Study: Black Hair Products Contain High Levels of Toxic Chemicals
A new study found that hair products marketed to black women contain high levels of toxic chemicals, which may be linked to illness and disease that disproportionately affect black women.
The study, which was conducted by the Silent Spring Institute and published in the journal Environmental Research, examined 18 different products geared towards black women, like hot oil treatments, anti-frizz hair polishes, leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, hair lotions and hair relaxers. The results found all of the products tested contained hazardous chemicals, including parabens, a type of preservative that can interfere with a woman’s natural estrogen level and has been linked to breast cancer, and phthalates, which can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.
“Chemicals in hair products, and beauty products in general, are mostly untested and largely unregulated,” said Jessica Helm, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a scientist at Silent Spring, in a statement. “This study is a first step toward uncovering what harmful substances are in products frequently used by Black women, so we can better understand what’s driving some of the health issues they’re facing.”
The study’s findings are consistent with data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found black women have higher levels of some phthalates and parabens in their bodies compared with white women. The findings could help researchers understand why black women may experience early puberty and have higher rates of hormone-related issues such as uterine fibroids, infertility, and pre-term births. “We know from previous research that black women suffer disproportionately from hormone-related health problems,” said Helm.
“Black women are over-exposed and under-protected from toxic chemicals,” says Janette Robinson Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness. Black women also purchase and use more hair products than other groups. In fact, a Nielsen study found African Americans spent $54 million on ethnic hair and beauty products last year.
Helm also shared advice for black women looking to find safer options for hair products. “Look for opportunities to use fewer products,” she said. “When choosing a product, know which products are made with plants or that are fragrance-, phthalate- and paraben-free.” Furthermore, women of color can download the Detox Me app for more tips on how to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in personal care products.
Here are other highlights from the study:
- All products tested contained fragrance chemicals
- 78% contained parabens
- 72% of products contained parabens and diethyl phthalate
- 84% of the chemicals detected were not listed on the product label
- 11 products contained seven chemicals prohibited in the European Union (EU) or regulated under California’s Proposition 65
- Hair relaxers marketed at children contained the highest levels of five chemicals prohibited in the EU or regulated under Proposition 65
- Parabens, fragrances, nonylphenols, and diethyl phthalate were commonly found in root stimulators, hair lotions and hair relaxers.
- Cyclosiloxanes were more frequently detected in anti-frizz products and at the highest concentrations of any chemical measured.
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