Real Answers on Cyanoacrylates and the “F” Word by Lisa Sbragia
Real Answers on Cyanoacrylates and the “F” Word
Lisa Sbragia, BS Psy., M. Ed, LMT, CLT
June 4th, 2013
On May 6, 2013, I was contacted by ABC’s Good Morning America to give a very quick response to a video that featured Celebrity Kristin Chenoweth on the David Letterman Show sporting a pair of sunglasses in order to hide an allergic reaction to her first set of eyelash extensions. They also had a segment featuring a stay-at-home mother who had gotten a classic botch job, which we usually see week to week when we agree to accept clients from other salons, whom simply need a “fill.” She claimed that when she had to have them removed, her natural lashes came with them. Not surprising.
At that point I honestly hadn’t even seen the video. I had been doing eyelash extensions all morning and finally had break to check my email. An ABC producer claimed she had found my website for an association that I founded in 2012; Association for Damage-Free Eyelash Extensions (www.damage-free.com) in order to protect the reputation of the industry by combating shoddy eyelash extension applications. She was looking for contrasting information on this catastrophe so that she could throw a piece together that wasn’t so one-sided. I thanked her, because it could have sent our industry up in flames.
I continued to watch the video so that I could make a statement. Kristin Chenoweth apparently had a reaction to a “formaldehyde based adhesive.” Let’s clarify – A formaldehyde based adhesive is one that was used in the Red Cross trailers that were donated to hurricane Katrina victims, which ended up making them terribly sick. There is a big difference between that and what we use as eyelash technicians for applications. I think we all know that using formaldehyde “based” adhesive for eyelash extensions would be complete taboo; no adhesive we use on people’s eyes should contain formaldehyde as a base. Precisely what I meant when I responded with “adhesives should not contain formaldehyde.” Watch Good Morning America Video with ADFEE
What we use is a cyanoacrylate based adhesive, which CAN omit a barely undetectable amount of formaldehyde into the atmosphere if combined with certain ingredients, or if the adhesive is not properly purified. Personally I believe Sophy Merszei, Founder of Novalash and chemist and molecular biologist, was being straightforward when she explained that adhesives must be properly purified and bottled correctly in order to prevent formaldehyde from forming. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think she was just trying to sell her adhesive.
Both Sophy and I received some criticism in claiming that adhesives used for eyelash extensions shouldn’t necessarily contain formaldehyde. Of course that is to be expected over a controversial topic as this where there doesn’t seem to be a ton of information.
This next view on the topic is taken from the PremierLash Learning Center Page , owned by Scott Hoonakker, whom is, in my opinion, a very knowledgeable individual and delivers unparalleled quality of customer service in the Eyelash Extensions Industry. The website states:
“PremierLash uses the same type of ‘medical-grade’ adhesive that is used by surgeons to perform sutureless closures. All Cyanoacrylate adhesive contain low levels of formaldehyde measured in ppm (parts per million) or levels that are considered negligible by USA Health Standards. Created as a by-product of the main ingredient. To further minimize exposure, steps are taken during the manufacturing process using the highest quality medical grade ingredients (ROHS or ISO Certified).”
So, possibly containing formaldehyde, but in negligible amounts (so little it’s not much to worry about), so it’s still safe for surgeons to use?
In order to get some clear answers on the subject, I interviewed an adhesive chemist who is a professor in the Department of Chemistry and also the School of Materials Engineering at a prestigious university (I’ve kept his identity confidential simply out of common courtesy), who has been studying and researching adhesives for 14 years. One of the first things he told me when I asked about the risk of formaldehyde omitted from cyanoacrylates was:
“It’s not the possibility of a tiny amount of formaldehyde you should worry about. Formaldehyde is everywhere. It’s the cyanoacrylates themselves that are incredibly toxic.”
He explained that while medical grade adhesives (pure enough and strong enough to be used for medical purposes) are approved to be used for sutures, we need to remember that they are NOT approved for use inside of the body because they are entirely too toxic. In that case, should inhalation be considered as “inside” of the body?
I was a little taken back by this at first. To be quite honest, I think felt my stomach turn a little when four years of applications with an average of 4-6 clients per day flashed before my eyes. He went on to explain that the field has seen what the effects of long-term exposure to cyanoacrylates are, and they’re “not good.” He expressed some concern because I was breathing it all day, whereas my clients were only breathing it once a month for an hour. I explained that everything was ok, because I wear a mask. Then he sort of shook his head and laughed, and continued to tell me I would actually need to wear a true “allergy” mask to really protect myself from the fumes of cyanoacrylates. These things actually resemble gas masks. “Not hot” is an understatement. I guess the surgeons’ masks we are wearing apparently don’t do much but reduce the risk of the common cold and hide bad breath.
Below are a few straight-forward questions I asked the adhesive chemist so that I could possibly clarify some things for the industry. Hold on tight.
ME: What is the relationship between cyanoacrylates and formaldehyde, if any? (You were saying a byproduct of the cyanoacrylate polymer was an -aldehyde but not necessary formaldehyde?)
CHEMIST: Fresh, pure cyanoacrylates do not contain formaldehyde. However, formaldehyde is used to synthesize ethyl cyanoacrylate (i.e., “Super Glue”). Also, polymerized cyanoacrylate can hydrolyze (i.e., react with water) to release formaldehyde.
ME: What exactly is formaldehyde? Is it as scary as it sounds?
CHEMIST: Formaldehyde is a chemical that is produced on enormous scales. There are many, many uses. One is in the manufacturing of adhesives. But there are several other places that you will find it. Formaldehyde is a quite common “chemical feedstock.” The compound is generally considered to be toxic. Illnesses from exposure have been getting more press in recent years.
ME: Is it safe to say that a fresh bottle of cyanoacrylate adhesive is free of formaldehyde?
CHEMIST: If it’s really pure, there should not be any formaldehyde in there. But I do not know how pure the commercial products are.
ME: Do you feel that because the adhesive does not touch the skin, do you feel that using cyanoacrylates for eyelash extensions is generally safe?
CHEMIST: You can never prove that something is “safe,” although you can determine when a chemical is toxic. Plus one person’s “toxic” is another person’s “safe.” Just look at EPA exposure limits for any chemical. If it’s toxic, at what point is it “safe?” Or at what point does it become “toxic?” There are no clear answers here.
In the eyelash case, you aren’t considering contact with skin. But also think about breathing in the cyanoacrylate when it is being applied. The customer is getting exposed to a little bit of the vapors. The technician is breathing the glue all the time.
Generally speaking, cyanoacrylates are considered to be toxic. Personally, I try to avoid repeated exposure.
Unfortunately we are left with a couple of questions.
–How do we properly protect ourselves and our clients from the vapors of cyanoacrylates now that we know that formaldehyde is not necessarily the main concern here?
I asked him, and he said he does recommend an allergy mask as well making sure that the area is well ventilated so with a fan blowing and an open window somewhere. I guess this would include making our clients wear an allergy mask? I’m not sure if that would go over well.
—Is there anything else we can use, in terms of a safer adhesive that is relatively fast drying?
His response was something along the lines of ‘nothing comes to mind.’
Although it is a little relieving that not every bottle of eyelash extension adhesive contains formaldehyde, this doesn’t seem to be the focus of what our concern SHOULD be according to the professor. I must say it’s a little shocking that with all of the formulations out there, there’s nothing less toxic than a cyanoacrylate? They were originally discovered for use of artillery during WWII; it seems odd that no adhesive developed since then can compare to the performance of cyanoacrylates. On the other hand, it’s not surprising; research must be funded.
The US beauty industry continues to be the “Wild West” in terms of chemicals used near and on the body not needing to pass any sort of approval from the FDA—it seems that anything goes as long as it works and women are willing to pay for the service. Obviously that has its pros and cons. I hope as a united group of progressive lash stylists we will soon find the answer to a non-toxic eyelash adhesive. Although some may feel that we don’t necessarily “have to” at this point; we have something that works and it’s legal to use.
I truly believe that we are all a little sickened with this entire topic, and we would definitely sleep better at night using a safer adhesive to use around our clients’ eyes and faces. Let’s just pray it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to develop it. It must be considered that paying researchers to finally develop something that is reasonably simple to use may be entirely more expensive than what you would ever make back on the adhesive. I believe that we can at least have the mindset that something else out there exists for the application of eyelash extensions; we just need to be determined enough to find it and wealthy enough to develop it. As difficult as that may seem, nothing is impossible; it just takes some brain power and funding—let’s not settle for a toxic adhesive. Of course for now, we do what we have to do; depriving women of their luxury eyelash extensions is just not an option for most.