Hair care products may pose health hazards to Black women

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By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A number of beauty products marketed to Black women often contain the most toxic ingredients used by the cosmetics industry, including chemicals linked to breast and ovarian cancer, hormone disruption, developmental and reproductive damage such as uterine fibroids, allergies and other adverse health effects.

In an analysis of ingredients in 1,177 beauty and personal care products marketed to Black women, it was reported that about one in 12 was ranked highly hazardous. Research has revealed that 78% of products on the Black hair care market have been found to have toxic products. 

Several doctors appeared at the KJLH Women’s Health Expo at the Long Beach Convention Center June 10 to talk about the hazards of using toxic hair care products that have grown into a billion dollar industry.

Dr. Kelly Cleary, a doctor of behavioral health, admitted that she used to use hair straighteners on a regular basis. “Soon I found out that my hair was starting to fall out,” she said. “The hair straightening products I was using were affecting my hormones.

“Many hair care companies do not expose their trade secrets when it comes to listing ingredients in hair products,” added Cleary, who has been utilizing Instagram Live to educate women about the toxic chemicals that can be found in beauty products.

She urges all Black women to take charge of their health by being aware of what they put into and on their bodies. 

To further bring awareness to Black hair care, Cleary is working alongside the California Black Health Network on their Non Toxic Black Beauty Initiative which is being funded by a grant-funded initiative by the the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Dr. Astrid Williams, who has a doctorate in public health, is a manager for Black Women for Wellness and an expert in environmental and beauty jusice.

“Black women as compared to our white counterparts have an unequal exposure to environmental toxins largely due to beauty products and the environmental chemicals in our bodies,” she said. 

Some Black women are afraid of workplace discrimination. If they have a job, they may be fearful of wearing their hair a certain way because they feel that their hair may impact advancement of career opportunities. But California was one of the first states to approve the Crown Act, which forbids discrimination against Black natural hairstyles and was passed into legislation in 2019.

“What does defining beauty look like?” Williams asked. “If you look at advertisements and videos, what do they emphasize? Someone who is fair skinned or white which breaks down to the presence of colorism in the Black community. 

“But just look at singer Lizzo, who is bucking the system and who is unapologetically celebrating her body and hair. Beauty justice celebrates the diversity of our natural selves so that we can show it authentically. Why does beauty justice matter? It’s because the law has not protected us.

“When you go into the beauty salon and pull something off the shelf, you may think, ‘Oh, it’s sold in a store. It’s safe, right?’ But that is not the case because the hair care industry is a highly unregulated industry,” Williams said. “In the U. S., we have only banned 11 of those toxic beauty chemicals, although 10,000 exist. We have to come together and ban these policies and regulations so that we can lobby for (stricter) laws around these hair chemical products. 

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at

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