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?