At the end of December 2023, the Brazilian National Health Surveillance Agency (ANVISA) suspended the marketing of approximately 1200 hair creams due to reports of eye irritation and temporary blindness. This followed a similar measure announced by the agency in March for all hair creams sold in the country. However, after a few weeks, ANVISA issued a resolution with rules for the marketing of the products, allowing them to be reintroduced to the market.
With the new resolution, the sale of products that do not meet the standards was once again suspended, as reports of adverse events reemerged. These events included temporary loss of sight, headaches, as well as burning, tearing, itching, redness, and swelling of the eyes. These side effects were reported mainly by people who used the specific products before swimming in the sea or in pools, or even before being exposed to rain.
The prohibited products contained 20% or more ethoxylated alcohols in their formulations. Products containing Methylchlorisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone had already been banned. These substances used as preservatives are considered toxic to the skin and mucous membranes and can potentially cause allergies and burns to the eyes and skin. They also have high pulmonary and neurological toxicity. All these substances irritate the eyes and can cause chemical keratitis. In extreme cases, corneal ulcers can develop, leading to vision loss.
The Brazilian Council of Ophthalmology has also issued a warning about these products, emphasizing that consumers should check the labels of hair creams to ensure that these toxic substances are not included in the product formulation, in addition to the sales ban.
The ANVISA website contains a list of creams considered safe and whose marketing has not been suspended, as well as links to reports of adverse events reported by medical professionals or consumers.
The agency advises consumers who have recently used hair creams to wash their hair carefully, tilting their heads back to prevent the product from coming into contact with the eye area. In the case of accidental eye contact, the eyes should be flushed with plenty of water.
If adverse effects occur after using these products, users should seek the nearest health service immediately. Treatment should be individualized and may include an eye patch and the use of eye drops containing antibiotics or corticosteroids, among other treatments.
Not every patient has easy access to an ophthalmologist in an emergency, so it is crucial for general practitioners to be prepared for initial care. In this context, one of the most important measures is washing the eyes with plenty of clear water or saline solution for 5-10 minutes.
Eye itching is a common manifestation when using hair creams, and scratching the area can worsen the condition. An eye patch can protect the cornea until an assessment can be performed by a specialist.
While we prefer our patients to stay away from these creams, it is also important to spread this information and advise them to read the labels and use safe cosmetics.
This article has been translated from the Portuguese edition of Medscape.