this nifty law called Prop 65 that stipulates products that contain carcinogens must feature a warning label on it. And now it’s been enforced for the first time.

Because not only was Brazilian Blowout not warning consumers and salon workers about the high levels of formaldehyde—as much as 10% according to some lab tests—in their treatment, they were also claiming some versions of the product were formaldehyde free. We’ve covered the story extensively and posted the original filing here. A few days ago the saga reached its conclusion. For now.

In a settlement, GIB, LLC, the company that makes Brazilian Blowout, must stop its deceptive advertising and pay $600,000 in fees, penalties and costs. Remember, though, as Virginia at Beauty Schooled points out: This applies to one brand and one brand only for now. There are countless other companies also making similar Brazilian blowout (lower-case b) formulas, and this doesn’t yank the procedure or the products from salons, either. It just slaps it with a CAUTION label.

Is it enough? No, but it’s something.
For those interested we’ve listed the settlement requirements below.

Requirements as listed by a Department of Justice press release:

- Produce a complete and accurate safety information sheet on the two products that includes a Proposition 65 cancer warning; distribute this information to recent product purchasers who may still have product on hand; and distribute it with all future product shipments. The revised safety information sheet — known as a “Material Safety Data Sheet,” or MSDS — will be posted on the company’s web site.

- Affix “CAUTION” stickers to the bottles of the two products to inform stylists of the emission of formaldehyde gas and the need for precautionary measures, including adequate ventilation.

- Cease deceptive advertising of the products as formaldehyde-free and safe; engage in substantial corrective advertising, including honest communications to sales staff regarding product risks; and change numerous aspects of Brazilian Blowout’s web site content.

- Retest the two products for total smog-forming chemicals (volatile organic compounds) at two Department of Justice-approved laboratories, and work with DOJ and the Air Resources Board to ensure that those products comply with state air quality regulations.

- Report the presence of formaldehyde in its products to the Safe Cosmetics Program at the Department of Public Health.

- Disclose refund policies to consumers before the products are purchased.

- Require proof of professional licensing before selling “salon use only” products to stylists.

To this day we still get letters and comments on old posts about women who have lost their hair, damaged their scalps or suffered in some way from the Brazilian blowout. Have you done it? Please continue to share your experiences. This this is far from over.

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In case you missed this on Friday, the FDA has issued a warning letter to the makers of the Brazilian Blowout saying that the product is ‘adultered’ and ‘misbranded.’ No shizzle! Here’s a quote from Michael W. Roosevelt, the acting director of the Office of Compliance at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (via MSNBC):

“Brazilian Blowout is misbranded because its label and labeling (including instructions for use) makes misleading statements regarding the product’s ingredients and fails to reveal material facts with respect to consequences that may result from the use of the product.”

What can we say? Better late than never, I guess. The chief exec at Brazilian Blowout has made a statement that this is all a ‘misunderstanding’ and that they are ‘delighted’ to work with the FDA. Meanwhile, officials over there have until today to respond to the letter or possibly face seizure of the product or court action. So stay tuned!

In related news, just this morning we received another comment from a reader, Jennifer, who got the Brazilian and is now suffering from hair loss. We get these comments all the time, so I thought I’d share and do a little crowdsourcing:

I had the Brazilian Blowout around my birthday May 14, 2011. Before the treatment I had very thick hair, which I loved. I had this treatment done because the humidity is so bad in the summer and causes frizziness. Now in September I notice my hair is getting thinner every day it seems. It’s scaring me because I don’t want it to continue. I noticed strands on my floor, clothes, etc. And now i’m actually seeing the damage of the hair loss thining my hair extremely. I even asked the lady when I sat in her chair if there were any downfalls and specifically asked about hair loss. She said no then made a joke saying “you can afford it anyway” which I found unprofessional because it was a serious question which in return deserved a serious answer. I want to know why 4 months later i’m still losing hair and if/when I should expect it to stop. I would have never had this treatment done had I read up on all the negatives before hand. The results were great until I am seeing my lifeless, flat hair that has thinned to the point that I can’t believe. If anyone can give some advice or tell me if there’s stopped falling out at a certain point, I’d appreciate any advice since I am very nervous about it continuing to fall out. Thanks!

My best advice would be to use the most gentle natural products you can find, and as few as you can too. Also, load up your diet with lots of healthy fats, especially omegas, and vitamin-rich foods. Does anyone else have ideas for Jennifer? Or a similar experience to share?

Gosh, this stuff makes us mad! Especially since we’ve been screaming about it for three years now—and this is the first official response from the FDA.

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This one goes out to all my curly, frizzy, wavy, fro-y friends out there.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time now and, inspired by my buddy’s piece yesterday, I decided to get all listy on it. Obviously you guys know that what got us in trouble in the first place was a fated chem-filled Brazilian Blowout. And as such we like to encourage women to generally embrace what they were born with, rather than fight their looks at every turn—especially with toxins.

But let’s be real about things too. There will always be women with curly hair who try to make it straight. And just because we want you to love and accept yourself does not at all mean that we don’t strongly advocate mixing sh*t up sometimes. When I get a blowout it’s like a new lease on life! I don’t do it often but when I do, a whole other gal comes out to play: She’s a little more sophisticated than me, this blowout character, a little more polished. I’ll never be her year-round, but I like her style.

But here’s the big surprise, ladies: Going natural—and I mean really natural—is the best thing you can do for your blowout. Consider this a guide to the anti-Brazilian blowout.

1. Stop washing your hair. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Not washing my hair is the best thing I ever did for this (now less) dry, curly mane of mine. It’s made it more manageable and actually much easier to style. Thanks to the natural oils in there I no longer look like someone who’s been electrocuted when I get my hair blown out. Sure, my ends are still a little ragged but overall my hair looks much healthier than it once did straightened. Also—and this is the clincher—when your scalp is used to not being washed you can keep a blowout for days (and days, and days) without it turning to a greasy mess. It’s like you’ve pre-trained it for the blowout. I kept my last one for over a week easy—and I could have gone longer.

2. Show up with a wet head. Critical if you’re doing it at a salon, otherwise the stylist will force you to wash your hair. Trust me on this one. And even if they don’t they will still use chemy products in there that you don’t want. Which takes me to…

3. Avoid leave-ins. I’m not talking about a little bit of argan oil on the ends here, but if you leave crap in your hair (even of the more natural variety like my new favorite curl cream) you run the risk of your hair getting weighed down and dull looking after a day or two. Even worse, your scalp could start itching. On the contrary, your natural oils will add shine and not weigh your hair down (except maybe at the root, but there’s a solution for that). So keep your hair dirty-clean, yeah?

4. Ask for a loose wave rather than the pin-straight look. I know us curly-haired girls dream of nothing more than shiny, stick-straight locks. But the truth is, no matter how healthy our hair is, most of us are still going to have broken ends that look rough when they’re super straight. It’s just the nature of the curly beast. As dumb luck would have it, the last blowout I had I asked for loose waves because I wanted to wear it in a pony for my friend’s wedding. I’ll never ask for anything else. Having the ends fall into big curls was the perfect camouflage (see picture above for inspiration) The waves also actually got better as the days passed.

5. Use dry shampoo to keep it alive. As mentioned, depending just how used to not washing your scalp is, the top can get a little greasy or flat after a few days. Meet your new best friend, dry shampoo. Siobhan has written about this stuff in the past but for some reason I’d never tried it. Probably because it’s called shampoo—but it’s really nothing like it. The added volume dry shampoo can give you at the root makes it feel more like a styling product to me than anything else. Yes it gets rid of the grease, but also, holy height! (Again, see above pic for inspiration because dry shampoo can do that depending how thick your hair is.) I’ve been using this All Nighter Styling Powder (couldn’t look less natural, but it’s made from rice tapioca and colored with mineral pigments) and I love it. I even use it here and there when my hair’s curly just to get that extra boost on top.

So, who here likes to get a blowout now and again? Got any tips to add?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added eight new substances to its carcinogen list, and guess what made the cut? Our old friend formaldehyde. This doesn’t mean the cosmetics industry has to (or will) stop using the substance in its products, though, so here’s a primer that we hope you’ll share widely, on how to avoid that ghastly, terrible, no good, very bad thing.

As a reminder, formaldehyde is used in some nail polishes and chemical straightening procedures like the Brazilian blowout—yes, even in formulations that claim to be formaldehyde free (it’s the active ingredient, y’all; doesn’t work without the poison)—but it can also leach out of products like shampoo, baby wash, face wash and makeup, too. It is often present in the form of what are euphemistically called “formaldehyde donors.” I don’t know about you, but when I think about donations I think about kidneys, and blood, and organizations like UNICEF and the Nature Conservancy. I don’t think about shampoos donating carcinogens to me while I shower. Pretty sure I’m not alone on that.

So for a refresher, now that we have a long-overdue federal warning on the matter, here is some of what to avoid, and how.

1. The Brazilian blowout. We did it. We regret it—or, well, we would have regretted it if it hadn’t been the inspiration for our book. Do not do this, little chickens, or any similar procedure whether or not it has that name. Variations include but are not limited to keratin hairstyling, keratin treatment, Brazilian hair straightening…you get the picture.

2. Any nail polish that doesn’t explicitly say it is formaldehyde-free. If it doesn’t say that, it probably isn’t. And if you read the label and see formaldehyde on it (ahem) well, then you have your answer. The good news? Many are formaldehyde- and other-nasties-free (see our review and the many recommendations in the comments from all of you).

3. Products containing DMDM-Hydantoin. Here’s a fun thing to do: Go to the drug store and check the back of every shampoo on the shelf and count how many do NOT contain this, because you’ll lose count if you try to tally the ones that DO. It’s a preservative, it releases formaldehyde, and you do not want to use this on yourself or your baby (or your boyfriend).

4. Products containing quaternium-15. Another preservative that leaches formaldehyde. Even the industry itself acknowledges in its reports (which I would link to except it’s behind a paywall). Avoid.

5. Products containing diazolidinyl urea (or Germall 115). Another common antimicrobial that leaches formaldehyde. Scan your ingredients. And if you don’t want to listen to us, listen to Dr, Oz, who has it on his no-no list in You Being Beautiful, which we mention a bunch in the book.

6. Products containing imidiazolidinyl urea (or Germall II). Ditto.

7. Products containing butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Used in eye makeup, eye pencils, lots of skincare products, fragrance and fragrance-masking chemicals, which can be present in products listed as “fragrance-free.” Some people say it’s not a formaldehyde donor, some people say it is. I’m not a chemist but I tend to err on the side of caution, and you should too.

We might be preaching to the converted here (“might,” ha) but you all know people who know people, so please—share this information with them.

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