A handful of Chicago salons and their clients are blaming hair loss and physical irritation on the use of a product that quickly became a media darling and embraced and endorsed by Hollywood stars.
In the multi-billion dollar hair care industry, "Brazilian Blowout" was a rising star. The product was touted for its ability to deliver frizz-free, straight hair and get customers out of the salon in 90 minutes. More traditional treatments can take in excess of three hours.
Stephanie Addesso is just one client. She says she had the $300 treatment done to straighten her hair with "Brazilian Blowout" and was initially impressed with the results.
"It looked good. My hair did look good," she said.
But when it began coming out "in bundles," Addesso said she took to the Internet and the product's manufacturer for answers.
"Has anyone else called you with a complaint that their hair is falling out?" she recalled asking the company. "They tell me, 'No, no one, ever.' I'm like, 'Really? Because I find that a little odd because I've been online and all these people are saying their hair is falling out.'"
Salon owners, like Adriana Mendoza, of Glenview, said she and her stylists also expressed concerns.
"Their eyes are burning. Their nose, it feels like they have a bunch of wasabi stuck up their nose," she said.
Mendoza ultimately pulled the product from her shelves.
"I didn't feel safe. There's got to be something in this stuff, and I'm just stopping it until I know more about it," she said.
What was in it, according to a study by the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Division, was significant levels of formaldehyde in more than half the samples tested. Trace levels were found in the air sampled from five salons.
The company behind "Brazilian Blowout" fought back, accusing Oregon of using "flawed" testing methods. It said it is pursuing legal action to get the state to correct the record on the product.
While that battle brewed, complaints were coming in across the country and around the world.
In California, lawsuits have been filed which allege the company knew its product contained formaldehyde but hid it from consumers and failed to warn of the potential danger.
Connecticut's Department of Health has called on salons to "discontinue the use of these products" for now.
Canada issued a health advisory and Ireland has called for a ban on "Brazilian Blowout" citing "health fears."
The CEO of "Brazilian Blowout" said he is confident his product will be cleared of any and all safety concerns. After initiating legal proceedings against the state of Oregon, he pointed out the agency's own findings show there is no reason to be concerned about formaldehyde levels in the air of a salon using the product. [Full Statement by the Company (.pdf)]
Fifty salons in and around Chicago were contacted by NBC Chicago. Nearly half still offer the product, but a number of them said they pulled the product because of these concerns.
The Food and Drug Administration said it has fielded a dozen complaints and is now investigating.
Many salons offer other Brazilian-style straighteners which are not related to "Brazilian Blowout."