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What Are the Hazards of Hair Straighteners?

A study of hair straighteners mostly used by African-American women found that they contain a range of hormone disrupting chemicals.
What Are the Hazards of Hair Straighteners?
Black woman with straight hair holding makeup brushes isolated on white

Some African-American women regularly use hair-straightening products to achieve the look they like. A recent study suggests, however, that these cosmetics are far from benign. What are the dangers of hair straighteners?

Hair Straighteners as Endocrine Disruptors:

According to a new study, women who use hair straighteners are being exposed to a toxic brew of endocrine disrupting chemicals (Helm et al, Environmental Research, online, April 25, 2018). Scientists at the Silent Spring Institute tested 18 commercial products marketed to Black women, including hair relaxers, hot oil treatments, hair lotion, leave-in conditioner and anti-frizz/polish. The investigators found that all the products they tested contained potential endocrine disruptors or compounds that could exacerbate asthma.

Each one of these hair products contained at least four such compounds and some had as many as 30. More than half had chemicals that are banned in the European Union or flagged as dangerous in California.

Hair Straighteners for Children Are Risky:

Most disturbing, the two products marketed specifically for children contained the highest level of potentially dangerous chemicals. The researchers report that most of the compounds they discovered in their analyses were not listed on the labels. Exposure to such compounds might help to explain higher rates of asthma and early puberty among African-American women.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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