Be careful with hair-straightening chemicals

Staff writer Andrea Torres chronicles her breast cancer experiences in Tropical Life. Read past columns at

02/11/2013 3:11 PM

03/26/2013 2:55 PM

A few months ago, I was sitting in front of a mirror holding a cup of green tea at Adevé Spa Salon in Coral Gables.

The salon’s co-owner Adys Duardo walked into the mirror’s frame dressed all in black. Her brown hair was long, her olive skin looked healthy and her pearly smile was friendly. As a cancer survivor, Duardo understands what is like to fear leaving your loved ones so much that you let go of your long hair to survive.

After breast cancer treatment, my hair started to grow out curly. It was not a beautiful curl; it looked like I had been electrocuted in a cartoon.

“Before the cancer, I used to do Keratin treatments about every six months, because my hair was wavy, so I used to have beautiful straight, shiny, black hair,” I told her. “I don’t understand why it’s growing so curly now.”

Keratin is a protein that is the structural component of hair and nails. She smiled and said, “We can fix that.”

“So why does it grow back curly?”

“The papilla is the bottom portion of the hair follicle. The shape of a hair follicle is part of what determines whether a hair will be straight or curly,” she said. “If the hair follicle is round, then you have straight hair, but if the hair follicle is flat, you have curly hair. Certain drugs can change that.”

Duardo said that in ignorance she used Keratin treatments that were harmful to her and her clients. When she heard the news about the dangers of some keratin-based hair smoothing products, she became very concerned.

It turns out that the same chemical my science teacher used to preserve dead frogs before dissection in my elementary school in Colombia was being used in these hair products.

Formaldehyde, a human carcinogen, was in some hair products at levels above permissible limits, and some products claiming to be “formaldehyde-free” were mislabeled, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration reported in 2011.

Companies selling these products such as The Brazilian Blowout have faced class action lawsuits in countries like Canada. This is because while a product may not contain the chemical formaldehyde, it could contain another dangerous chemical called methylene glycol, which becomes formaldehyde when it is heated and turned into a gas.

“When the rumors started, hairstylists began to cover their mouths. They were blow drying the product outside of the salon,” Duardo said. “I know how important it is to have a product like this in Miami where humidity turns the hair so frizzy, so I did my research.”

Duardo said she found Lisse Design Keratin Therapy. Italian manufacturer Alfaparf Milano says the product is “free of parabens and formaldehyde, and is tested to the strictest U.S. standards.”

Parabens are chemicals widely used as preservatives by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. They mimic estrogen. Scientists have found traces of parabens in cancer tumors and have linked them to breast cancer.

Duardo was an angel. That day I walked out of Adevé Spa Salon with smooth, soft, straight hair. The price of the service varies depending on the length of the hair. It has been about three months, and I don’t need to have it re-done any time soon. My hair has gone from straight to a relaxed wave that is easy to manage. And the product has made my life easier without harming my health.

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