F is for Formaldehyde: Brazilian Blowout, Keratin Smoothing Treatments, and Keratin Complex Express

by Janine on 8 October 2010 · 30 comments

Health Canada released an advisory against the Brazilian Blowout Solution smoothing treatment yesterday, stating that the formula contains unacceptable levels of formaldehyde. Yet, according to Brazilian Blowout’s website, the product is formaldehyde-free.

Thing is, formaldehyde is simply the F-word aldehyde. There are other aldehydes in smoothing-formula play that may release toxic fumes in reaction to the considerable styling-tool heat the process requires, and the brand seems not to have released its ingredients list. We can’t tell what its aldehyde content is. Plus, it seems Health Canada actually tested the product before making their recommendation.

Brazilian vs Keratin

I’m about to do something journalistically horrific: use one brand’s claims to debunk another’s. Sort of. Kids, don’t try this at home. Rest assured I’m still researching; this is just what I have access to at the moment.

Health Canada’s advisory is limited to Brazilian Blowout Solution specifically. If you’re spooked because you were considering a keratin treatment, well, according at least to the folks at Keratin Complex: Brazilian Blow Out [sic] is not actually considered a keratin service because it contains 0% keratin in its formula. Other Brazilian treatments have stated that they have at most 2% of keratin. Keratin Complex utilizes an entirely different formulation which contains over 40% pure keratin.

But you know what? Keratin isn’t the issue. Formaldehyde is.

Despite Brazilian Blowout’s formaldehyde-free claim, Keratin Complex says: “Brazilian Blow Out [sic] includes formaldehyde as an ingredient in their formulation which when applied to the outside of the hair and is heated causes the hair to straighten, also releasing a formaldehyde gas into the air.”

Its own formula contains no formaldehyde, natch; instead Keratin Complex uses “an aldehyde as a preservative, which when heated bonds to the keratin molecule and is sealed inside the hair shaft, thus not emitting any harmful gas into the air.

I’ve never wished more that I’d studied chemistry in school. I think The Beauty Brains studied it, though. According to their research, 0.2 per cent is the formaldehyde-content limit, at least according to the UK Cosmetic Products Safety Regulations.

Keratin Complex Express

A few weeks ago, Canadian Living senior style editor Julia McEwen and I tried the Keratin Complex Express Blow Out at Salon Escape in Yorkville, Toronto. (That’s us in the above photo, post treatment.) It’s different from a standard keratin smoothing treatment in several ways:

1) Including styling, the process takes about 90 minutes vs three or four hours
2) Results last up to six weeks rather than six months
3) Cost hits between $90 and $125 rather than $350 to $700

I haven’t tried the regular treatment, so I can’t compare. I can tell you that this Express version has no chemical odour whatsoever. But odour isn’t a measure of noxious fumes: when Nikki was working around my temples and hairline near my eyes, my eyes watered and stung. Whether the aldehyde Keratin Complex uses is “sealed inside the hair shaft” doesn’t seem to matter. And although their PR folks say it’s “under 1% of an aldehyde which does not ever turn into a formaldehyde gas,” I’m sensitive to it.

Post treatment my hair is glossy, mangageable and significantly less frizzy. It’s flatter on top, too — I wish the sodium-chloride and sulfate-free shampoo I’m using to prolong the results were a volumizing formula — but I can’t lie: I like the results. It takes much, much less effort than before to get a swingy smooth finish that makes me feel and look more polished.

Is it Worth It?

Despite the stinging-eyes issue, I’m tempted to try Keratin Complex Express again sometime. Or maybe not: I had no such disconcerting issues with a in-salon hair relaxing treatment called X-Tenso, by L’Oréal Professionnel, which gave me similar results a long while back. I wrote about X-Tenso for Canadian Living years ago; according to L’Oréal Professionnel’s Colin Ford, it’s been updated and improved since then. And I have more research to do, with independent chemistry-smart people unaffiliated with these treatments.

Obviously, whether or not the risks — or perceived risks — are worth the experience is a personal decision. Some might think I’m nuts for not taking a clear stand already. But we all pick our battles: daily sunscreen, parabens, smoking, driving, sugar… of course, none of those examples is marked with the vanity stamp. That’s a whole other battle.

* * * * * * *

UPDATE: Keratin treatments and unacceptable formaldehyde limits are back in the news again. Health Canada has issued another advisory naming specific brands that, despite manufacturer claims, contain more than the permitted .2 per cent formaldehyde limit in cosmetic formulas. According to the Canadian Press, the following are on the hotlist:

  • Keratin Complex Express Blowout by Copomon (Coppola) 1.70 per cent
  • Brazilian Keratin Treatment (Mint) – Royal Keratin Professional Line by Keratin Connection (also available in Chocolate and Strawberry) 1.54 per cent
  • Veloce by La Brasiliana 0.35 per cent
  • Zero (Apple) by La Brasiliana (also available in Clear and Mocha) 0.76 per cent
  • Moroccan Hair Treatment by Inoar 2.84 per cent

And the following products contain unacceptable levels of formaldehyde based on data submitted to Health Canada:

  • Original by La Brasiliana (also available in Original Chocolate)
  • Domani by La Brasiliana
  • Spruzzi by La Brasiliana
  • Brazilian Keratin Treatment by Pro Skin Solutions
  • Marcia Teixeira Chocolate Extreme De-Frizzing Treatment EU by M&M International
  • Marcia Teixeira Brazilian Keratin Treatment EU by M&M International

A previous advisory named the following:

  • Brazilian Blowout Smoothing Solution by Brazilian Blowout 8.4 per cent
  • Brazilian Keratin Treatment by Marcia Teixeira 1.8 per cent
  • Advanced Brazilian Keratin Treatment by Marcia Teixeira 1.7 per cent
  • Chocolate Extreme De-Frizzing Treatment by Marcia Teixeira 1.6 per cent
  • Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy Treatment by Copomon (Coppola) 1.8 per cent
  • Global Keratin Taming System Strawberry by Global Keratin 3.0 per cent
  • Global Keratin Taming System with Juvexin Strawberry Resistant by Global Keratin 4.4 per cent
  • Global Keratin Taming System with Juvexin Strawberry Light Wave by Global Keratin 1.4 per cent
  • Pro-Collagen RX Keratin Treatment 2.8 per cent
  • IStraight Keratin (Advanced Keratin Treatment) by IBS Beauty 2.3 per cent
  • Brazilian Thermal Reconstruction by Cadiveu 7.0 per cent

I haven’t had the treatment done since the first time. Safe to say I likely won’t. Again, I’ve never wished more that I were a chemist — the problem with this issue is, I think, that no-one really understands the chemistry involved, not the manufacturers or the educators. And when something is this complex — it’s not just about what’s in the formula but what appears when the formula is used, perhaps blanket avoidance is best.

In the celebrity arena, actor Mary Louise Parker (“Weeds”) reports that a Brazilian Blowout made her hair fall out

What do you think? Would you brave the risk? Or avoid altogether?

ANOTHER UPDATE: if you’re looking for a definitely formaldehyde-free alternative to keratin treatments or the Brazilian Blowout, check out this salon service called X-tenso Moisturist.

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

matie 10 October 2010 at 12:43 pm

Formaldehyde is actually a KEY component in the sealing of the keratin and the amount is so small, a %0,01 in most brands that is far from being dangerous.

In my case, I’ve been using Maxliss Keratin along with the Taip line of products and I’ve never had any issue at all.


Janine 11 October 2010 at 9:30 am

Thanks, Matie. I know several women who have had the Coppola and Keratin Complex versions more than once who have been nothing but thrilled with their results.

How the product is applied also seems to matter — stylists need to be properly trained on how to use the brand they’ve chosen and aware of the client’s hair history. There are a few horror stories online, often accompanied by someone pointing out application mistakes that caused problems. And clients need to do their homework. Research, ask questions, get recommendations, google.

The bottom line, however, is that we still need to know more, need a definitive answer regarding aldehydes, need more ingredient transparency from the industry, and need clarification on how ingredient combinations result in ingredients that don’t appear on the label.


mickey 13 October 2010 at 10:19 am

I had the Keretin Complex treatment in late august and still LOVE MY HAIR. it has not fallen out, and is lovely and managable.

I would recommend this to anyone who has unmanagble or dry hair. Spend the extra money, and get this treatment.


Janine 26 October 2010 at 12:51 am

Glad you’ve had success with Keratin Complex, Mickey. I’ve had the Express version, which lasts only for 6 weeks (or a little more), and have experienced no hair loss or damage as a result. My eyes did sting during the application process though, so I’m a little leary about trying it again because I’m clearly sensitive to the formula. Not everyone is, though.


Tatiana R 24 October 2010 at 4:42 pm

i have gotten this treatment done. when i got it my hair had amazing shine, it didn’t frizz, and hair stayed straight all day. after two months i noticed my hair was getting thinner and it was falling out alot. i do not use any other products except a shampoo and conditioner made for hair that has had this treatment. there have been studies done showing that there is an extract from formaldehyde that is put into the keratin and could possibly be taken off the market. i have also heard that many people that have gotten this done, were experiencing hair loss and hair thinning.


Janine 26 October 2010 at 1:03 am

Do you mean formulin? I’m looking into it.

Was it the Keratin Complex treatment you tried, or a different brand?

It seems as though there are a range of reactions to these treatments, from non-reaction to extreme hair loss and skin issues. Some depend on the formulas used, some depend on the skill of the stylist who applies it, and some depend on the individual.

Because I know a number of women who feel their success with keratin treatments has changed their lives, I find it hard to advise against them overall. Like any treatment with risks — people have died from say, liposuction, too — keratin treatments need to be carefully researched, from the formula to the salon that administers it.

I’m sorry your experience hasn’t been great. I hope your body rebalances quickly and that your hair regains its health soon.


connie martinez 5 November 2010 at 1:33 pm

We at our salon are interested in doing the True Keratin treatment and were told only one formula they use comes with formaldehyde at .02 . have you heard of this treatment? they have 3 different solutions 2 of which are supposed to be formaldehyde free. we would like any info you have Thank you.


Janine 6 November 2010 at 10:12 am

Hi Connie,
I’m not familiar with the True Keratin brand, and don’t have enough grounding in chemistry to know how this rates. As to claims of being formaldehyde-free, there is an ingredient called formalin being used instead so people can say the formula is formaldehyde-free. Except formalin seems to be another version of formaldehyde, and appears to be measured as such when the solutions are tested.

Whatever solution you try, make sure your salon is well ventilated. That seems to be the biggest issue.

Allure Magazine investigated a few treatments; perhaps this link will be useful to you.


Ria 5 December 2010 at 10:45 pm

I just came from my third class in true keratin and have chosen to use this product in my salon. They have three formulas to choose from (one, mandarin is 100% formald. Free) however this formula will mostly smooth and add shine not straiten curl. I suggest finding a rep. In your area they are great at educating


Maria Santos 27 March 2011 at 5:12 pm

hello! Our salon started with TrueKeratin since they came out with True 0% . Their formula is aldehyde and aldehyde free. They use vinegar as a replacement and its Certified Organic….works like a miracle. You should check it out!

The person I have been speaking to is Karla…her e-mail is :


let her know andrea santos from Miami referred you!


Farrah 30 January 2012 at 5:33 pm

Hi, can you please tell me how many days you should leave it in your hair after you apply it. Thanks


Janine 30 January 2012 at 9:46 pm

Hi Farrah,

Are you asking about keratin treatments or X-Tenso?


Janine 14 April 2011 at 8:25 am

This is such a tricky issue, right now, Ria. I get the feeling that very few people, even the educators, really understand the chemistry they’re dealing with. You’d need to find an independent chemist to dissect each formula to find out the truth about what’s in it and what happens when it meets heat.


Maria Santos 25 September 2011 at 7:46 pm

You can contact truekeratin and they will happily give you their ingredient list MSDS for you to check yourself. I know I sound like a super fan but what I like about TrueKeratin is their transparency when it comes to their products its like the Aveda of Keratin world…just saying.


Jules 10 November 2010 at 2:52 pm

I had a Keratin treatment done in August at a salon with a very good repution and a stylist who I think highly of. My experience was similar to some of those described above. I loved the results, particularly within the first 8-10 weeks. My eyes did sting a bit during the application which made me weary of the “formaldahide-free” claim.

I was planning to get it done again and my stylist called me up and said he is concerned based on all of the recent reports and is recommending people don’t do any type of Keratin treatment right now. I have decided to take his advice and hold off for now. I appreciated his honesty since it does take away $ for him. When I get my next hair cut I will sure to be overly generous in his tip thanks to his putting my safety above his profit.


Ctina 3 February 2011 at 3:51 pm

I have had the Global Keratin treatment done twice in salons & the results lasted about 5 months.

My understanding is that a company can say their product is formaldehyde-free, but if it contains methelene glycol, that is an ingredient that can release a toxic substance (in the “hyde” family) in the steam during the heat/flat-iron process.

Keep up your research! Thanks!


April 23 February 2011 at 4:41 pm

I had the Brazilian Blowout done over the summer on my hair. Loved it despite a lot of negative reviews I have read. I believe because of the ingredients and negative reviews, a lot less stylist are offering the service. I was offered a coupon towards a Keratin treatment. Is there any negative effect from using both treatments even if months apart?


Janine 24 February 2011 at 8:01 am

Hi April,

As far as I know, if your technician is skilled, back-to-back treatments shouldn’t harm your hair. Whether switching from one brand to another affects results is doubtful, but I can’t be sure. Your best bet would be to call a couple of salons that do the treatments to ask about results when a client uses a different formula from the one she had done previously.


Amanda 13 April 2011 at 10:31 pm

Health Canada did a new advisory. Both Keratin Complex treatments are listed as having too much formaldehyde, 1.8% and 1.7%. Brazilian Blowout treatment has a crazy 8.4% in it.


Janine 14 April 2011 at 8:22 am

Thanks, Amanda! I’ve included the list in an update, along with the levels of formaldehyde in each formula wherever possible.


Amanda 12 September 2011 at 2:10 pm

Formaldehyde is again becoming a heated subject! Have any of you tried Kerapure?


Maria Santos 25 September 2011 at 7:49 pm

No. but you should really try looking into TrueKeratin. they are not only real and upfront with their ingredients but they are also made with certified organic ingredients and eco friendly. We carry them in our salon and I have been more than happy.


Jessica 20 November 2011 at 4:23 pm

Our salon is using new product called Cysteine Complex from Amazon Series, used all Natural Ingredients and also Formaldehyde Free, and it works really good.


JOYCE 2 December 2011 at 5:34 pm



Janine 2 December 2011 at 6:25 pm

Hi Joyce,

I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about the treatment you’re considering. You should chat with your salon technician, and perhaps with your doctor.

Hope everything turns out brilliantly!


MrsFranks 2 December 2013 at 4:28 pm

Can I use L’oreal x tenso on highlighted hair?


Janine 3 December 2013 at 9:46 am

I wouldn’t advise it unless your hair is in super-healthy and hydrated condition, and even then it’s a risk. For you, a Brazillian-type treatment is probably safer on your hair.


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