What Is a Brazilian Blowout (and Is it *Really* Safe to Try)?

An expert weighs in

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what is a brazilian blowout jasmine tookes
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From relaxers to perms, there are so many different hair treatments out there that it's tough to find the right one for you. One of the most popular options is definitely the Brazilian blowout, a semi-permanent smoothing treatment that minimizes frizz for months. Enticing, right? Before you lock in your salon appointment, we did some research and consulted a board-certified dermatologist about the safety of a Brazilian blowout, because there some things to consider.

Meet the Expert:

  • Dr. Ava Shamban is a board-certified dermatologist based in California and founder of Ava MD. She specializes in body contouring, injectables, lasers, medical dermatology (like hair loss treatments) and microneedling. She's currently a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the American Academy of Dermatology.

What is a Brazilian Blowout?

A Brazilian blowout is a specific brand of keratin treatment that originated in Brazil. The semi-permanent technique uses a special liquid formula to smooth out your hair, thereby minimizing frizz, improving volume and adding shine to strands.

How Is a Brazilian Blowout Different from Other Keratin Treatments? 

Though all keratin treatments offer pretty much the same results (i.e, smoother hair and less frizz), you’ll get more flexibility with a Brazilian blowout. For starters, you won’t have to wait as long to wash your hair (just two to three days, as compared to the four to seven required of other treatments) and you can rock any hairstyle you like without causing dents in your newly smoothed ‘do.

Here’s another bonus: It’s a smoothing treatment, not a straightening one like many of the others. So if you like to rock curls or waves but just want to reduce frizz, this is the treatment for you. It’s not going to change your hair texture, but it will provide the shine, volume and frizz-free finish you want.

How Long Does a Brazilian Blowout Last? 

It’s more temporary than some other keratin treatments with results lasting for about three months on average. To make your Brazilian blowout last a bit longer, avoid using sulfates or harsh chemical products that can weaken the bonds. You should also consider cutting down on how often you wash your hair and/or apply heat tools to your locks.  

How Is a Brazilian Blowout Done?

The process takes a few steps that are crucial to getting a smoother look, which we'll walk you through below.

  1. Use shampoo to cleanse your hair and scalp from any existing products. This first step helps clear and prep your hair for the treatment.
  2. Apply the formula from roots to ends. Your stylist will apply the keratin solution section by section. Then, they’ll comb it through damp hair to make sure all the product is evenly distributed.
  3. Use a blow dryer to activate chemicals. Heat will activate the formula and form a seal around your strands. The stylist will blow dry each section for a few minutes to give the formula time to bond and form that protective layer around your hair. 
  4. Grab a flat iron to seal the treatment in even more. At 380 to 450 degrees (depending on your hair type), they will begin to straighten each section. However, if you prefer to keep your curl pattern, you can ask to skip this step entirely.
  5. Rinse out your hair. Your stylist will use a sulfate-free shampoo and a deep conditioner (that will sit in your hair for about ten minutes) to make sure the treatment is completely washed out.
  6. Finally, blow dry your hair again. Once your protective styling products are applied (aka leave-in conditioner, heat protectant, etc.), your hair will be dried one last time, so you can leave the salon with a voluminous, frizz-free look. FYI: There’s also the option to go the air-dry route (or opt for a diffuser) to maintain your curl pattern. 

How Long Does a Brazilian Blowout Take?

From start to finish, the Brazilian blowout typically takes about an hour and a half (or up to three hours, depending on your hair length and/or thickness).

Is a Brazilian Blowout Good for Your Hair?

A Brazilian blowout is great for all hair types, especially those with thick, wavy or curly hair. It’s also beneficial for people with dyed hair because it can boost the vibrancy of your color and prevent premature fading. However, if you have thin, damaged or over-processed locks, you’ll want to consult with a stylist first, as the service can do more harm than good on already weak strands. 

Is the Brazilian Blowout Safe? 

"Brazilian blowouts contain toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, which is a necessary component of Brazilian blowout treatments," explains Dr. Shamban. "Formaldehyde itself doesn’t damage the hair shaft. However, the solution containing formaldehyde may irritate the scalp and long-term exposure to any formaldehyde gas given off during the heating process can be a health hazard."

OK, now let's address the elephant in the room: formaldehyde. According to the International Journey of Trichology, Brazil was one of the first countries to start using formaldehyde in hair treatments when they introduced the blowout in the early 2000s. Since then, the chemical has been linked to cancer and long-term side effects like skin irritation, heavy breathing and headaches.

More studies are still being conducted to identify the potential health issues caused by of formaldehyde. In one 2016 study, seven patients experienced eczema-like symptoms after getting a Brazilian blowout. Others found the treatment increased brittleness, dryness and hair loss based on the amount of heat styling. "Depending on the tools and techniques used when attempting a Brazilian blowout, as well as your stylist's skills and familiarity with the necessary steps, attempting to perform the heat treatment could cause hair damage, scalp irritation and chemical exposure," adds Dr. Shamban.

If you are pregnant or you're planning to get pregnant or breastfeed, hold off on getting a Brazilian blowout. As one 2013 study conducted in Brazil found, formaldehyde and other chemicals used in the treatment make these groups more vulnerable to health issues.

what is a brazilian blowout a woman getting a treatment at a salon
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Can I Get a Brazilian Blowout Without Formaldehyde? 

If you’re still thinking about trying a Brazilian blowout, please get a professional to apply it safely and don’t attempt it at home. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, salons should have specific precautions put in place to minimize formaldehyde exposure—like proper ventilation and reduced usage of the chemical (or avoiding it completely). 

The FDA also recommends reading product labels carefully. Nowadays, there are plenty of keratin treatments that have formaldehyde-free formulas and use plant-based ingredients (like acai berry, camu camu and annatto seed) instead. But just because a treatment says it’s free of formaldehyde doesn't mean you shouldn't still do your own research. Formaldehyde can go by many names like formalin and methanal, which the American Cancer Society lists on their site so you can easily spot them on labels. 

If you notice any signs of irritation, inflammation or breakouts while you’re getting a Brazilian blowout, let your stylist know immediately, so they can stop the process and wash out everything out. And if the side effects don’t go away, consult a medical professional as soon as possible. 

How Much Does a Brazilian Blowout Cost?

The average cost of a Brazilian blowout ranges between $200 to $500. And if you’re seeking glossier hair, but are still a bit wary of Brazilian blowouts, there are other alternatives to getting smoother, shiner locks. 

what is a brazilian blowout results
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How Do I Take Care of a Brazilian Blowout?

After getting a Brazilian blowout, you should avoid washing your hair for the next three days. Once the 72 hours are up, use sulfate-free products to maintain shine and strengthen strands. You should also avoid using hot tools for the next few weeks and ease up on rough brushing your hair.

In conclusion, a Brazilian blowout is a 27-year-old treatment that continues to rise in popularity. Although it was historically deemed harmful due to the main ingredient (formaldehyde), some salons have taken action in developing a gentler formula that reduces damage without drying out your locks. Instead, these newer keratin formulas can smooth hair, minimize frizz and add shine.

"In most cases, Brazilian Blowout formulas that dominate the marketplace nowadays aren't harmful. While some varieties contain formaldehyde, the amount is very minimal. If the treatment is done correctly, your hair will feel healthier and more moisturized afterward," says Dr. Shamban.

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Associate Editor, Ultimate Fangirl, Aspiring Beauty Guru

Chelsea Candelario is an Associate Editor at PureWow. She has been covering beauty, culture, fashion and entertainment for over a decade. You'll find her searching the internet...

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