Melanated women have overcome crazy obstacles despite the growing list of things that threaten their health, livelihood and overall well-being.
One of the things on that list includes hair care products: the everyday items used by Black women to smooth strands, lay edges, and moisturize manes. Studies have blown the lid wide open on the toxic chemicals in those products and linked them with illnesses. However, one new Silent Spring Institute study is the first to measure how much of those chemicals are present in Black hair care products.
Black women are routinely over-exposed and under-protected from toxic chemicals, which cause problems affecting the body’s hormones and its endocrine system. Yes, this exposure has spurred large health disparities among African-American women and other racial groups.
How these chemicals keep being used in products is beyond insane. The chemical usage also shows that fattening cosmetic industry profit margins sometimes comes at the expense of Black health.
The problems with these chemically laden products start upon their manufacturing. The items on shelves in drugstores and more places are mostly untested and rarely regulated, Jessica Helm, PhD, a Silent Spring scientist and the study’s lead author, said. Also, a lot of manufacturers don’t include a full product ingredients list.
What Researchers Did
Researchers looked at 18 products — hot oil treatments, anti-frizz hair polishes, leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, hair lotions, and hair relaxers — chosen as popular among surveyed Black women. Brands included Lusters, PCJ and Soft & Beautiful.
The researchers connected the dots between 66 chemicals and health problems affecting Black women, who have higher rates of hormone-mediated problems including pre-term birth, uterine fibroids and infertility than other racial groups. Black women also suffer from increased rates of breast and endometrial cancers as well as maternal-related deaths.
What Researchers Found
Forty-five endocrine disruptors were detected by researchers in Black hair care products, with between 6 and 30 chemicals in each product. Another startling find? Eleven products had seven chemicals banned by the European Union or regulated under California’s Proposition 65, commonly known as the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986.
A lot of these chemicals are found in everyday personal care items marketed to women but are found in higher concentrations in products for Black women. Also, Black women buy and use more hair items than other groups.
What Researchers Hope Will Happen
The study gives insight into the thinking that drives the cosmetic industry and its attack on Black health and Black pride. How can women fight back?
Demanding safer products and more disclosure about ingredients is a big step, researchers said. Women can also choose “paraben-free” or “fragrance-free” products as well as ones that are plant-based or made with organic ingredients. It’s clear that it’s time to stand up and boycott these health threats.