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When it comes to choosing hair care products, many women weigh many factors in their decision-making process. For some, it is ingredients, price or a specific brand. One of the factors that’s essential to make a priority is our health. There have been several studies throughout the years linking hair products for African-Americans to major health complications such as cancer, infertility, fibroids, obesity and more. The conversation needs to continue regarding these studies and how hair products impact Black women in particular.
A study from the Silent Springs Institute found that 80 percent of the 18 tested products (chosen based on customer surveys) contain high levels of chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates metabolism, reproduction and more. The product test was broken into six different categories: hot oil treatment, antifrizz/polish, leave-in conditioner, root stimulator, hair lotion and relaxer. The highest number of parabens were found in hair lotions. While studies like this are not new, it seems as though they still don’t get enough attention from the media and public. “When you look at these studies, we should be very concerned and rethink our priorities when it comes to using these products,” says Phillip Blanc, M.D., M.P.H., a board-certified physician in public health and general preventive medicine. Blanc encourages us to stay watchful: “Start with the list and be as vigilant as you are with the nutrition facts with your food. Keep an open mind and think it through. Are we going to be more concerned if a product will disrupt my endocrine system or if my hair is frizzy? We have the grace to choose other products—let’s take this opportunity.” With this heartbreaking truth, there are ways we as consumers can turn this around. There are beauty brands that have a particular focus on ensuring the products are safe. Gwen Jimmere, CEO and founder of Naturalicious, started her company with her son in mind. “When I saw the movie Good Hair, I was taken aback when I saw Chris Rock and a chemist submerge a can of soda into hair relaxer and it degenerates in minutes,” she recalls. This changed everything for her. “I was like, If this does this to a can, what is it going to do to my body, specifically my child’s?” That’s when Jimmere decided to go natural for the sake of her son. Her original intent wasn’t to stay natural, but she soon found that she began to love and embrace her hair. During her journey she also started to learn about what ingredients to avoid. “This was a time when natural products were not as prevalent. I was pregnant in 2010, and my son was born in 2011,” she says. As she began to make products, she realized she was onto something more. “I created Naturalicious as a solution for me and it organically grew into a business,” she says. With a successful business, Jimmere is an advocate and educator in the beauty industry when it comes understanding your hair and finding the right products for you and your family. Here, Jimmere shares the top four product ingredients we should avoid: 1. Sulfate. “This ingredient creates suds. It doesn’t clean your hair,” she says. “The sulfate that is in laundry detergents and dish washing soaps is the same [one] in shampoos. I tell people, ‘If you wouldn’t wash your hair with detergent, don’t wash your hair with sulfate.’ ” 2. Parabens. “This is known to be a carcinogen, which is a cancer-causing ingredient,” Jimmere explains. Parabens are a preservative. Although preservatives are required and necessary for beauty products that are shelved, there are healthier options. “Stay away if you see ingredients that end with paraben or xane,” she advises. 3. Benzyl alcohol and Isopropyl alcohol. They are also known as rubbing alcohol, which is in many beauty products. “Not all alcohols are bad,” she says. She encourages us to look for safe-to-use ingredients such as “cetyl, stearyl and cetearyl alcohol.” 4. Mineral oil. “This is a by-product of the distillation of petroleum to produce gasoline. Another name you might see is liquid paraffin. A moisture inhibitor, mineral oil prevents moisture from getting in your hair. This ingredient can’t be removed sufficiently without using a sulfate-based shampoo.” Be mindful of what you use on your hair, scalp and skin. Since the skin is the largest organ on the body, it absorbs the products you put on it, and they go into the bloodstream, even from your scalp. Blanc suggests looking at the Environmental Working Group Web site for healthier product options. There is a plethora of information out there and sometimes it can be misleading. But what is clear is that our health is in jeopardy and the only way to protect it is to take a stand, stay educated on the topic, find products that are good for us and support businesses that have the consumer in mind.