Updated 23 April 2014

Popular hair treatment linked to cancer

The Brazilian blow dry hair straightening technique has come under renewed focus as it emerged that the process produces unsafe levels of toxic chemicals.


The process, which involves sealing liquid keratin into the hair using a straightening iron, is popular as a way of keeping hair straight for long periods of time, usually between 3 and 5 months.

However, the process has also been shown to release unsafe levels of highly toxic formaldehyde, sometimes more than 50 times the regulated limit, reported IOL . Including more formaldehyde in the chemicals used makes the treatment more effective and longer lasting but it also increases the user’s chance of developing several cancers.

Read: Hair extensions could lead to permanent hair loss

The US National Cancer Institute supports research linking formaldehyde to leukaemia, lymphoma and throat cancer. The chemical has traditionally been used in embalming and as a fungicide. In the EU products cannot contain more than 0.2% formaldehyde and this has led to the treatment being banned there as well as in Canada.

UCT Professor Nonhlanla Khumalo claims that these products present serious health risks to both those receiving the treatment and those administering it, reports EWN. Hair stylists can spend upwards of 8 hours a day in the presence of harmful chemicals. 

Read more: 
16 tips for avoiding cancer
4 common cancer myths
Breast cancer: A single mother's journey to recovery

Sources: EWN/IOL/National Cancer Institute


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Cancer expert

CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst and Head of Advocacy Magdalene Seguin. For more information, visit

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules