Fact Check

Are keratin hair treatments bad for our health?

An article on a natural health website says that a keratin treatment, or Brazilian hair straightening, comes with serious health risks.
An article on a natural health website says that a keratin treatment, or Brazilian hair straightening, comes with serious health risks.PHOTO: ST FILE

Where: An article on draxe.com, a natural health website founded by Dr Josh Axe, who is described as a certified doctor of natural medicine, doctor of chiropractic and clinical nutritionist, says that a keratin treatment, or Brazilian hair straightening, comes with serious health risks.

It is because many Brazilian keratin treatments contain a colourless, strong-smelling gas called formaldehyde or formaldehyde-producing ingredients.

Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and just smelling it can cause sore throat, cough, scratchy eyes and nose bleeds, the article said. Also, it said that formaldehyde exposure can raise one's chances of getting cancer. Chronic exposure to the gas may also cause central nervous system damage, including depression, mood changes, insomnia, irritability and more.

The article may lead some people to think that keratin treatments are seriously harmful; that even a single hair treatment can raise their risk of cancer and cause central nervous system damage.

Checked: Keratin treatments that do not contain formaldehyde or require excessive heat will not endanger one's life or health, said Dr Eileen Tan, a dermatologist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital.

It is true that formaldehyde exposure can cause respiratory symptoms or cancer, but the risks are greater for hair salon workers, who are exposed to it for a far longer period than customers, she said.

It is true that formaldehyde exposure can cause respiratory symptoms or cancer, but the risks are greater for hair salon workers, who are exposed to it for a far longer period than customers, she said.

Research has not yet shown that a certain level of formaldehyde exposure causes cancer, though the higher the level and the longer the exposure, the greater the chance of getting cancer, said Dr Tan.

She added that young children, elderly people and pregnant women are more vulnerable to the effects of formaldehyde exposure, which can cause respiratory symptoms such as itchy throat.

Formaldehyde is used to make many household products, furniture and other things. It can even be added as a preservative to food and is found in cigarette smoke.

Joyce Teo

•This column seeks to debunk fake health news reported around the world. It will run till the end of the month.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2017, with the headline 'Are keratin hair treatments bad for our health?'. Print Edition | Subscribe