It’s your Hair

Dear Answer Man, my hair stylist said something last night about formaldehyde in some hair care products. (She told me there’s none in the stuff she was putting on my hair.) Should I be concerned? — Bette

You might be concerned if you were visiting a stylist in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey or Ohio, though apparently the issue has more to do with worker safety than customer safety. About two dozen salons and beauty schools in those states have been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, with fines up to $17,500, for failing to protect workers from overexposure and potential overexposure to formaldehyde. That chemical can cause allergic reactions and also is a cancer hazard.

OSHA has also cited some manufacturers of hair products and distributors in Florida. The products that have especially raised the hair on OSHA inspectors’ necks are hair smoothing and hair straightening products, sometimes called keratin treatments. The agency has “conducted significant outreach” to salons to inform them of the hazards, so presumably salons are well-aware of the problem and have responded.

“Salons should check the label or product information to make sure it does not list formaldehyde, formalin, methylene glycol or any of the other names for formaldehyde,” according to an OSHA news release, and if salons use those products, “they must follow a number of protective practices, including air monitoring, worker training and, if levels are over OSHA limits, good ventilation or respirators.”

There’s plenty of information online and I’ll link to it from this column. The Minnesota Department of Health also has put out an advisory to hair salons.

There’s only one Answer Man — and aren’t you glad? Send questions to P.O. Box 6118, Rochester, MN 55903 or