Omaha hairstylist shares how dangers of formaldehyde exposure changed her services

A new warning from the FDA is calling for a ban on a chemical found in hair relaxers that can negatively impact health.
Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 4:48 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Hair relaxers and other chemical smoothing products have created convenience for Black hair for decades.

“It straightens your hair and keeps it straight and takes your texture away, So your hair is more manageable and it’s easier to deal with,” said Kimberly Monae, a licensed cosmetologist.

A new warning from the FDA is calling for a ban on a chemical found in them that can negatively impact health. It’s due to a sensitizer found in these products called formaldehyde.

“It actually causes an allergic reaction to somebody. The proteins in their body and you have proteins all over your body, in your membrane, in your skin. If it comes in contact with those, either by the air or physical contact it can cause a reaction,” said Nicholas Senior, the Assistant Area Director with OSHA.

According to Senior, formaldehyde exposure can also cause several cancers including leukemia and uterine cancer.

Kimberly Monae offered relaxers to her clients for years. Then, she started experiencing health problems.

“I started looking into it. I was like ‘Maybe that’s why I have this endometriosis. Maybe that’s why it was so bad because I provided that service for so long. So I thought, ‘I’m not going to do it anymore.’”

Senior said, for example, a stylist being exposed to formaldehyde for eight hours is considered a high risk. If you want to check the level of the air at your salon, OSHA can help you.

“They can come out to your site. do sampling and testing related to anything you may be exposed to,” said Senior.

He advises reading the labels on your products to protect yourself and your clients.

That’s something Kimberly Monae said she did, herself. While she said it’s never been confirmed that her health problems were directly linked to formaldehyde, it was best for her to change the way she works.

Now she’s giving her clients the results they’re looking for in more low-risk ways.

“I came back in the industry to help women with their natural hair and that’s what I specialize in,” she said.

This is not the first time a warning has been given about the dangers of formaldehyde. A federal investigation in 2011 led to several violations and citations in different parts of the country.

Resources from OSHA on formaldehyde warnings and how to protect yourself can be found here.