Popular African-American hair products may contain toxic chemicals, research says

Research indicates there may be a link between chemicals found in popular hair products used by black women and girls and hormone and asthma-related illnesses.

A study, conducted by researchers at Silent Springs Institute in Newton, Massachusetts, and Battelle Memorial Institute, Columbus, Ohio, suggests the main ingredients in things as common as shampoo and conditioner may contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and preterm birth. The study was made available online in April by the Environmental Research journal.

Toxic ingredients in 18 hair products more commonly used by black women were linked to hormone and asthma-related illnesses, according to the study.

Products like leave-in conditioner, hot oil treatments, root simulators and relaxers, commonly used by black girls and women, may also contain harmful chemicals.

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"Historically speaking, we come from a culture where we were using juices and berries and then we don't have those things anymore and our culture got very used to using wheelbarrow grease and using petroleum to style our hair, especially during enslavement times," Daria Jones, a Boston hair stylist, told Boston 25 News.

“We need to step away from the stigma of actually selecting a product that’s black or ethnic and we need to go for products for our hair texture or hair porosity and really focus on those things,” Jones said.

Jones works at one of Boston’s only salons that use completely natural sulfate and paraben-free products.

Researchers said black hair care products are largely untested and unregulated, and 84 percent of the harmful chemicals detected in the study weren't on the label.

Parabens and the fragrance diethyl phthalate, or DEP, that can be found in these popular products are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, fibroids, puberty and preterm birth.

The staff at Parisian Style Beauty Supply and Salon in Malden, Massachusetts, said the biggest mistake people make is that they don't read the labels on beauty products.

According to the salon's staff, one of the first three items listed on the back of hair products should be water, and customers should always opt for products that are paraban and sulfate-free.

“What goes in your hair goes in your body as well because your scalp has pores,” Ashley Sousa, and employee at Parisian Style Beauty Supply and Salon, said.

With findings such as these, researchers are calling for more regulations within the beauty industry.

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