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Hazardous Ingredients in Hair Products for African-American Women


hair care products

Catalog Article Winter 2019

Hair Products for African-American Women Contain Mix of Hazardous Ingredients

Written by Jerry Hickey, Ph.

A new report by scientists at Silent Spring Institute published in the journal Environmental Research shows that African-American women are often exposed to dozens of hazardous chemicals through the hair products they use. This report is the first to measure concentrations of endocrine-disrupting chemicals—substances that interfere with the body’s hormones—in a variety of hair products marketed at African-American women.

The new study focused on 18 different hair products, including hot oil treatments, anti-frizz hair polishes, leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, hair lotions, and hair relaxers. The researchers tested each product for the presence of 66 endocrine disruptors that are associated with a variety of health effects, including reproductive disorders, birth defects, asthma, and cancer. A total of 45 endocrine disruptors were detected, with each product containing anywhere between 4 and 30 of the target chemicals. The researchers also found:

  • Astonishingly 84% of chemicals detected were not listed on the product label.
  • All products contained synthetic fragrance chemicals.
  • 78% of the products contained parabens.
  • 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.

The researcher notes that African-American women go through puberty at a younger age, and have higher rates of uterine fibroids and infertility than other groups of women. The rate for breast cancer and endometrial cancer is also increasing among African-American women. Based on national biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African-American women have higher levels of some phthalates and parabens in their bodies compared with Caucasian women. According to the researchers, this is consistent with their study’s findings, which showed that phthalates and parabens were frequently detected in products.
Helm says, consumers can limit their exposures by reducing the number of products they use, looking for products that say “paraben-free” or “fragrance-free” on the label, and choosing products that are plant-based or made with organic ingredients.

Helm, J.S., M.N. Nishioka, J.G. Brody, R.A. Rudel, R.E. Dodson. 2018. “Measurements of Endocrine Disrupting and Asthma-Associated Chemicals in Hair Products Used by Black Women.” Environmental Research. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2018.03.030