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Originally published Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 5:29 AM

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Keep health in mind when getting beauty treatments

Women’s health columnist Dr. Linda Pourmassina evaluates the health risks in some beauty treatments.

Special to The Seattle Times

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On Health

It’s January, and it is quieter in salons, where they have been beautifying their clients for holiday parties for the past month: new hair colors and cuts, straightened hair, gel manicures ... and even bare-down-there waxing.

But these services are popular throughout the year (holiday or not), so it’s worth taking a look at potential health risks, from head to toes.

Hair-straightening treatments

These treatments involve the application of keratin (a protein) to hair, smoothing and straightening it. In recent years, some products were found to have high amounts of formaldehyde, which caused skin and eye irritation, coughing, and difficulty breathing among salon workers. Even brands labeled as “formaldehyde-free” have been found to cause similar symptoms.

The long-term effects on people who regularly get their hair straightened is unclear. But do your research before you get this service, especially since formaldehyde was put on the list of cancer-causing agents last summer. Most salons today use formaldehyde-free straightening products. To be sure, though, request the actual name of the product or a list of the ingredients in it. You can compare it against a list of formaldehyde-containing products available through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s website, OSHA.gov.

Gel Manicures

Gel manicures, unlike traditional manicures which can chip on the way out the door, can last a couple weeks. They are an attractive alternative to acrylics, which can actually damage the nails. A specially formulated polish is painted on and then “cured” under a UV light for up to 10 minutes. Afterward, the nails are completely dry and the polish is difficult to chip.

The downside? UV exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. This can add up if you get gel manicures a couple times a month. To be safe, apply an SPF 30 (or more) sunscreen onto your hands after the aesthetician washes them and before she starts to apply the polish.

Brazilian waxing

In the Brazilian waxing process, hot wax is applied to hair-covered areas of the genital area and swiftly removed with cloth strips, pulling off the hair. Pubic hair naturally protects the very sensitive skin in the genital area, but with waxing, a layer of skin can be stripped, as well, leading to a vulnerability of one of our main barriers to infection. While some women have no complications with this procedure, others may have anything from slight irritation to ingrown hairs to a more serious skin infection called cellulitis. If you have a Brazilian wax, make sure to see a doctor if you have any concern about bumps or redness in the area afterward.

A little awareness can go a long way when it comes to beauty treatments. The best gift you can give yourself, after all, is taking good care of yourself.

Linda Pourmassina, MD, is an Internal Medicine physician who practices at The Polyclinic in Seattle. She authors a blog at pulsus.wordpress.com and can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter (@LindaP_MD).

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