Pretty Toxic’s Best of the Worst Awards!

Awards season may have come to an end last week, but we’re still in awe by the beautiful hair and makeup that emerged this season. From retro-inspired side-swept waves to bold red lips, celebs and their glam squads nailed all the latest beauty trends on the red carpet.

While we’re sad that it’s over, the beauty industry has one more ceremony to look forward to, the “Behind the Chair Stylist Choice Awards” this Sunday, March 10. Behind the Chair (BTC) is one of the biggest salon magazines along with an online site that keeps us informed with industry news, trends in haircuts, color and gives us strategies on how to build our business.

The ceremony will include a who’s who of celebrity stylists and educators and reveal winners of the best hair products, color lines and companies. It should be an entertaining night with “glittering awards” and categories like “Favorite Product You Can’t Live Without” and “Favorite Celebrity Stylist”. Too bad there has to be a big fat elephant the in room spoiling the event!

In this case the elephant is a cringe-worthy award category that has many salon workers baffled. How can BTC give an award to a “Favorite Chemical Smoothing Product/System” when these controversial products are making our industry sick?!?

Ever since this popular service hit salons nationwide, salon workers began suffering from major health problems. This sparked a government investigation that blew the lid off this industry when they discovered many Hair Smoothing Products contained massive amounts of formaldehyde, even though many were labeled “formaldehyde free”.

This isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with an elephant and an award! American Salon Magazine named controversial Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution as a “2012 Professional Choice Winner”!

We count on these magazines to keep us informed, but when it comes to the biggest scandal to ever hit our industry, their lips are sealed shut, they pretend nothing’s happening and remember that elephant? They sweep him under the rug, but we all know he’s still there!

Since everyone else is so willing to give out awards we’ve decided to address this elephant and have a little ceremony of our own….

 Welcome to the Pretty Toxic Best of the Worst Awards!

We’ve taken letters we’ve received from “sick” salon workers across the country, FDA’s “Adverse Event” reports that were made public in 2011, along with our own experiences and personal stories from our colleagues. Now let’s get started with our first award…

The award for “Best Formaldehyde Rash” goes to: Global Keratin

Rashes, burning skin, scabs and blisters in the nose and blisters on the head are common side effects of Hair Smoothing Products. Global Keratin definitely had the best “formaldehyde rash” caught on film!

      Michelle Pippen Johnson1              Michelle Pippin Johnson

Michelle Pippin Johnson developed welts and skin eruptions on her elbows and upper arms after her skin came in contact with her styling chair, which was in a section of the salon used for a Global Keratin class the day before, on her day off.

FYI, you don’t need to physically touch these products to get a “formaldehyde rash”. When the product is heated the formaldehyde turns into a gas, exposing everyone in the salon.

The award for “Most Eye Damage” goes to: Brazilian Blowout

Stylist's eye

All of these products may cause extreme eye irritation, blurred vision and burning, stinging, itchy, red and watery eyes, but Brazilian Blowout goes the extra mile with reported complaints of eye blisters, corneal abrasion and blepharitis. This is what happened to a stylist’s eye after performing a Brazilian Blowout on her client….YIKES!!!

The “Lipstick on a pig” award goes to: Marcia TeixeiraChocolate Extreme De-Frizzing Treatment


Marcia Teixeira attempts to sugar coat excessive toxic formaldehyde with a delicious chocolate scent, but you know how the saying goes:  “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig”. This oinker’s rap sheet is as dirty as they come, causing bloody noses, rashes, sore throats, burning and watery eyes, migraines, sinus infections, coughing, wheezing and asthma.

The award for “Most Lawsuits” goes to: Brazilian Blowout

Brazilian Blowout Solution

Brazilian Blowout found themselves in hot water with numerous state and federal agencies, but the water boiled over in California with their strict cosmetic and air pollution laws! The California Attorney General does not mess around and slapped the company with a lawsuit! This required the company to stop lying about being “safe” and “formaldehyde free”, use “caution stickers”, “cancer warnings” and pay a hefty $600,000 in fines.

Just when we thought it was over, the toxic product got taken off the market in California because it violates the states air quality laws. It’s taking months to determine if the new reformulated product being sold in the state falls within the smog limits….stay tuned for results!!

Brazilian Blowout also agreed to pay $4.5 million to settle a class action lawsuit for lying about formaldehyde and harming consumers.

The “Boldest Move Award” goes to: Keratin Complex

Keratin Complex

Amidst the controversy Keratin Complex announced in a press release “Keratin Complex Becomes First Smoothing Treatment to Receive OSHA Compliancy” and started printing “OSHA COMPLIANT” on their bottles. But guess what? OSHA does not certify the safety of products and the company is now currently under investigation for making false and misleading statements! Tsk- tsk -tsk Keratin Complex….now that was a bold move!

The “Most truthful MSDS from the get go” award goes to: Global Keratin

Global Keratin was one of the only companies honest on their MSDS from the beginning and actually listed “formaldehyde” in their ingredient list! (Most companies avoided the “F-word” like the plague or just didn’t list anything at all a.k.a. Brazilian Blowout.)

MSDS-global keratin

Do you think a client would still go through with this treatment if they knew the manufacturer classifies this product as: “Harmful, Irritant and Carcinogenic”?

The “Most truthful MSDS after getting busted” award goes to: Brazilian Blowout


California Proposition 65 Warning: “WARNING: Use of Brazilian Blowout Acai Professional Smoothing Solution as directed will expose you to formaldehyde (gas), a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.” Would you like some cancer to go with that haircut???


We sure wish Behind the Chair and American Salon Magazine would use their platform to address this issue and stop tip-toeing around the elephant in our industry.

Stop feeding the elephant peanuts by giving awards because it only makes the elephant bigger!

Unless you’re in the zoo business….an elephant does not deserve an award!!

CLICK HERE for a hilarious follow-up on this story and see who won the award! Please tell us….“Are YOU Drinking the Keratin Complex Kool-Aide?!?”

Check out our latest post: How rock bottom became my stepping stone

24 thoughts on “Pretty Toxic’s Best of the Worst Awards!

  1. Thank you for the much needed laugh!! I forgot about all my problems for a second…and then I went to work and got poisoned!

  2. Thanks for sharing and speaking out. Salon purity was made two years ago because of this product, We do none of those products and feel so sorry for all my hairdresser friends who do not understand SECOND HAND CONTAMINATION. Thanks for all your work our salon supports you.
    Salon Purity

    • Thanks for your support! It’s great to hear Salon Purity puts their client’s/staff’s health and well being before anything else! If only more salon owners would understand this concept! We DEFINITELY support Salon Purity!!

  3. Pingback: Cosmetics – Dying to be Beautiful | The Curvy Treehugger

  4. Hi Megan, please share with your students! What kind of references are you looking for?
    Also, if you click on any words in the story that are highlighted in purple….it will take you to either a reference or more info.
    Hope this helps!

  5. This is great! I used to be perfectly healthy and ever since these products came into my salon my health has been competely wiped out! I have never even used these products myself, my exposure is from other stylists in the salon! I’ve never had problems with my lungs before and now I have asthma and am on inhalers and have to do breathing treatments! I get a bloody nose whenever I’m exposed and I’ve never had a bloody nose before this! I get migraines, sore throats, my eyes feel like their on fire and my vision gets blurry. I’ve seen clients get sick and have to run outside and they have no idea why!
    These stylists know so many of us get sick, but they don’t care! Money talks, but without your health you have nothing!

    • So sorry to hear this Madison! We really hope your health gets better. Unfortunately, this is just like cigarette smoke and the entire salon is exposed!
      Did you sign the petition yet? If there was ever a time for the FDA to use their power…this is definitely it!

  6. I’ve had a lot of exposure to these products and have had problems with my health ever since. It started with extreme fatigue, I would get sick to my stomache, dizzy and my chest would become tight. I didn’t know the product contained formaldehyde so it took me a while to realize it was THIS that was making me sick. The last time I was exposed to the product is when it all became clear!
    I became very ill and was sick for over a month. I had a major cough, phlegm in my chest and would constantly cough up green. My sinuses were infected, my head was pounding and my throat was extremely sore. This was not a cold, it was much worse. I felt like I had pneumonia, but because I don’t have health insurance, I could never be seen by a doctor.
    It’s been over a year since I stopped using it, but the damage to my health has already been done. I hope my health will recover from this and that these dangerous treatments will get taken off the market.

  7. I’m Michelle Pippin Johnson, the subject (definitely on the losing end) of the first award. While I hate to hear of other stylists suffering with the same symptoms as I have suffered from this poison, I hope that we can raise enough hell to start protecting ourselves, our fellow beauty industry people, and the stylists of the future from exposure to these toxic treatments. When we watch those asbestos lawsuit commercials, we have to realize that our industry will be the subject of the next ones if we don’t fight back now!

  8. I started a healthy salon environment salon with ammonia free hair color no nail products my styling products are paraben and plastic free.
    I use pravana keratin smooth and ok
    for straightners I believe them to be safe.
    your story is inspiring.
    thank you

  9. Wow! This is exactly what happened to me from formaldehyde gas coming out of my desk and floor tiles in work. Elbow hives, blisters in my eyelids, burning sores in my nostrils, head, chest, legs and stomach. I get chest pain and a wheeze after 10 minutes exposure. Also I get extreme fatigue, inability to concentrate, memory problems, vocal paralysis, sharp pains for no reason, aching and burning in my back if I am exposed. I even had a staph infection in one of the hives on my face that left a deep scar. That started a environmental investigation in our building. They found that there was insufficient air flow (to our side of the building to remove to build up of emitted volatile organic compounds (VOC) coming out go the furnishings). Formaldehyde is an environmental pollutant and our building is even certified LEED Gold (low emitting)! What a scam that is!
    I found that wearing a VOC filtering (P95) mask (made by 3M, available at Home Depot or Lowes) prevented the foggy head and memory problems, but not the skin reactions. It is a horrible toxin and after two years exposure in our new building, I have multiple chemical sensitivity. I react at home and to my mattress which I never did before. A carbon filter air purifier and house plants have helped a lot at home. I hope you can get relief from the P95 mask at least. I also found that Aveeno anti-itch and green clay + water mask soothes the burning skin and helps prevent hives. Washing with baking soda is the only thing I can use only skin and for my hair I put aloe gel that is food grade. Many products (green clay/mud mask by Queen Helene contain formaldehyde releasers, which makes it worse, even calamine lotion, solarcaine, and aloe sunburn soothers! Many shampoos as well, so check ingredients. Best of luck to all!

    • Thanks for commenting! I am really sorry to hear about what you have been going through after formaldehyde exposure. It really changes the way we live and engage on a daily basis. I, too, have developed multiple chemical sensitivities as a result of formaldehyde poisoning. I understand how frustrating it can be. I also use carbon filtered breathing masks in certain situations, such as public transportation and flying on airplanes, when I am exposed to toxic fragrance and other chemicals such as fire retardants and certain furniture and mattresses. I agree about the carbon air filter and houses plants, and have also done the same. Every bit helps! I have also found the more time away from triggers, the better I feel. There are highs and lows. It is very difficult to find personal care products, such as soap, shampoo, etc. that is tolerable in these situations, so the ones that I do find after tons of research I cling to, since they are few and far between. And very good point, always check the ingredients! Many products are not as safe as they appear to be. I have written further about my experience with chemical sensitivities so please don’t hesitate if you have further questions. Good luck! 🙂 – Dawn

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