How rock bottom became my stepping stone

Rock bottom-Jennifer Arce

Very few people have the luxury of waking up wanting to go to work each day, but I am one of those fortunate people. I’ve been a hairstylist now for twenty years and still to this day…. I love what I do!

It’s an incredible feeling being able to transform how a person looks and feels about themselves. We build connections with clients when they sit in our chair, it’s a place for them to relax, they feel safe and trust us.

It’s important for us to always learn new techniques and stay on top of the latest trends. When I heard of a new service that took damaged-frizzy hair and made it sleek, shiny and smooth…it definitely caught my attention!


By 2010, Keratin Hair Smoothing Treatments took the industry by storm becoming the hottest new service to hit salons in years! There were many different brands to choose from, but Brazilian Blowout was by far the most popular. Unlike their competitors it was rinsed out in the salon. It had “no harsh chemicals” and was “formaldehyde free”.

    brazilian blowout-3

A few of my coworkers were the first to take the plunge, and their results…were amazing!! Their clients had silky-lustrous hair that looked straight out of the pages of a magazine. They’d describe their treatment as “life-changing”- it cut their styling time in half!

Brazilian Blowout created a BUZZ throughout the salon. Everyone wanted one. Including me.

Not to mention we were smack dab in the middle of a recession, clients were paying $350 for a service that took an hour and a half?!?

Psssshhhh sign–me-up!!!

I pitched-in and bought the product with two coworkers, one just-so-happens to be my sister Gina. We got certified, started booking clients for the service and just like we always do when we learn something new….we tried it on ourselves first.

It was September 13, 2010. I was finally getting my “life-changing” Brazilian Blowout, but nothing could prepare me for how truly “life-changing” this would ACTUALLY be.

As my sister applied the product to my hair our eyes and lungs began burning, we had difficulty breathing and our throats were getting REALLY sore. We decided it would be best to finish my treatment outside because our symptoms were getting worse as the minutes passed by. Even fresh air did not help our breathing and our symptoms intensified once we applied heat from the blow-drier and flat-iron.

When I got home I was extremely sick and lethargic. It was my son’s 13th birthday and I couldn’t get out of bed. I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with chemical poisoning. I was given medication for my pounding headache and I now needed an inhaler because of what this product had done to my lungs.

A few of my coworkers started realizing they had been sick ever since this product came into the salon. Some had even been on antibiotics for months because of these crazy sinus infections that would not go away. I scoured the internet day and night desperate to figure out…..WTH is happening to us?!?

A week later, I stumbled upon a bombshell……

A government investigation discovered Brazilian Blowout and other products like it contained extremely high levels of formaldehyde, even though they were labeled “formaldehyde free”!!!!

Ummmm. Come again?!?!

How could this happen? Doesn’t anyone test this stuff before it goes on the market? If you’re confused, don’t worry. So was I.

Oh, it gets worse….

When these products are heated, formaldehyde is released as a gas so EVERYONE in the salon is exposed to the fumes! This includes not only other salon workers, but all of our innocent clients in the salon too!! 

After showing the salon owner this information she officially banned ALL Hair Smoothing Treatments. But – since stylists were making $350 on each service, things got really ugly behind closed doors! There was turmoil and fighting, friendships ruined. Suddenly WE became the reason stylists couldn’t make money performing these treatments!

Brazilian Blowout was fueling the fire by DENYING their product contained formaldehyde! They’d say government agencies were lying and stylists ACTUALLY believed them!!


Desperate for help, I contacted every government agency I could think of…including the California Department of Public Health, the FDA and OSHA. FDA investigators came to the salon for hours and collected my bottle of Brazilian Blowout to test for evidence.

My bottle of “formaldehyde free” Brazilian Blowout tested at 10.46% formaldehyde!!

Days later, I walked into the salon and felt like I got hit with a ton of bricks! Every symptom instantly came back and I was so dizzy I felt like I was about to faint. Some of my coworkers had the same symptoms…..and then my sister’s nose began to bleed!

The salon owner had allowed a coworker to do a formaldehyde-laden Marcia Teixeira Smoothing Treatment, even though these products were banned! I knew that day I could not work around these dangerous products any longer.

Over the course of a few days several of us quit the salon due to our health and concern over these products.

Within days we were threatened with “legal ramifications” for not giving the salon owner a 30 day notice.

Even after moving to a salon that was willing to ban these products, our problem STILL wasn’t solved!! Since we didn’t allow these treatments in the salon, stylists were performing them at home.

These products are so toxic they reactivate every time you apply heat to them!!

So when that client came back into the salon and had her hair blow-dried, flat-ironed or processed under the hood dryer, we’d get sick all over again.

We were getting sicker with each exposure and it was taking us longer to recover. Our medical bills were piling up and most of my coworkers don’t have health insurance. This was affecting us financially from all of the doctor visits, referrals to see specialists and prescription medications. We’ve had sinus and chest X-rays, MRI’s, Cat Scans, nose probes, blood and breathing tests. And we’ve had to take WEEKS off work because we were so ill from these products.

Going to work had become a real life nightmare we had to relive…over…and over…again! And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse…it got taken to a whole other level!!

As I drove home from work my vision was so blurred, I was seeing double. I had an excruciating migraine – my throat so raw I could barely swallow. I was coughing up phlegm – wheezing as I struggled to breathe. The next morning tears rolled down my face as I looked in the mirror, I had a blistery rash all over my face and body.

And then…..I started coughing up chunks of blood.

Once again I found myself sobbing in the doctor’s office, only this time it was different. She looked at me and told me what I didn’t want to hear. It was time to make a difficult decision between my health…..and my career.

I was on a downward spiral for months, headed straight to rock bottom, but this was the moment that I actually hit the ground.

rock bottom-downward spiral

I felt defeated. And broken. And scared. My career was over and it was out of my control.

I was sick in bed for weeks, unable to come to grips with this new reality. Gut wrenching sobs as I mourned everything I’ve lost because of formaldehyde.

 Friends. My Health. And now my career.

As I lay in the trenches of the deepest-darkest place I’ve ever been before, my mindset started to change. My sadness – turned to anger. That anger ignited a fire in me that I never knew existed and suddenly everything became clear.

I’m not going to just lay here and declare myself a victim! I’m going to kick….and I’m going to scream….and I’m going to fight like hell!!!!

Rock bottom??? Please…..this is just a stepping stone!!

So I dusted myself off, put my big girl panties on and prepared for what was about to become the fight of my life!!

I started by collecting letters from sick salon workers all over the country, determined to send them to ANYONE who would listen!!

(That’s how I met the lovely ladies over at Women’s Voices for the Earth! 🙂 )

These letters are from stylists, manicurists and receptionists….even from estheticians in their own facial rooms unable to escape illness because formaldehyde fumes creep under their doors. Our stories and symptoms are eerily the same.

They too have suffered severe health problems because of these products – they too have had to quit their jobs – some have even been bullied or threatened to be fired for speaking up about being sick!

(A stylist’s “formaldehyde rash” after being exposed to Global Keratin by her coworkers…)

           Michelle Pippen Johnson1            Michelle Pippin Johnson

               (A stylist’s eye after performing a Brazilian Blowout on her client…..)

Stylist's eye

At this point there had been no news stories about this locally. IT KILLED ME to just sit back and watch innocent people, LIKE YOU, being exposed to formaldehyde without your knowledge!!!!

This silence had become deafening, and started to feel like a lie.

I contacted the local newspaper – they jumped on the story! The reporter was horrified as I spilled e-v-e-r-y detail. The story ended up being on the front page!


This led to local TV news stories, numerous articles, and became national once I was in the Wall Street Journal and on the Today Show.

After every interview people would contact me – SICK and pleading for help! They would write me letters and want to become part of this movement that was now….getting….BIGGER!!!!!

I was even contacted by the California Department of Public Health. The California Attorney General’s Office was suing Brazilian Blowout and asked if I would be interested in supplying information to the state.

Hmmm, let me think about this for a second…YEAH…I jumped at the chance!!! Before I knew it I was providing the state with key evidence and information for the lawsuit!

Remember my former boss threatened to sue me?

I had kept meticulous health records and saved every lie Brazilian Blowout ever told!! I had STACKS of emails, letters, and I had printed out all the lies from Brazilian Blowout’s website!!

And I had the pleasure of suffering through a grueling deposition with Brazilian Blowout’s lawyer! He may have been the one asking ME crazzzzy and personal questions…..

but I wasn’t the one sweating in the room that day!


Thanks former boss!! 😉

Throughout my journey, the organization Woman’s Voices for the Earth
played a HUGE part in supporting me as I dug my way out of this hole. They became my rock, when I needed help the most. These women gave my voice a platform, handed me a microphone and turned – up – the – volume!!

           They even gave me the opportunity to meet two of the stylists who wrote me letters, when they sent us to Washington DC for the Salon Week of Action.

Dawn Marino – who contacted formaldehyde poisoning and detailed her horrific
experience with Brazilian Blowout *right here* (A must-read)

And also Natalija Josimov – who started *this petition* on

Our current cosmetic laws are SEVERELY outdated – they were established 75 years ago! That means TODAY in the good ole’ US of A…

NO GOVERNMENT AGENCY – not even the FDA – has the power to issue a mandatory recall that will take these dangerous products off the market!!

So we took our stories to lawmakers because only they have the authority to create much needed laws – we urged them to support the Safe Cosmetics & Personal Care Products Act.

If passed salons would be safe from harmful ingredients, like formaldehyde and the FDA would have the authority to take dangerous products off the market.

I also spoke on behalf of sick salon workers at a meeting on Capitol Hill that included numerous government agencies like the EPA, the FDA, the Department of Labor and OSHA.


My proudest moment of this entire journey was handing the stack of
letters I had collected to Dr. Linda Katz from the FDA.


salon letters

Oh and in case you’re wondering….that lawsuit the state of California had against Brazilian Blowout??? Well, it was settled.

     They had to pay a hefty fine, and change their labels to include:


Oh wait….did you hear that?!?

That was just sick salon workers all over the country finally being able to scream…..

told you so

Despite all of the pain, and struggle and tears I’ve endured over the last three years, it’s also opened up the opportunity for me to make a difference.

It’s inspired my crusade to make salons a safer place.

So I teamed up with Dawn Marino and together we created the fabulous – to inform and protect salon workers and consumers from toxic chemicals in salon beauty products.   

We believe a visit to a salon should be a pleasurable experience, not a potential health hazard!

Ohhh and the next time life hands me a pile of rocks to deal with, 

I know what I’m going to do….          

rock bottom-built back up

I’m going to build something with them!!!!

Bring it on life!!

Want to learn more about this story and the other products that are harming people? Check out:

Pretty Toxic’s Best of the Worst Awards

Are YOU Drinking the Keratin Complex Kool-Aide?!?



19 thoughts on “How rock bottom became my stepping stone

  1. Jennifer, you are a true champion, as are so many others too. I have the deepest respect for you and I read your story over and over as I wish so many others would,especially editors of our trade magazines!
    All the best to you,

  2. Wow thank you so much Sal – I really appreciate your kind words!! I have to thank YOU for all you have done to help us in this fight! You didn’t even know me and yet you rallied up all of the salon workers you knew who were suffering from these products and sent a pile of letters to ME…a total stranger!! Those letters are included in the pictures above! 🙂
    The only way we can get this changed is to stick together and spread the word!!! ~ Jennifer

    • Jennifer you are so welcome! I have loved this industry and what Ido for 40 years and will do anything to help protect and rally for a cause. Believe me you and the others are the ones to thank. You know I will help any way I can. I do continue to spread the WORD!!!

  3. Jennifer – you are truly inspiring!! Keep it up and we will beat this!!! So wonderful to meet you in person last month. Thank you for making the trek all the way to Montana to share your incredible story!

    • Thank you so much for being my “rock” these past few years! I love Women’s Voices for the Earth and will come anywhere you invite me!! ♥
      Thanks for all you do to help us in this fight!

  4. Jennifer,
    You should check AOL news today, I just read that Jennifer Aniston cut her hair short due to a bad experiance with Brazilian Blowout. Just thought I’d mention this to you.

  5. This is a very inspiring story and makes me so happy that something is being done!! I am not a stylist but was a client and had 2 brazilian blowouts almost 2 years ago. Since then i have lost over 70% of my hair and it is still falling!!!!! My once long blonde hair (which was down to my butt!!!!) is now in a bob just like jennifer aniston. I have almost no hair on my sides and my top is still going. i have no idea what to do and to top that i have muscle pains and rashes that doctors can not explain. My hair is totally different, no new growth and is stuck down to my head. I don’t even want to leave my house anymore 😦 I can tell you that i know the stylist is still performing these treatments!!!!!! with no ventilation or masks!!!!! I hope this product is banned. I found this website because i was looking for a solution that might help my hair. Thank you for all the work you are doing, it really makes me happy that someone understands how dangerous this treatment is! There are thousands of girls still losing hair just like me, i walked into a salon and just wanted to look pretty…. now i look like a city rat.

    • Eve ~ Thank you so much for leaving this comment – I’m so sorry this happened to you! I just checked out that link that you posted….WOW!!! We need people like you to join us in this fight! I will be personally emailing you if that’s okay! ~ Jennifer

  6. Reblogged this on radiance and commented:
    This is a fantastic article by ‘Pretty Toxic’ on the devastating effects chemicals such as the Brazilian Keratin Treatment have on industry insiders and their clients (you) … Enjoy x

  7. Sorry to hear this happened to you Jennifer. Thank you for being so strong and fighting for change. I have been a stylist for 32 years and have had similar experiences and thinking of getting out of the business because of it.

  8. Wow. You are an inspiration! I know the feeling of being sick and no one believing you all too well. I recently went through a terrible ordeal of being sick for unexplained reasons. It took me YEARS to figure out first my shampoo and then my toothpaste were poisoning me to the point of my eyesight being affected, chronic exhaustion, obscene headaches and painful hives all over. Doctors and dermatologists couldn’t find anything wrong. I became desperate and started researching on my own. What I found was shocking and still blows my mind. The toxic chemicals used in our everyday personal care products are staggering. I am now clear of them and feel better than I ever have. It’s just terrible that I had to suffer for so many years due to exposure to things that never should have been allowed in the first place. Keep up the good fight! I’m here behind you 🙂

    Hugs- Andrea

  9. Pingback: Multiple Chemical Sensitivities – being a hairstylist with environmental illness | Tousled

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  11. THIS toxic nightmare completely ruined my life. Turned my whole life upside down. It progressed so rapidly so quick I didn’t know what hit me. I was in such a zombie state it never clicked. My Dad was telling me over and over its the chemicals, you need to quit your job. I kept getting worse and worse and worse. Looking right, left, up, down for answers for years and years. I remember going home EVERYDAY from work crying, in excruciating pain, new horrific symptoms popping up everyday. I couldn’t do it anymore. Forcing myself everyday through torture to work. I couldn’t even tolerate working 2 hours 3 days a week. As my work day went on I would get sicker and sicker. My last few days all I can remember is walking in the salon doors and immediately struck repeatedly by a bulldozer , i was there 15 minutes and had to get out. I was convinced I was dying. I developed 200+ symptoms. This has gripped me so tight and hasn’t let go, Severe Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Toxic Encephalopathy. It has destroyed my whole life and will deal with this the rest of my life. Years later I’m still bedridden/wheelchair bound. Unable to take care of myself and my son. Now my son suffers from MCS from exposure in the womb.

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