Why would a keratin treatment make my eyes burn?

Last year I had a fantastic keratin treatment.  It’s this thing where you get hair proteins basically glued into all the nicks and breaks in your regular hair, and leave with a whole softer, smoother thing going on up top. My hair was shiny for months afterwards.  During the process, however, my eyes began to burn to the point where I couldn’t open them. I happened to have a set of lab goggles in my bag (I usually forget my keys but somehow always have lab goggles and a TI-83) so I slapped them on and all was fine, but my dear friend Sapir just reminded me that an experience like that definitely merits further investigation..


The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) arm of the department of labor identified 10 different keratin smoothing treatments that either contained formaldehyde, or released formaldehyde during the course of the heat treatment.  
Formaldehyde is an organic molecule famous for preserving dead bodies and fetal sharks at souvenir shops (actually that novelty shark is floating in formalin, as formaldehyde is a gas, but whatever.) Formaldehyde’s real chemical power comes from the fact that it can cross-link and connect proteins.  Now you see why it would be so useful in a keratin treatment.  If you can take hair protein, and meld that protein with the existing proteins in a strand of hair,  you can create a perfectly smooth, now undamaged strand of hair.  You just want to be careful though, because if that product does release formaldehyde, it is releasing a known carcinogen.


As of March 2011, OSHA hasn’t reported any new keratin treatments for the presence of formalin or formaldehyde in their products.  And short-term exposure to the gas isn’t likely to cause much damage.  However, if you are getting this treatment, I’d recommend asking to see the solution they are using, and check for 

formalin
methylene glycol (harmless as a liquid, but can evolve formaldehyde gas when heated)
formaldehyde
The methylene glycol is particularly pernicious, as you can technically label a product “formaldehyde-free” but still have the product release formaldehyde gas when heated.  If you see one of these compounds, limit the number of times a year you undergo this procedure, or maybe you want to play it safe and try some deep-conditioning treatments instead.  

And just as an fyi, the products OSHA listed as ones that would expose you to formaldehyde are here

Why would a keratin treatment make my eyes burn?

Last year I had a fantastic keratin treatment.  It’s this thing where you get hair proteins basically glued into all the nicks and breaks in your regular hair, and leave with a whole softer, smoother thing going on up top. My hair was shiny for months afterwards.  During the process, however, my eyes began to burn to the point where I couldn’t open them. I happened to have a set of lab goggles in my bag (I usually forget my keys but somehow always have lab goggles and a TI-83) so I slapped them on and all was fine, but my dear friend Sapir just reminded me that an experience like that definitely merits further investigation..

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) arm of the department of labor identified 10 different keratin smoothing treatments that either contained formaldehyde, or released formaldehyde during the course of the heat treatment.  

Formaldehyde is an organic molecule famous for preserving dead bodies and fetal sharks at souvenir shops (actually that novelty shark is floating in formalin, as formaldehyde is a gas, but whatever.) Formaldehyde’s real chemical power comes from the fact that it can cross-link and connect proteins.  Now you see why it would be so useful in a keratin treatment.  If you can take hair protein, and meld that protein with the existing proteins in a strand of hair,  you can create a perfectly smooth, now undamaged strand of hair.  You just want to be careful though, because if that product does release formaldehyde, it is releasing a known carcinogen.

As of March 2011, OSHA hasn’t reported any new keratin treatments for the presence of formalin or formaldehyde in their products.  And short-term exposure to the gas isn’t likely to cause much damage.  However, if you are getting this treatment, I’d recommend asking to see the solution they are using, and check for 

  • formalin
  • methylene glycol (harmless as a liquid, but can evolve formaldehyde gas when heated)
  • formaldehyde

The methylene glycol is particularly pernicious, as you can technically label a product “formaldehyde-free” but still have the product release formaldehyde gas when heated.  If you see one of these compounds, limit the number of times a year you undergo this procedure, or maybe you want to play it safe and try some deep-conditioning treatments instead.  

And just as an fyi, the products OSHA listed as ones that would expose you to formaldehyde are here