New Report Links Fibroids, Respiratory Illnesses To Toxic Chemicals In Many Black Hair Products

March 17, 2016  |  


Not feeling well?

Well, according to a recently released report, it might be some of the chemicals in your hair care products that are making you sick.

The 60-page report entitled Natural Evolutions: One Hair Story was released on Tuesday by Black Women for Wellness, which is an L.A.-based advocacy and research group dedicated to the health and well-being of Black women. You can read the report in its entirety here.

But to summarize, it is the result of five years of research, which included “literature reviews, focus groups, data collection and interviews with African American beauty professionals to determine chemical exposure and correlating health status, of hair care products directed at Black women.”

And as noted in the report’s introduction, “Each year, Black women spend about 9 billion dollars on beauty products alone, twice as much as any other ethnic group. By 2017, the Black hair care industry is estimated to reach $500 billion, taking into the account the changing nature of the market and the increase in online sales. However, many of the products marketed to and used by Black women are rarely researched for toxic health consequences; in the rare cases that they are, Black hair products are found to be some of the most toxic beauty products on the market.”

While the report did not focus on any specific products, researchers did provide a list of ingredients including fragrance, DMDM hydantoin, linalool methylparaben and propylparaben, which were found in over 50 products used or recommended by hair care stylists. Moreover, “Several of these compounds have been found to disrupt the endocrine system, among other health effects. DMDM hydantoin has been found to be a skin toxicant and allergen, as well as a formaldehyde-releasing agent.”

Chief among the health concerns associated with the chemicals used in many of our hair care products is uterine fibroids. And, according to the report, a recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has found a link between the use of hair relaxers and the condition that is estimated to affect 80 percent of Black women over their lifetime.

The report also highlights other reproductive developmental issues associated with chemicals in our hair care products, including infertility and spontaneous miscarriages.

And as the report notes, “Girls who reported using chemical hair oils and hair perms were 1.4 times more likely to experience early puberty after adjusting for race, ethnicity, and year of birth. In addition, other studies have linked early puberty to hair detangler use by Black girls. In one of the studies African American girls as young as two years old started showing signs of puberty after using products containing animal placenta found in many detanglers and conditioners.”

In addition to reproductive concerns, the report also links formaldehyde, ammonia, and bleaching agents – all chemicals that are commonly found in our hair care products – to respiratory disorders.

More specifically, “A study conducted in 2007 with 344 women in Nigeria found that respiratory symptoms were more common among hairdressers as compared to the community at large. Frequent sneezing, coughing, and chest tightness were found in the hair stylists. In addition, the mean pulmonary function test (FEV1, FVC, and FEV1/FVC) was lower in hairdressers, with no relation to duration of employment in the industry. In short, a beauty professional’s ability to breathe deeply is compromised once entering the profession.”

According to the report, Black hair care professionals who are exposed to higher levels of chemicals than the general public are most at risk of developing health problems. As part of its research, BWW interviewed L.A.-based hair professionals between 2011 and 2014 and found that 65 percent of them use permanent straighteners or lye/no-lye relaxers; sixty-three percent used permanent waves and texturizers; and 60 percent used hair dyes, all of which contain chemicals that have been linked to carcinogenic materials, respiratory problems and allergies and reproductive issues.

In fact, as the study notes, “Of the stylists we talked to, over 100 health issues were reported. The most common health issues were headaches, dizziness, and chemical burns. About 9% of the women stylists surveyed had health issues directly related to reproductive health.”

As far as solutions, the report said that more education and awareness, as well as easy-to-read labels, would help to “mitigate risk factors.”

The report also called for more federal oversight.

More specifically:

“Creating and enforcing policies and regulations that use the precautionary principle when evaluating chemical safety is an important step in mitigating the risk of toxic exposure to the public as well as with workers. In addition, a system is needed that can regulate and remove chemicals from personal care, hair and cleaning products that have a proven health risk in a timely and effective manner.

Having policies looking at labeling products of concern as well as maintaining an awareness of the need for stronger regulations on labeling and testing of products would allow consumers to make more informed choices about the products they wish to buy.”

And yet, the only environmentally just issues anyone wants to talk about are polar bears floating on ice caps…

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  • Mel

    The last statement: “And yet, the only environmentally just issues anyone wants to talk about are polar bears floating on ice caps…” is a very general statement, Ball and demeaning/insulting to black female researchers like myself. Much of the reason the black culture/society lacks the discourse about healthcare problems such as PCBs, parabens and other common endocrine disruptors is because we are not dominant in the field of environmental sustainability, human ecology, or any other STEAM field (but those figures are growing!), and are also ignorant (as in lack of knowledge) of the potential issues generated by these chemicals. Generally, black women don’t know, nor care, about what ingredients are used in our hair care products and if we cannot pronounce it–just skip over it until we see an oil (aloe, chamomile…that we are familiar with). We need to do our OWN research!!! These chemicals are found in nearly everything we use from personal care products to pharmaceuticals, pesticides, household cleaners, etc., which we consume both internally and externally, or pour down the drains. (Don’t believe me? Google: Intersex fish). This is not an isolated problem, but awareness brings remediation and change.

  • Masterpieced

    Not a laughing matter.

  • Masterpieced

    That was uncalled for. Isn’t there enough stacked against us already without your pouring such hate?

  • Jones

    So here’s the thing, parabens are in everything: makeup, lotion, lip balm. so to suggest that this is a black woman’s disease or that it is specifically caused by many chemicals that are also in the same products that many women use seems to be a little hasty if not irresponsible.

  • T

    Anyone want to find the products by splitting the list of toxic ingredients mentioned in the report and then searching for it. I want to do most of it but would rather split the list so I don’t miss any.

  • peaches

    im white and ive had fibroids as well. but please black ladies stop doing all of that stuff to your hair. it looks fine natural. hair isnt what makes us beautiful in itself…it the whole package.

  • GG

    Wear your hair natural or get a weave. Problem solved!

    • Lisa

      One may still develop fibroids, though. There is no guarantee.

      • GG

        Of course. Still, this connection to chemicals is interesting and I never heard of it during my child bearing years. Few chemicals benefit the body and years of constantly using any one in particular has got to have negative side effects. You can certainly still get fibroids with natural hair but the relation to fibroids and the repeated use of particular hair products in black women merits further study.

  • Bored&Opinionated

    Why do they have to be “hood” chicks? Not all black women reside in ‘da hood.

    • Masterpieced

      And even if they do, the hood can be a great place.

  • naynay

    They do not care about Black women and the toxic products that are sold to us. Black women need to go back to the old days of taking care of our hair, which did not include relaxers and other deadly toxins!

    • Masterpieced

      Serious. I look at my mother’s high school album and ALL the women had a head full of their own hair.

  • High Five Ghost

    Sure it is. This is a study that linked the two much like smoking is linked to lung cancer but healthy people can get it. We know that obesity is linked to diabetes but healthy people can get it. If you are healthy then it is just a matter of “genetic chance”. I think the point is to lower your risk to the “genetic chance” category by paying attention to theses links.

    • N0PE

      Exactly. “All birds don’t fly, but most do” – N0PE proverb.

  • JustSaying

    This is one study. There’s no indication if the study was a random control trial, number of subjects, cofactor, p value, etc. my point is there’s no telling that this study is 100% factual. With you having NF-1 I’m sure you go to a geneticist and/or a PCP to monitor your tumors. Other races of women get fibroids why is it more prominent in black women?-it’s unknown. The thought is that it may be due to our higher testosterone hence more muscle mass hence fibroids.

    • Momma Dee Tha Q.U.E.E.N

      Yeah I’m thinking the study wasn’t done on enough subjects to come to such conclusions. I feel that with the questions being posed in the comments would make the results completely different.

      • N0PE

        There’s a number of ways to conduct studies and most don’t require billions of participants. Samples sizes are determined by the margin of error and confidence level selected.

    • N0PE

      I’m not a statistician by any means, but my understanding is that no study is nor can be all inclusive. That would be way too expensive so that’s why models are used, which really speak more to indicators and not “facts” per se. The point of studies are not to prove facts but to demonstrate correlation and produce a model.

  • lisa586

    I think every black woman is at least somewhat aware of the risks that our hair care products pose. I mean, its not unlike a blonde bleaching her hair – we all know that stuff can’t be good for you. But, like the blonde, we pay the health tax for the social boon. Unfair but real. I definitely agree more needs to be done in terms of regulation and removing any toxic products that are absolutely not essential to the effectiveness of the product. Other beauty products are examined and regulated so why not hair?

    • Neva

      Black women no matter how we wear or style our tresses should use organic everything. I highly recommend a website called vitacost that has everything that is discounted automatically. Vitacost is cheap. I order my coconut oil, shampoo and conditioner, and other health and beauty products from them. Black women push for these companies to have fragrance free versions, because they really need to layoff the perfume in these products. I hate it.

  • Neva

    I have relaxed hair, and I am very healthy. I also use only irganic organic shampoo, conditioner, and leave in conditioner, heat protectant, and of course natural oils. Many natural products smell like candy to me and it’s annoying. What grown woman wants to go around smelling like fruit loops? They need to make more organic fragrance free products. For natural or relaxed hair here are some products that I currently use and love. I use Loma Organics moisturizing shampoo and conditioner, along with Loma leave in conditioner spray and nourishing oil for my heat protectant, I order from Amazon. In vitacost I use beauty without cruelty leave in along with giovanni leave in. My hair is thick healthy and long, and smells great. Use organic products ladies.

    • cryssi

      Everyone who over consumes sugar won’t become a diabetic. Everyone who smokes won’t develop lung cancer. Everyone who eats too much salt won’t develop high blood pressure.

      So everyone who dabbles in chemically treated hair won’t develop health issues.

      Though, all of these things do increase the risk of health issues.

      I think this was just a warning for those who use these products. Like the warning on alcohol and cigarettes, except in the hair care industry it is not mandatory for most products.

  • Annamuffin

    I told you guys natural living is the best alternative…. Natural hair, health, body and well being…

    • ladylove

      So true. Only after going natural did I start to pay attention to ingredients in not only my hair products but also skin lotions and deodorants. I am so happy that I did. Many of these ingredients are even linked to cancer.

  • jazmine

    I feel like this is a conspiracy.

  • Chrissy

    Is this why so many black women have fibroids

    • lisa586

      Fibroids are linked to heavy meat consumption, which is ironic as they can lead to iron deficiency anemia. I blame mine on my own meat-heavy diet. You ever met a black vegan?

      • Chrissy

        I haven’t met any black women who are vegans,only religious reasons,7th day Adventist and Rastafarians

      • cryssi

        Yes I have met quite a few, my best friend is a vegan.

        I just have a love/hate relationship with bacon. I lover it, but it hates me.

      • Ricialove

        Here I am. I am a black woman and strict vegan going strong for the past 7 months and have no desire to go back to animal products.

      • Summer

        It’s not just meat consumption but the kind of meat one is consuming. Black and brown women tend to live in inner cities that are food deserts with little to no access to healthy, grass-feed organic meats and dairy. If they have access to meat at all it is processed meats like baloney, etc and low quality meats heavy in hormones. It’s the hormone use in our meat and dairy products that is the cause of fibroids, though the government won’t stand up to Big Meat and say so. I used to be a dairy farmer and when I was using conventional methods, i.e. pumping my cows full of hormones so they produce more milk, I got to a point where they couldn’t reproduce because of the high number of fibroids in their uteri. It was my vet that told me I needed to stop using hormones because they make the fibroids grow faster and larger. I did that and went organic and most of my cows saw a reduction in the size of their fibroids and had no new growths.

        • lisa586

          Wow! Very informative, thank you for sharing!

      • lilmissmatched

        Oh please, then every white person in America should have fibroids. Which is not the case.

      • Jones

        i know a black vegetarian!

        • BlueCornMoon

          Me too. Had fibroids too,. Went veg thinking they’d go away. Didn’t happen

      • Sistah Butters

        I am a serious carnivore, have been for most of my life. Had fibroids once when I used chemical relaxer in my hair over a two year period. I have two bright, bold, beautiful daughters that were coming home from the mall with all those chemical laden products. Because of them I now manufacture all natural body care products and am proud to provide an alternative to the market place.

    • Lisa

      The cause is most likely multi-factorial (genetics, hormones, etc.). Just think – many women who have never had a relaxer go on to develop fibroids.