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Toxins found in black hair care products

Thandisizwe Chimurenga | 2/7/2012, 7:36 p.m.

But the African Americans were more likely to use hair products and reached menarche earlier than other ethnic groups.

Dr. Tamarra James-Todd of Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital is the lead author of “Childhood Hair Product Use and Earlier Age at Menarche in a Racially Diverse Study Population,” published online in the June 2011 Annals of Epidemiology. The study specifically sighted the use of hair oils and hair straightening (“perm”) products and the onset of early menarche in the women.

According to figures from the Black-Owned Beauty Supply Association, African Americans are estimated to spend between $7 billion and $9 billion dollars per year on hair and beauty products. The potential costs to the health of African American women, however, have yet to be adequately quantified.

Black women today who strive to take Marcus Garvey’s admonition to heart are in a better position than their sisters of the past. Research focusing on the products used in African American beauty salons (and homes) is increasing. While the findings are showing links to adverse health outcomes primarily among black women, there exists an increased motivation for natural, less toxic beauty products, as well as calls to more stringently regulate the personal care product industry.

In Los Angeles, Black Women for Wellness (BWW), a Leimert Park-based, grassroots health and wellness advocacy organization, has produced a “green chemistry” booklet entitled “Black Going Green.” The book is part of their “Green Chemistry Initiative.”

The 28-page booklet, geared toward African American women and girls, lists the chemical ingredients and possible health risks of everyday household and personal beauty products. It also provides many healthy and environmentally friendly alternatives.

Readers will find information on products and chemicals such as relaxers, detanglers, shampoo, conditioner, nail polish and lipstick.

“In order to make better choices and be more critical consumers, we understood that arming black women — the primary caretakers in our communities — with reliable information was key,” said Nourbese Flint, program director at Black Women for Wellness (BWW) and project coordinator for the booklet. “This is one small step to help black women make the kinds of choices that are critical to increasing our communities’ health and well-being,” said Flint.

Also, as part of its “Green Chemistry Initiative,” BWW has organized a “Beauty Salon Campaign” to conduct research among African American beauty salons that explores possible connections between products utilized primarily by black women and possible reproductive health disparities.

According to BWW Executive Director Jan Robinson-Flint, the project, still in the data-gathering stage, is doing a survey of beauty supply stores, beauty salons, barber shops and wig shops within a one-mile radius of the organization’s Leimert Park-based headquarters —  approximately 60 stores in all.

“We asked the owners and the stylists what were the products that they were using? And from those products what we did was create a list of the top ten chemicals and then looked at the impact of those chemicals because they’re toxins. Anytime you look at any statistics for black women, you’ll find that we are at the top,” said Robinson-Flint.