Hair Raisers

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Hollywood celebrities go mad for the instant glamour -- hair extensions and hair straighteners can transform the thinnest dullest hair into lustrous, long strands, and you can't even tell.

Singer/actress Jessica Simpson is making a fortune from her own brand of hair extensions. The cost ranges from $100 to $500 to chemically straighten and from $100 for up to several thousand for top quality 100% human-hair.

But these treatments can be tortuous, total failures and some straightening chemicals are highly dangerous.

Naomi Farrer paid $800 for her amateurish result.

Experts don't normally use glue, instead a protein polymer bond that dissolves away, or wefts, which are sewn into the natural hair.

Sarah Hicks' and Grace Brooks' hair extensions at the hands of one Brisbane salon went horribly wrong.

Not underground war bunkers, but ordinary hairdressing salons, they're equipped with huge air ventilator pipes and vents, the clients and stylists are wearing industrial strength gas masks -- just to have their hair straightened with the same dangerous treatments that have been used time and time again on thousands of Australian heads.

Certain hair-straightening products contain highly toxic, carcinogenic chemicals, with potentially serious side-effects. Many brands have been recalled -- we'll tell you which ones soon -- but the fear is that many salons are still using the unsafe straightening solutions that contain dangerously high levels of formaldehyde.

Nutritionist and registered nurse, Sam Beau Patrick, known as the Health Queen, is a strong advocate for healthy products. She deplores risky hair-straightening products and says, "They have diabolical effects, in the acute setting you can absorb some of the products through your scalp. It's the hairdresser that's exposed to it all the time that's the greatest risk, because they're absorbing it through their hands, they're breathing it in", Sam said.

Teonie Hayes, a patient of Sam Beau Patricks, was having her hair straightened every 12 months, 2 to 4 hours ago, but tests conducted at Sam's clinic showed alarming levels of the hormone Molybdenum. "Molybdenum is a trace mineral and it's important to the body, but her levels were off the page and it's often used with Formaldehyde as a catalyst we know that she's been exposed to high levels of Formaldehyde and here's the proof", Sam said.

Independent tests exposed a raft of hair-straighteners that contain illegal and unsafe levels of free Formaldehyde. Recalled and banned are Brazilian Blowout Professional Smoothing Solution, Keratin Complex Intense RX, Smoothing Therapy, Smoothing Therapy for Blond Hair, Express Blowout, Hydrospa Keratin Smoothing Treatment, Global Keratin Taming System with Juvexin Light Wave and Curly and the latest to be recalled, Guava Latino.

In Canada a class action's been mounted against Brazilian Blowout, the most popular hair-straightener here and overseas. It's now banned and been replaced by Brazilian Blowout Zero. The beef is that the makers of the original Brazilian Blowout claimed it was safe - there was no Formaldehyde in the product.

Vancouver Hair Stylist Miranda Scott started the class action - 1000 people have joined to sue Brazilian Blowout's manufacturers. "When the client was getting the service done, their eyes were stinging, the stylists eyes would sting, they would be watery, we couldn't breathe, it felt like there was you know a weight in our chest 43.50 headaches, sort of a fogginess of your mind we would have the door wide open, we installed a ventilation system, none of it worked I mean the off gassing was enormous", said Miranda.

So far, no Australians have joined the class action, but Miranda Scott hopes it will raise standards of accountability in the industry and says, "We use so many chemicals in our industry to begin with and I think all companies that produce products for us need to be reliable and honest."