While the issue is being sorted out, clients and stylists should know the symptoms and risks. Michael J. DiBartolomeis, head of the California Department of Public Health's Safe Cosmetics Program, says short-term symptoms from breathing formaldehyde vapors include headache; watering, burning, irritated eyes; a severely irritated inner lining of the nose or a bloody nose; and restricted breathing, similar to an asthmatic attack. Longer-term exposure can cause reduced pulmonary function or lung damage and raises the risk of cancer.
If you have symptoms, consult a physician immediately, DiBartolomeis says. You should also report your concerns to Cal/OSHA if you are an employee or to the California Safe Cosmetics Program.
When considering formulas to use, don't be fooled by unclear labeling. Formaldehyde is the simplest aldehyde, so look for that word on the label too, as well as glutaraldehyde.
Also be wary if overhead ventilation machines are being touted by a salon as a way to prevent problems from fumes. Such machines don't guarantee safety and don't help if formaldehyde is being absorbed through the skin, experts say.
Perhaps the safest advice: Get reacquainted with your blow-dryer and flat-iron. Good health trumps straight hair.