Last week I had the honor of accompanying the National Healthy Nail and Beauty Salon Alliance and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics to Washington, D.C. where we lobbied to pass the Safe Cosmetics Act in an attempt to protect salon workers and consumers from toxic chemicals.
Co-conveners to the Alliance such as The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF), and Women’s Voices for the Earth (WVE) joined together, along with affected hair and nail salon workers.
The Salon Week of Action served as a means for us to unite and voice our concerns, while trying to spread awareness and garner support for the Safe Cosmetics Act. Salon products are not required to list their ingredients on their labels, which means that workers and clients are often exposed to toxic chemicals that have detrimental effects on their health. If passed, salon workers would be safe from toxic chemicals, as harmful ingredients would be phased out. Health standards would be raised, labeling loopholes closed and the FDA would have mandatory recall authority to ban and remove dangerous products, such as the Brazilian Blowout.
A misleading bill endorsed by multi-national cosmetic companies has now been introduced to compete with the Safe Cosmetics Act, and if passed it will only make things worse – workers and consumers will not be protected and cosmetics will not be made safer. Therefore, the Alliance spent last week in D.C. working hard to fight for the rights of salon workers and their clients, which include any of you or your loved ones who visit hair and nail salons.
On Wednesday, we split into groups and met with various representatives and government officials on Capitol Hill. Jamie Silberberger, Director of Programs and Policy at WVE, lead our group of affected hair stylists. I, along with my peers, had the amazing opportunity to tell each representative our stories. To walk the impressive halls of the Longworth House Building knowing we are working to make a difference is a powerful feeling.
Afterwards, we headed to the EPA Building for an Interagency Working Group on Salon Worker Health and Safety meeting. The meeting was led by Assistant Administrator of the EPA, Mathy Stanislaus, and Anuja Mendiratta of the Alliance. Seated with them was White House Cabinet Secretary Chris Lu.
For two hours agency efforts, commitments, updates on issues and advocacy efforts were discussed. Among those in attendance were Dr. Linda Katz of the FDA and Debbie Berkowitz from OSHA.
Three affected hair and nail salon workers were able to speak and present their ordeals to the table. When California salon worker Jennifer Arce spoke, I was moved to tears. I could relate to her story, as my own life has also drastically changed as a result of formaldehyde poisoning from the Brazilian Blowout Product. Like Jennifer, I was unaware that this product has extremely high levels of formaldehyde. The company lied about the ingredients, and today the product is still in use by many salons. Jennifer’s words clearly made an impact on the members seated around her at the table.
It was crucial that Congress hear first hand the devastating effect of toxic chemical exposure. When companies, such as Brazilian Blowout, lie to consumers about the ingredients in their products we are put at risk against our knowledge. All it takes is just one instance of exposure to significantly impact a person’s life forever. Raising awareness of these salon hazards can help push for support of the Safe Cosmetics Act.
We spent the next day of action convening with the Alliance, organizations, salon workers, owners, researchers, agency allies and other stakeholders. Together we presented information, ideas and experiences. Recommendations and suggestions were created in an attempt to further the movement.
I had the opportunity to speak at this meeting about my own personal experience. I explained how I developed formaldehyde poisoning and asthma from the Brazilian Blowout. There is no safe level of formaldehyde exposure, and while studies say .02% is the maximum amount of recommended exposure, this product often tests at levels above 12%. I detailed to everyone my dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches, rashes, sinus infections, pain and overall feeling of lethargy. I elaborated on how once I quit my job to avoid further exposure it was over a month before I was well enough to leave the house and find work again.
I told everyone how today, my life is a challenge when it comes to my health. It has been a little over a year since my exposure to both the Brazilian Blowout and the Coppola Keratin straightening treatments. It’s hard for one to truly grasp the severity of the situation. Due to the effects of immunotoxicity caused by being sensitized from the formaldehyde, I am extremely sensitive to chemicals, certain foods and other elements.
My immune system is completely thrown off and my body mistakes good elements and nutrients for bad. Every day I have to inspect my surroundings, what I ingest and what I put on my body. In addition to my pre-existing nut allergy, in the last year I have developed an allergy to shellfish and all forms of fruit. My diet is severely limited and I struggle with food choices daily. Simple options we take for granted are no longer available to me. Most meals still leave me feeling unwell, and lately I even have reactions to coffee.
Chemicals and many ingredients prevent me from using a lot of soaps, lotions, detergents, makeup, hair products and more these days. I often learn by trial and error. I once consumed tea from a Teflon pot – after one sip I became violently ill for an entire day. As a hair stylist, I am concerned when it comes to the products I am surrounded by every day.
In relation, a night at the hotel during the convention left me severely sick with an allergic reaction from the bed sheets. My eyes burned so bad and became so red that I could barely open them, my body broke out in a rash, my throat was irritated and I was extremely nauseated.
These circumstances are a frustration in addition to being constantly ill on a regular basis. I have daily headaches and gynecological issues, as well, as a result of the formaldehyde exposure. I’m often very physical uncomfortable. Time from work to due chronic illness affects my job and my finances. My list of symptoms goes on, but is similar to many others in my field who have been exposed. I don’t remember what it is like to really feel well, because I never do anymore. For me a good day is when I feel only slightly sick.
I hope that as a united group we can shut down Brazilian Blowout and other companies with deliberately misleading labels. I hope that we are able to pass the Safe Cosmetics Act and ban these harmful toxins from products. I hope that we can gain enough support from the public and from the government.
Whether it is the salon worker, the client or the unaware pregnant woman sitting two chairs over, we all have the right to be safe and healthy. We met in D.C. with the goal of a safer future, and much was accomplished. I left the Salon Week of Action feeling empowered, inspired, enlightened, motivated and proud. Our voices were heard and we took a stand.