By Karen Stokes
Relaxers, texturizers, shampoos and conditioners may be hazardous to your health. Personal care and beauty products for the most part in the United States are untested and unregulated.
Black women spend billions on beauty products each year, which is double the amount of any other ethnic group.
The definition of personal care products referred to as “cosmetics” by law are not only hair care products but consist of lotions, toothpastes, deodorants and many more products people use daily, according to the Environmental Working Group.
The Personal Care Products Safety Act, a bipartisan bill, introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) would reform regulation of personal care products, requiring companies to ensure that their products are safe before marketing them and giving the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) the tools it needs to protect the public.
The FDA currently prohibits only 11 substances in personal care products. These regulations have not been changed since 1938. By comparison, in 2016, the European Union has banned more than 1,300 chemicals and restricted 256 more.
The Personal Care Products Safety Act would empower FDA to review the safety of ingredients each year, they would have the authority to recall unsafe products, cosmetics companies would be required to register their manufacturing processes with the FDA and each year the FDA would be required to independently review the safety of at least five different chemicals.
But some don’t believe this is enough and may not change things for Black women.
“I don’t believe that the Personal Care Safety Act will not change things for Black women much,” said author Nourbese N. Flint, director of policy for the nonprofit group Black Women for Wellness. “There’s one thing in it that I think is important which is that there will be a disclosure of ingredients.”
Black Women for Wellness, started with a group of six women who organized in 1997. It was a grassroots organization from California concerned about the empowerment, health and well-being of Black women and girls.
In 2009, Black Women for Wellness began to collect data from interviews and focus groups and heavily researched the world of Black beauty.
The group recently published “Natural Evolutions: One Hair Story,” a five-year study of the Black beauty industry focusing on the well-being of Black women and girls. “Natural Evolutions” is a report outlining how the lack of federal oversight and regulation of personal care and beauty products disproportionately and negatively affects Black women and girls.
Black women have always endured disparities in health due to not only poverty and access to quality health care, but also the toxic chemicals that are in the products Black women use on their hair.
Cancer, reproductive issues, infant mortality, miscarriages and fibroids are just some of the health issues that have been associated with toxic chemicals in personal care products.
A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology determined that the use of hair relaxers was linked to uterine fibroids in Black women and girls. It was estimated to affect 80 percent of Black women over their lifetime. The study interviewed more than 23,000 premenopausal African American women from 1997 to 2009.
Chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns caused by relaxers are linked with high fibroid tumor rates. The main ingredients found in relaxers, lye and no-lye formulas, are linked to scalp lesions and burns. Women who use lye relaxers have a higher risk of scalp lesions or burns, which increases dermal absorption of chemicals directly into their bodies.
Girls who reported using chemical hair oils and hair perms were 1.4 times more likely to experience early puberty after adjusting for race, ethnicity, and year of birth. In addition, other studies have linked early puberty to hair detangler use by Black girls. In one of the studies African American girls as young as two years old started showing signs of puberty after using products containing animal placenta found in many detanglers and conditioners.
Stylist are also affected by the chemicals.
Of the stylists interviewed, over 100 health issues were reported. The most common problems were headaches, dizziness, and chemical burns. About 9% of the women stylists surveyed had health issues directly related to reproductive health.
Sixty percent of stylists stated they never received training on the potential health effects.
Flint notes that the study was not promoting any type of hairstyle, and was not a mandate for Black women to wear their hair natural. Employment and personal preference can dictate choices on how a woman wears her hair, but what is important is to know what is in the products that are used.
“Even though you don’t use heat, doesn’t mean you’re safe,” Flint explained. “Gels, shampoos, conditioners, all have chemicals.”
“We all need to be pushing and calling our elected officials,” said Flint. “We know that these products can be safer, so let’s make them safer.”