Study links toxic chemicals to black hair care products

Health issues linked to black hair products
Published: Apr. 29, 2016 at 4:15 PM CDT|Updated: May. 3, 2016 at 4:22 PM CDT
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© (Source: WMC Action News 5)
© (Source: WMC Action News 5)
A Short History of Black Hair
A Short History of Black Hair

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A new report links devastating health concerns to the toxic chemicals in many black hair products. 

Infertility, respiratory disorders, uterine fibroids, and even cancer are serious health concerns now linked to the booming billion dollar black hair and beauty industry.

"The skin is the largest organ in the body, so when we introduce chemicals of any sort to the largest organ of the body, you're going to get some absorption," Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Associates Dr. Purvisha Patel said.

According to a new 60-page, five-year study released by research group Black Women for Wellness, black hair products are some of the most toxic on
the market.

Chief among the health concerns cited are a link between the use of hair relaxers and fibroids--a condition that affects 80 percent of black women
over their lifetime.

"I don't know if it was from hair products, but my experience with fibroids were horrible," WDIA radio personality Bev Johnson said.

Johnson has had her fair share of hair care horrors.  

"I've seen a lot of products and did a lot of things," she laughed. 

Uncertain what caused her fibroids, Johnson said the study reinforces what she learned from her doctor.

"People said, 'Well you're going through the change. It's menopause; you're going to have that,'" Johnson remembered. "My doctor said, 'No this is not normal.'"

The new normal for millions of black women is going natural.

"I use shea butter, the natural shea butter or I use some hair products where it has no sulfate and it's water based," natural hair product consumer Andrea Pritchard said.

Still, even some natural hair products caused concern for researchers.

In one of the studies, hair de-tangler was linked to early puberty in black girls.

Dr.  Patel had this advice: "Just because a product says organic doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't have the preservatives in there that could cause problems."

While the report did not focus on specific products, researchers did list a number of ingredients that may cause adverse health effects. 

"You definitely want to choose products that are paraben free, sulfate free, fragrance free, and hydroquinone free," said Dr. Patel. 

As researchers call for more easy-to-read labels and federal oversight to reduce the risk of chemical exposure, women can start finding solutions now through more education and awareness. 

"Listen to your stylist and cosmetologist and ask questions," Johnson said. "Don't be afraid to ask a question."

The full study names several products that contain toxic and possibly dangerous chemicals. Those products could cause any of the following conditions:

  • Skin & eye irritation: It is estimated that 7 of 10 hair stylists will suffer from a form of work-related dermatitis in his/her career.
  • Respiratory disorders: A study conducted in 2007 found that respiratory symptoms were more common among hairdressers as compared to the community at large.
  • Ergonomics: Black stylists may spend more than 8 hours on a single customer, especially if styling individual braids, twists, or locs.
  • Obesogens: Obesogens are found in many of the chemicals used in shampoos, conditioners, and fragrances.
  • Cancer: Chemicals found in hair relaxers, hair dyes, and straightening products have links to carcinogenic materials.
  • Reproductive issues: Black women have rates of infant death 2.2 times higher than white women.
  • Uterine fibroids: Chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns caused by relaxers are linked with high fibroid tumor rates.
  • Reproductive development: Girls who used chemical hair oils and hair perms were 1.4 times more likely to experience early puberty.

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