Beware of Certain Hair Products

The other day, I learned something alarming from a friend. I mentioned the battle that is combing Eli’s curls in the shower, when she inquired about the safety of the products that I use.

I told her that I didn’t know. “Why?”

She said she heard a news story about hormones in relaxers and other hair-straightening products that were causing early development in African-American girls. Her re-telling the story made me think of my own childhood.

It was true that the girls, largely Latinas and African-Americans, that I grew up with in Miami started their periods early (9 and 10 years old) and had breasts at a very young age. Meanwhile, when I moved up to New Hampshire, I was surprised to learn that the Caucasian women around me started their periods older (12 and 13). This is all anecdotal, of course, but I always assumed there was something in our diets that was causing our girls to develop young.

I never considered the products we were using in our hair, and needless to say, this conversation with my friend made me go home and look up some of these products — Eli’s conditioner! — in the cosmetics database of the Environmental Working Group.

Thankfully, Eli’s conditioner, a Walgreens-branded “moisturizing” conditioner, did not contain any chemicals on EWG’s harmful list. But pretty much all the products I used as a kid contained hormones and even cancer-causing agents. One example was Luster’s Pink Light Oil Moisturizer Hair Lotion, which scored a 7 out of 10 in EWG’s hazardous index for “developmental/reproductive toxicity, violations, restrictions and warnings, and allergies/immunotoxicity.

“Other concerns for ingredients used in this product: Neurotoxicity, Endocrine disruption, Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive), Miscellaneous, Multiple, additive exposure sources, Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs), Enhanced skin absorption, Contamination concerns, Occupational hazards, Biochemical or cellular level changes.”

Yikes! I looked up another childhood favorite straightening hair product of mine, the Vo5 hot oil treatment. It scored a 6 out of 10 in terms of its hazards. Why is it bad?

“Ingredients in this product are linked to: cancer, developmental/reproductive toxicity, violations, restrictions and warnings, allergies/immunotoxicity.”

It also had that warning about neurotoxicity and endocrine disruption.

All the relaxers, even the “organic” and “natural” ones, scored an abysmal 8 or 9 in the EWG index.

I was surprised that I found so little information about relaxers, in general, even though so many women of color use them. I did spot this disturbing article in a journal about race and discrimination about the toxic chemicals in relaxers and the need for more research on their health effects.

I don’t mean to alarm those of you with little girls who have adorable curls. But as someone who saw so many little girls develop way before their time, it was important to me to protect Eli for as long as I could. At least there is a quick online resource to check out all products I use in her hair.

What do you all use in your children’s hair?  


Are You a Ballbreaker?

A new study suggests that if you possess high levels of the male hormone, testosterone, you are more likely to be a risk taker.

The US study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that female business students with higher levels of testosterone were more likely to opt for risky financial deals when given the theoretical choice of a high-risk, high-return option and a guaranteed investment.

The authors said their study showed gender differences when it came to financial risk had a biological basis – and that differences in testosterone levels could affect decisions not just about finances but career choices too.

But, is this study credible? An interesting point brought up by this article was the possibility of this being evidence of our willingness to let nature trump nurture when it comes to explaining complex social issues. In other words, if it becomes difficult to explain, blame it on high levels of testosterone! If a man strays? It’s a high sex drives due to high levels of testosterone! If a man is really aggressive? High levels of testosterone! If you begin to grow thick facial hair like a man? Well, it’s high levels of testosterone. You get the point.

So, which is it? Is it that we have to have this “need” of crashing through the glass ceiling explained by a “study”? Is it the high levels of testosterone rushing through our system that make us risk takers and thus “ball breakers”? Or is it our inability to settle for mediocrity, whether it be in our home life, in our love life, or in our work life, that make us the ball breaker?

I know what my answer is. What’s yours?


So does anyone else have this problem?  And does it go away?

I’ve been a long-time-mostly-lurker on this site, and I want to first say that I love reading everything you ladies have to say.  Even though I don’t usually comment on any of the diaries (I’m usually reading at work), I love seeing all your conversations each day.

That said, I am the mother of one two year old boy.

And I have this embarrassing problem.

Everything makes me cry!  I’ve always been the type to cry over sentimental movies, sad little house on the prairie episodes, etc., but now IT’S EVERYTHING!    Even songs in languages I’ve never heard!  It’s terrible when a co-worker walks into my office and I’m tearing up over a sad sounding song in a foreign language playing on NPR, or a life insurance commercial (DUDE?)!

So, at first I thought this was hormones.  But piglet (who we call piglet b/c he was born in the Year of the Pig, and right before he was born I kept reading all these articles about the Year of the Golden (or Fire?) Pig in China being an auspicious birth year) is now two, and has been weaned for several months.  

So does this get better?  I wish someone would just slap me and tell me to lighten up!


Guessing, grrrr!

I have strange reactions to being pregnant.

I get irrationally angry when people guess that I’m pregnant.  I’m only 6 weeks along, so there is no baby bump to be seen yet.  However, a woman of a certain age is apparently not allowed to get sick.  I was in a training class for my new job, and I called in sick twice over the several week class with, I swear to God, food poisoning.  My stomach clearly does not like the salads in the cafeteria.  On the last day of class, I was told by well-meaning, perfectly lovely classmates (ironically, as I was on the phone checking my messages to see if the doctor had called with my results) that there are bets out on whether or not I’m pregnant.  I was so peeved, I have been trying to figure out ways to hide my pregnancy for as long as frickin’ possible so as to delay proving all these people right.  (I have excellent precedent for this–I didn’t tell work about my first pregancy until I was 5.5 months along.  And I only did it then because they wanted to send me to India.)  I get very angry at the thought of hearing them say “we knew it!!!”  For god’s sake, why can’t food poisoning just be food poisoning?

Its not just colleagues at work.  That would be understandable, especially since I will deliver before I hit the one year mark of my employment and therefore do not have FMLA protection.  I even have this reaction with my friends.  I went home this weekend to have a girl’s night out with several ladies I’ve known since high school.  We’re talking, God help me, 20 years or more of friendship.  I had every intention of sharing my news.  But one of the girls had just had a miscarriage and it was still raw, and I was hesitant.  Then this same girl (dammit, we’re still girls, I don’t care how long its been since high school) noticed that I didn’t look so hot, and that I hadn’t ordered liquor.  She leaned over to me, and said with a twinkle in her eye and a grin on her face “Are you pregnant?”  She clearly would have been so happy for me.  But I stonewalled, nicely and sensitively and all that, but at that moment I unequivocably decided I wasn’t telling.  Clearly, it is so ridiculous, and I KNOW IT.  But I was peeved all over again, and I didn’t want to share the news.

There is also the problem of my very best friend of 21 years.  Pregnancy seems to remove my filter that keeps her from annoying me to death.  I ripped her head off this weekend for absolutely no good reason.  21 years of friendship apparently cannot stand up to my hormones.  She, thankfully, does know I’m pregnant, so I’m hoping she can forgive me.  She did nothing horrible, there was no insult issued or anything, I just get incredibly annoyed by her.

All of these things happened to me during my first pregnancy, but I wrote it all off to suffering debilitating morning-and-the-rest- of-the-entire-day sickness for the first five or so months of my pregnancy.  (I was mad at my poor BF for almost seven months, and could barely bring myself to congratulate her on her own pregnancy.  I am a horrible person.)  Obviously, I was wrong, because I’m not having the same morning sickness this go round.  (Thank you, God.)  I don’t know why I can’t find the joy.  I had seriously hoped that, now that I know that 10 months of a miserable pregnancy results in the most amazing 2 years and counting with a precious little girl, I would be able to enjoy my pregnancy and be one of those women (my arch-nemeses, as I take to calling them during pregnancy) that marvels at the miracle of growing another life in my body.  But that is not to be.  Having to tell other people annoys me.  And I’m further annoyed that, at only 6 weeks, I already don’t fit into a lot of my work clothes so there is no chance in hell that I’m going to be able to wait until Christmas to tell the boss like last time.

I am disappointed that I can’t be happy.  I realize that 6 weeks is a short time, and I may get happier later.  But telling people you’re pregnant, when you’re married and in a good place in life and you want the baby, should be such a joyful thing!  I feel a little gypped.



Fish and the Pill

All rivers flow to the sea… Chemicals from birth control pills are leaving women via their pee and winding their way to water treatment facilities, which are adept at capturing metals, bacteria, and sediment, but not so good at capturing hormones. Water treatment technology hasn’t advanced to the point of having the capacity to filter out prescription drug residue like antibiotics and estrogen. Slowly, what is coming to light is that some drugs are messing with the fertility and gender development of aquatic species. Other studies are showing that these substances are getting into drinking water.

When EPA-funded scientists at the University of Colorado studied fish in a pristine mountain stream known as Boulder Creek two years ago, they were shocked. Randomly netting 123 trout and other fish downstream from the city’s sewer plant, they found that 101 were female, 12 were male and 10 were strange “intersex“ fish with male and female features…

They studied the fish and decided the main culprits were estrogens and other steroid hormones from birth-control pills and patches, excreted in urine into the city’s sewage system and then into the creek…

Woodling, University of Colorado physiology professor David Norris, and their EPA-study team were among the first scientists in the country to learn that a slurry of hormones, antibiotics, caffeine and steroids is coursing down the nation’s waterways, threatening fish and contaminating drinking water.

Stories about this phenomenon are popping up here and there as more studies are published, but the one I read in the National Catholic Register has an interesting angle (as you would imagine).

The irony the article wishes to call out is that environmentalists are willing to go to great lengths to fight against genetically modified organisms, global warming, toxic pesticides, etc. But enviros are curiously unconcerned about the issue of hormones polluting waterways, because they’re afraid to tell women to stop using birth control pills. Essentially, these are two competing lefty causes: the environment and birth control.

I must say I agree: this is an uncomfortable dilemma for progressives that forces difficult choices. It’s not a difficult choice for the Catholic Church, which already takes a dim view of birth control methods other than “natural family planning.” The deformation of fish is simply corroborating what they already believe about the pill–it’s against God’s plan. (I wonder if they feel the same way about antibiotics…) But for me, I find it difficult to weigh the importance of family planning options against the importance of clean water.

Rebecca Goldburg, a New Jersey biologist working with Environmental Defense, told the North Jersey News: “I’m not sure I want even low levels of birth control pills in my daughter’s drinking water.“

Ball said she’s alarmed by the sex-altered fish in Boulder Creek, and worries about the ramifications for humans.

“Unfortunately, it is emerging as a major issue in creeks and waterways all over the earth, and we’re seeing more and more anomalies, not just with fish but with frogs and other aquatic life. I think it’s a precursor to what will happen to humans who drink contaminated water,“ Ball said.

Ball said she’s shocked that citizens of Boulder haven’t organized and taken to the streets, as many Colorado environmentalists did upon learning that farmers and agri-businesses were genetically altering crops. She said the major source of contamination that’s mutating Boulder Creek fish – birth control – makes it a political hot potato.

To avoid genetically modified crops, Ball said, one needed only to buy organic, genetically modified organism-free products at health food stores. Asking residents to stop polluting water with hormones, however, “gets into the bedroom.“

“I’m not going there,“ Ball said. “This involves people’s personal lives, child bearing issues, sex lives and personal choices. Maybe people are saying, ‘O my God, what do we do about this?’“

“Apathy is the fear of sticking your toe in, for fear it will change your life,“ she said. “Sometimes positive change does require a change in lifestyle.“

Maybe they need to start marketing condoms to environmentalists!