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Thickener-Straightener Fire

There is a class of grease-like hair products that are marketed primarily toward African-American women and women with curly hair. These grease-like products are applied to the hair as a thin film and are then subjected to heat via hot combs. Some hot combs are heated in specially designed ovens while others are heated on the burners of electric kitchen stoves.

Unfortunately, some (not all) of the companies that manufacture these hair products and hot combs have done little to no testing to determine fire safety. In one instance the hair product manufacturer testified that their hair product was not flammable and would actually prevent a hair fire. This is blatantly untrue as demonstrated by a glass wool test of that product.


Glass Wool test

While these grease-like hair products may be difficult to ignite in bulk form, they are easily ignited and highly flammable when applied to hair. To make matters worse there are often no warnings on the labels about this increased flammability. And in at least one instance, the manufacturer of the hair product did not know that the FDA regulates cosmetic hair products.

At least one company manufactured its hot combs in China and did not require that the Chinese meet any particular specifications for the wood handle. Likewise, they never tested the flammability of the wood handle even though they knew that the combs were heated on electric burners of kitchen stoves. There were no warnings on the hot comb to avoid contact with the electric burner or even that the wood was combustible.

Given that any flame, no matter how small, can ignite hair containing these grease-like products, the use of a hot comb with a wooden handle in combination with a flammable hair product has proven to be a very hazardous combination.

Dr. Fox is a Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator and chemical expert with extensive experience in OSHA, EPA and DOT chemical regulations and chemical safety. He specializes in complex industrial chemical accidents, fires and explosions as well as chemical-related consumer product injuries.