Dyeing to fit in

It is official – products associated with dyeing and perming your hair are hazardous to your health. This is according to a five-year study of hairdressers by Black Woman for Wellness – a US-based education and advocacy group catering to African American women.

Black hair products

The findings suggest that certain ingredients synonymous with most Black hairdressing techniques could increase the incidence of miscarriage, cancers, uterine fibroids and respiratory conditions – to name but a few.

Shocking when you consider how significant Black women are to the hair and beauty sector. Black women spend $9bn on beauty products, twice as many as any other ethnic group. And the sector is estimated to be worth $550bn in 2017.

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The report highlights six areas of concern:

  1. Skin and eye irritation

Hairdressers run the risk of occupational contact dermatitis when using certain shampoos, conditioners, hair dyes and bleaches. This condition makes the skin red, sore and inflamed.

  1. Respiratory disorders

Chemicals such as formaldehyde, ammonia and bleaching agents have been known to cause breathing difficulties and occupational asthma.

3. Ergonomics 

Stylists can spend up to eight hours on a single customer which over a long period of time can contribute to work-related musculoskeletal disorders. These can affect the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints and cartilage.

4. Obesogens

They are a class of chemicals that disrupt the normal flow of metabolism. These chemicals are found in some processed foods, shampoos and fragrances. Phthalates is one example of an obesogen found in hair conditioners, hair lotions, shampoos and detanglers. They are thought to increase the risk of obesity because the circuits that regulate feeding are broken.

5. Cancer

Deep-coloured dyes used over long periods are thought to increase the risk of both non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and multiple myeloma, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Using permanent dyes is said to increase the risk of bladder cancer by 2.1 times, according to the International Journal of Cancer.

6. Reproductive issues

There is a risk of spontaneous abortion or miscarriage from using products with for formaldehyde and alcohol-based disinfectants.

And based on a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, hair relaxers were linked to uterine fibroids in Black women and girls. It is understood that  lye (sodium hydroxide) and no-lye (calcium hydroxide) are linked to burns and scalp lesions. Lesions allow these chemicals to be absorbed by the skin and on to the body.

The use of animal placenta in some products including hair detanglers and conditioners are linked to early onset of puberty in Black girls. According to the report, a girl as young as two years old with exposure to such products showed signs of early onset of puberty.

Personal accounts

Some of the accounts from hairdressers polled in this research are just downright scary.

One source said: “I know women that did full service back in the 70s they had respiratory problems, TB, and breast cancer from pressing hair and breathing it in, they didn’t know back then… so I try to stay away from the chemicals.”

Another said: “I know from dying my hair over the years, I’ve had every color of the rainbow and I know exactly when they took that chemical out that was giving people brain tumors and cancer and that is why your dyes don’t last now, if you dye your hair you notice the gray pops out in two weeks’ time, it used to be 6-8 weeks, but they had [to] by law take the chemical out and so that is why the dyes don’t last as long.”

“My friend [has] 20 years in the industry, my friends doesn’t have fingerprints anymore… my friends can’t go to the DMV and put their hand down and [get] fingerprints anymore”.

Not tested

So why are we still using them?

Well the main reasons are we don’t know their harmful effects, we don’t ask enough of the right questions and we assume the stuff we use is ok.

The report highlights that products used by Black women are the least tested compared to those used by other groups and the most toxic.

Price and branding are considered more important in the decision-making process, and can sideline other factors such as health risks.

Makes me think there’s a lot of truth to the mantra, if you can’t eat it don’t us it!

So I thought I would put the findings to some of the companies that have had their brands listed in the report. Among them was Luster’s Pink Oil Moisturizer Hair Lotion that I fondly remember using in my youth before my switch to becoming au natural.

According to the report, Luster’s Pink is classed as moderately hazardous with a skin deep rating of six, alongside Tigi Bed Head Self Absorbed Mega Nutrient Shampoo, Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Sheen Spray, Motions at Home Lavish Conditioning Shampoo – to name but a few of the 50 products Wellness for Women assessed.

The ratings are based on a listing from the ‘Skin Deep’ website – a site established by a US-based environmental working group that lists cosmetics and personal care products and their potential hazards and health concerns.

Let’s see if they respond….

By Kirsty Osei-Bempong

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