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

March 17, 2016  |  

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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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