Working with formaldehyde

I have been working with products containing formaldehyde since 2007-2008. Done many Brazilian Keratin treatments, visited Brazil numerous occasion , where I spent time in factories, done exhibitions, and talked and visited many manufacturers. Me and my team tested probably 50-60 companies products, launched our own brand and distributed Brazilian Keratin products. In the past years I’ve done extensive research, teached my technique internationally and been asked by many beauty editors on my view on Formaldehyde. I know many stylist and customers who loves the effect of Formaldehyde, I am neither supporting or condoning using such products, the below is just my thoughts on formol and a way I am using it in salon. My treatment does not release extensive amount of formaldehyde in the air, and does not cause discomfort. However I have experienced and seen colleagues and costumers experiencing discomfort caused by formaldehyde and I think regularly  being/working in an environment  where large amount of formaldehyde is released it is unhealthy.

I urge every stylist to do they own research before using products contain formal or release formaldehyde.

So what is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is an organic compound, a gas at room temperature, formaldehyde is colorless and has a characteristic pungent, irritating odor. It is an important precursor to many other materials and chemical compounds.  Commercial solutions of formaldehyde in water, commonly called formol, were formerly used as disinfectants and for preservation of biological specimens. It is commonly used in nail hardeners and/or nail varnish.

Where can we find formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is pretty much everywhere, you can find it in the air and the human body. According to a 1997 report by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, formaldehyde is normally present in both indoor and outdoor air at low levels, usually less than 0.03 parts of formaldehyde per million parts of air (ppm).Formaldehyde and its adducts are ubiquitous in living organisms. It is formed in the metabolism of endogenous amino acids and is found in the bloodstream of humans and other primates at concentrations of approximately 0.1 millimolar.  Formaldehyde is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fiberboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. In addition, formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories. Formaldehyde also occurs naturally in the environment. It is produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes.

When dissolved in water, formaldehyde forms a hydrate, methanediol, with the formula H2C(OH)2. This also exists in equilibrium with various oligomers (short polymers), depending on the concentration and temperature. A saturated water solution, of about 40% formaldehyde by volume or 37% by mass, is called “100% formalin or formol“. A small amount of stabilizer, such as methanol, is usually added to suppress oxidation and polymerization. A typical commercial grade formalin may contain 10–12% methanol in addition to various metallic impurities.

Open Air method

I am a big fan of open air method, when the treatment is done in open air, when is possibility and using high heat I recommend the treatment to be performed outside a building.

This was the boring but needed bit, let’s get done to my theory

We are talking about two different substances Formaldehyde which is in the air, and Formal which is dissolved in water, so it’s in the product. Let’s look at Formalin,  in the beginning companies used up to 15% in their products. Formalin is not breathable but can touch your skin, go into your eyes, or in your mouth. It can cause irritation, redness, and skin sensitivity, and eye irritation (eye watering). The treatment not suppose to be applied on scalp, but away from the scalp, I haven’t seen any skin sensitivity for the product yet, but I can believe it’s exist. By smelling the product no one had anything bad happened, so I think we can agree that formal as it is in the treatment is harmless, until it becomes formaldehyde so it’s in the air.

The problem happens when formal becomes formaldehyde trough excess heat, that could be heat of straightening irons, or hair dryers. Using this heat the stylist release formaldehyde in the air. The effects of high formaldehyde level in the salon can cause eye irritation, nose irritation and breathing irritation, strong smell and uncomfortable smoky environment. This is short term exposure.

Blow drying, and  heat delivery method is dated, and it’s causes high level of formaldehyde in the air. I think the secret of the proper treatment is using the right amount of product to coat the hair, and use minimal heat, so we not creating extensive amount Formaldehyde in the salon. If heat not used, there is no/minimal Formaldehyde in the air, so the treatment is safer.

I developed a system which uses a different penetration methods, so we do not have to use extensive heat, whilst achieving the same or even better results without having to have large Formaldehyde levels in the air.

We sent detailed information to EU and USA hair, and health government bodies but tbh no one was interested to support a research and develop the safe use of the treatment. They only care about the Formol % in the product.

Cancer warnings

Although the short-term health effects of formaldehyde exposure are well known, less is known about its potential long-term health effects. In 1980, laboratory studies showed that exposure to formaldehyde could cause nasal cancer in rats. This finding raised the question of whether formaldehyde exposure could also cause cancer in humans. In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure

Oregon OSHA conducted air monitoring during treatments using the Brazilian Blowout smoothing product at seven different salons where a single treatment was conducted over the course of the day. The 8-hour average exposures ranged from a low of 0.006 parts per million(ppm) to 0.33 ppm. These compare to a permissible exposure limit of 0.75 ppm. Although it was not exceeded for any of these stylists, it should be noted that multiple treatments would increase the daily average significantly.

The short term effects as mentioned before eye, nose and breathing irritation. If you a customer visiting a salon iI think one can only experience short term effects of formaldehyde, which can not cause cancer on it’s own.

If you a hairstylist you could read reports on the long term effect of formaldehyde tested on builders, painters and factory workers who actually continuously during working hours under high level of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde undergoes rapid chemical changes immediately after absorption. Therefore, some scientists think that formaldehyde is unlikely to have effects at sites other than the upper respiratory tract. However, some laboratory studies suggest that formaldehyde may affect the lymphatic and hematopoietic systems.

To summarise after my studies and experiences, I don’t think Formaldehyde can cause an ongoing problem to the customer, when she/he is only exposed for a short time, but it can cause discomfort. I think stylist should start using a method which does not contain extensive heat and product over-use, so we do not  release large amount of Formedalhyde in the salon air. I think product companies who still sell products which contains Formal over the legal limit /there are many of them/, should think if it’s really worth it?!, and invest in research developing safe techniques.



Feel free to contact me regarding this article if you have any questions. zx





References, and links:

The history of Yuko Hair Straightening System

The history of Yuko Hair Straightening System



I left Molton Brown Hairdressing for a new challenge in 1998 before Yuko System the pioneers of chemical straightening first opened their Academy outside Japan in Mayfair, London. It was a big decision, but Yuko seemed to be offering something new and something very exciting which interested me greatly.

Yuko Yamashita, founder of Yuko system permanent hair straightening, originates from Japan. She learnt hairdressing /she call it “beauty specialist”/ in Japan, and opened her salon. She had loads of clients with frizzy hair /yes you be surprised loads of Japanese have curly, or frizzy hair/, and decided to help them. “If you want to know why I have focused all my energy on permanent hair straightening, it is because, since becoming a beauty specialist, I have met many women who suffer from unruly hair. Almost all people have more or less unruly hair, and these can become a serious source of worry for women.”

In the early 90’s Yuko started developing her first perm solution, to chemically straighten hair, which took her 2 years to have the first sets. She studied and researched a lot; “I first noticed that I needed to understand the bio-rhythm of hair in order to maintain its beauty. So I started studying the various proteins that constitute hair and their behavior. Just as each person has her own constitution, each person has her own hair quality, and a beauty specialist can understand a customer’s hair and body condition from experience. I can tell what kind of habits my customer’s hair has and what kind of physical constitution my customer has just by touching her hair and head, even with my eyes closed. I can do this because of my tremendous amount of interest in hair and because of having stuck to my own beliefs so far.” In 1994 Yuko partnered up with a Japanese company called Phi-ten, who developed and reformulated all Yuko system products, and after permanent hair straightening become a success in Japan, bought it to London and Los Angeles. Yuko was, at that time, still working in Japan; “One junior-high school student, who visited our salon, said she could not live an active life due to her unruly hair. When she saw herhair chemicallystraightened in the mirror, she started crying with joy. One of the staff in my salon became so worried about her unruly hair that she decided to quit high school to become a beauty specialist. This is the reason why I decided to start studying hair-straightening techniques intensively with a hope to help people who suffer from unruly hair.” So the Yuko Straightening System was created, and perfected and before the millennium it was bought to London.

I was one of the lucky technicians who was able to learn and practice before the Yuko academy, and the Yuko salon in Mayfair was opened. Technicians and staff were sent from Japan, and Yuko Yamashita herself came here to train us on permanent hair straightening. Yuko had a very different view of hair, nothing I had seen or learned before, and learning from her was a pleasure. Without that knowledge I would not see or understand hair as I see it today and what I’ve learned from Yuko Yamashita I use it every day with every client.

When we opened the Yuko systems salon, we didn’t have many customers, but a daily mail article made us fully booked. Permanent hair straightening was a big thing everyone talked about. That time chemical hair straightening /the Yuko technique/ was a very timely process, always two people working on one client, and it taken us up to 6 hours from start to finish. I remember I was asked by Yuko to test the system on Afro Caribbean hair, and one of the models took us 10+ hours to complete, of course with a success, and Yuko was extremely happy with the results.



After climbing up and made manager, I left Yuko system salon and academy in the early 2000s to open my own salon, and I was the first to perform the magical permanent straightening technique = the Yuko system outside the Yuko academy, and the first authorised salon in London. Yuko system and the academy has boomed in the coming years and straight hair was very much in fashion. The main problem was that the products were not allowed us to be used on chemically damaged, and high-lighted hair, and the process was very lengthy. With Phi-ten Yuko redeveloped her products, and came out with many new updates, and currently she is working on a damage free perming solution. In 2014 Yuko Mayfair closed, handing over the European rights to Yuhei, (and his wife Reiko Kanda) a Japanese stylist I worked with for a year, and we still in touch. He always updates me on new developments.

Yuko Yamashita, her views and teaching of the importance of hair condition will always be with me through my carrier. Thank you Yuko for developing this wonderful hair straightening system.

Momoko hair shaping

I’ve been asked to test Momoko hair straightening and digital perming products. The company recently launched in the UK and are already available in a number of salons. It is always exciting for me to receive new products, especially when the products are available to purchase in the UK or Europe as not many hair texturising products are available in UK shores so I have to source my products from all over the world.

I’ve received nearly 20 different products, from hair conditioning to shampoos, and softening solutions, and must say I was very excited as I’ve already used different products and solutions from the manufacturer of Momoko previously; the Japanese company who makes Momoko has been on the list of my suppliers for a while.

Momoko claims to be a product that can be used on any hair type and can achieve outstanding results.

I met up with Nathan Walker International Technical Director of Trevor Sorbie at a seminar; Walker is currently providing the education on Momoko products. He is very knowledgeable of hair, and it was a pleasure meeting him. I have to say that the product guide and the education provided by Nathan was excellent and gave way more in depth information than anyone else offered in the UK. Very well done, and thank you.

Returning to the salon didn’t take me long to try and to test the product. Have to say in theory all products works pretty much the same, so I really didn’t have to learn anything new, it was just trying and testing to see the results. That’s what product testing is about.

The products are, as it was expected, the highest quality. I already have a few favourites which I use on a daily basis. As you might know I am a very mix and match guy, meaning I prefer not to use one company’s products but test and find the best from each company and I will be using Momoko products on my clients regularly, but not everything on every customer.


If you are a customer who reads this I would like to remind you that giving a Wella colour tube to Josh Wood or to someone else will very much bring you different results, and I still think that what’s most important is not the product but the person whom using it though using the best products available is still helpful.

If you are a hairdresser looking to offer new services, I would recommend trying Momoko and attend the training, as what they offer is excellent. However don’t forget my 50 rule, before offering it to clients, I would recommend you to do at least 50 models. It might sound a lot, but if you compare it to haircutting, learning a perfect Bob would’ve taken you longer then 50 model practices.

In overall I am very pleased with the products, and do recommend it.