What is in your hair? New study suggests you need to find out.



This study is a first step toward uncovering what harmful substances are in products frequently used by Black women, so we can better understand what’s driving some of the health issues they’re facing.- Jessica Helm, PhD

A new report published in the Environmental Research journal shows that Black women are exposed to dozens of hazardous chemicals through the hair products they use. Generally personal care products may contain endocrine disrupting and asthma-associated chemicals. However personal care products for black women were specifically tested.


What was tested?

28 hair products where tested in 6 categories:  hot oil treatment, anti-frizz/polish, leave-in conditioner, root stimulator, hair lotion, and relaxer.


Hair products were tested for endocrine disrupting chemicals – chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. They also tested for asmtha-associated chemicals


The hair products tested contained 45 endocrine disrupting or asthma-associated chemicals, including every targeted chemical class.

  • They found cyclosiloxanes, parabens, and the fragrance marker diethyl phthalate (DEP) at the highest levels, and DEP most frequently.
  • Root stimulators, hair lotions, and relaxers frequently contained nonylphenols, parabens, and fragrances;
  • anti-frizz products contained cyclosiloxanes.
  • Hair relaxers for children contained five chemicals regulated by California’s Proposition 65 or prohibited by EU cosmetics regulation. Targeted chemicals were generally not listed on the product label.



Why it matters

The researchers noted that the chemicals found in the study are also present in other personal care and beauty products. However, the levels found in the products for Black women were generally higher, which the researchers say could potentially explain why Black women have higher exposures to hazardous chemicals than other groups.


Recent research suggests that EDCs in common consumer products, including hair products, contribute to these hormone-mediated diseases. For example, use of hair oil and hair relaxers is associated with earlier menarche (first cycle of menstruation), higher incidence of fibroids and increased risk of breast cancer . Higher urinary concentrations of phthalate metabolites have been associated with fibroids, earlier indicators of, less successful IVF outcomes .


The team also found that 84 percent of chemicals detected were not listed on the product label, with co-author Robin Dodson explaining that, “unfortunately, companies aren’t required to disclose everything that’s in their products, so it’s hard for consumers to make informed choices.”


Helm is now advising consumers to reduce the number of products they use, look for products that say “paraben-free” or “fragrance-free” on the label, and choose products that are plant-based or made with organic ingredients.

Here is the full report


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