Walk into your local beauty supply store, and you’ll find tons of products that promise longer, stronger, healthier hair. From castor to monoi oil, cleansing conditioners to conditioning repair creams, the choices are endless. But as you scrutinize the labels looking for parabens and cones, you may still be damaging your hair–and much more.
Do you know what’s really in your products? “All natural” might not always mean what you think. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) analyzed over 1,000 products marketed to black women–and found that 1 in 12 contained chemicals that can be hazardous to your health.
You know the dangers of relaxers and texturizers–ingredients like lye and sodium hydroxide can have lasting effects–baldness, growths in the uterus, and premature birth and low birth weight in pregnant women. Sales of relaxers have dropped almost 40% in the last eight years as women transition, big chop, and begin embracing their natural curls. And while relaxer sales have dipped, more and more “natural” hair products are making an appearance on store shelves. The sales of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products marketed to maintaining our natural kinks, curls, and waves have gone up by 27%.
But just because it’s marketed to women with natural hair, that doesn’t mean the ingredients in your favorite curl creme are all natural. The EWGs’ report found that many of the gels, lotions, and butters we product junkies stock up on contain parabens, estrogen, and hormone disruptors like resorcinol.
Black people make up about 13% of the U.S. population, but black dollars account for 22% of the $42 billion spent on personal care products each year. That means that we buy and use more potentially harmful products–products that can result in allergies, tumors, diminished fertility, and even skin cancer.
The next time you stock up on edge control, look on the label for:
Parabens. Exposure to methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, isopropylparaben have been associated with diminished fertility, lowered thyroid hormone levels, and other reproductive problems.
Retinyl palmitate. Government tests show that this antioxidant ingredient can cause the growth of skin tumors and lesions on sun-exposed skin–and it isn’t just in your hair products. The EWG’s report found that almost 2/3rds of concealers and more than 30% of foundations marketed to Black women contained retinyl palmitate.
Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are ingredients meant to preserve cosmetics by releasing small amounts of formaldehyde over time. The concentration of formaldehyde released is small, but it’s a strong skin sensitizer and allergen. It’s also used in funeral homes.
Methylisothiazolinone. The use of this potent allergen and sensitizer has been restricted in Europe, Canada and Japan, but the EWG found it in 118 of the products it tested.
Fragrance . The EWG warns that “fragrance” can mean anything–it isn’t one specific ingredient, “but a mixture of unknown chemicals hidden by a vague, umbrella term. “Fragrance” can encompass any number of more than 3,000 ingredients, all of which are kept hidden from the public.”
Some fragrance mixtures include ingredients linked to hormone disruption, skin sensitizers, and allergens.
Before you go to the beauty supply store, check EWG’s Skin Deep® database. Its “Hair Products for Black Women” catergory features more than 500 products that don’t contain hazardous or questionable ingredients. Shop safe.