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Shear Madness

Is your straight hair making your stylist sick?

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The long-standing dominance of the Japanese thermal-conditioning hair-straightening method in New York’s salons has been challenged lately by a Brazilian treatment that costs up to $600 and is purportedly gentler on hair than other chemical straighteners. But there’s a kink: The goo used in the Brazilian method is made of keratin protein and formaldehyde—you know, the stuff used to embalm bodies and deemed a “probable human carcinogen” by the EPA. “Formaldehyde can cause eye and respiratory tract irritation, and in rat model studies has been found to be tumor inducing in large doses,” says Oscar Vazquez, M.D. of NYU. After the treatment was widely touted (including a hot-new-thing piece in the Times), the October Allure reported that salon samples tested “contained at least ten times more formaldehyde” than an industry medical panel considered safe. Now city salons are taking note. At Salon Ziba, on West 57th Street, some stylists stopped administering the treatment after developing throat irritation. (The salon says the stylists with adverse reactions had preexisting conditions, like asthma, and Ziba continues to offer the treatment.) The Frédéric Fekkai chain offers it but is searching for something safer. “We are testing a new formula that would address all of the health concerns,” says a Fekkai rep. “But our customers are very happy with the service.” Or unconcerned. “New York is so polluted anyway,” says a midtown-salon manager. “What’s a little formaldehyde if it makes your hair beautiful and shiny?”

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