Popular black hair products may contain toxic chemicals, study says

BOSTON — A recent study may have found a link between chemicals found in popular hair products used by black women and girls and hormone and asthma-related illnesses.

The study, conducted by the Newton-based Silent Springs Institute, suggests the main ingredients in things as common as shampoo and conditioner may contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and pre-term birth.

Toxic ingredients in 18 hair products more commonly used by black women were linked to hormone and asthma-related illnesses, according to the study.

Products like leave-in conditioner, anti-freeze polish, and relaxers, used by black girls, may also contain harmful chemicals.

"Historically speaking, we come from a culture where we were using juices and berries and then we don't have those things anymore and our culture got very used to using wheelbarrow grease and using petroleum to style our hair, especially during enslavement times," said Daria Jones, a local hair stylist. "We need to step away from the stigma of actually selecting a product that's black or ethnic, and we need to go for products for our hair texture or hair porosity and really focus on those things."

Stylist Daria Jones works at one of Boston's only salons that use completely natural, sulfate and paraben-free products.

Researchers say black hair care products are largely untested and unregulated, where 84 percent of the harmful chemicals detected in this study weren't even on the label.

Parabens and the fragrance diethyl phthalate, or DEP, that can be found in these popular products are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, early puberty and preterm birth.

The staff at Parisian Style Beauty Supply and Salon said the biggest mistake people make is that they don't read their beauty products' labels.

They said one of the first three items listed on the back of your products should be water, and to always opt for products that are paraban and sulfate-free.

"What goes in your hair goes in your body as well because your scalp has pores," said Ashley Sousa, who works at Parisian Style Beauty Supply and Salon.

With findings such as these, researchers are calling for more regulations within the beauty industry.