Many hair care products used by black women contain chemicals linked to serious health problems, according to a recent study.
The study looked at hot oil treatment, anti-frizz polish, leave-in conditioner, root stimulator, hair lotion and relaxer. Some of the products contained chemicals linked to cancer and fibroids, and most of the time the chemicals weren’t listed on the labels.
“I always loved beautiful hair. My great-grandmother had these long braids that came down to her waist. It was snow-white and I just remember brushing her hair,” Robin Groover who founded Too Groovy Salon in Northeast Atlanta, told us.
Groover has been styling hair since the late 1980s, a time when black women commonly used relaxers, hair oils and root stimulators that contain a lot of chemicals.
“I noticed that all my hair that I grew out when I was young was missing. Then I realized everybody's hair was missing, and I was like what is this about?” said Groover.
A recent study by the Silent Spring Institute found 45 chemicals that can disrupt a woman’s hormones or are associated with asthma in 18 hair products tested. The chemicals are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer and fibroids.
“I’m unfortunately going to start off with the bad news, and that is that 84 percent of the chemicals that we detected actually weren’t listed on the ingredient label,” said Silent Spring Institute researcher Jessica Helm.
Deanna Carruthers knows firsthand about the link between some hair care products and health problems.
“Because I’m asthmatic, and I know when I used to go to the salon, I would cough, and you know just I didn’t feel good,” said Carruthers.
Carruthers used relaxers in the past.
“I didn’t feel good just knowing my hair is being burned in my scalp,” she said.
Carruthers even relaxed her oldest daughter’s hair when she was about 5 years old.
“I felt like you know it just didn’t look good enough, and so I relaxed her hair,” she said.
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Helm said exposures earlier in life increase the risk for diseases like breast cancer later.
“We’re particularly concerned to see high levels of these chemicals in the products that are marketed to children,” said Helm.
At the time, Carruthers said she didn’t know about the risk.
“But I didn’t know exactly. That is absolutely information that people would want to know,” she said.
Several years ago, Carruthers transitioned to natural hair.
Groover told us she stopped using relaxers two decades ago after talking to a client who performed autopsies.
“How they identified black women a lot of times was a green layer on top of the brain from relaxing,” said Groover.
Helm said when shopping for hair care products, consumers should look for products made from plants or organic ingredients, because they will have fewer chemicals.
“One of the things is just to look for opportunities to use fewer products in general,” Helm said.
She also suggested avoiding products with “fragrance” on the label, since individual chemicals are not required to be listed.
Carruthers told us thanks to natural products, her hair is healthy.
“And like, this is just who I am. I love my natural hair,” said Carruthers.
Silent Spring has created a free app called Detox Me that walks consumers through simple ways to reduce their exposure to chemicals at home and at work.
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