Lye, phthalates, placenta and parabens are among the hazardous chemicals found in a multitude of hair care products marketed toward African-American women. Lye, or sodium hydroxide, can cause chemical burns, scars and blindness. Phthalates, sometimes listed simply as “fragrance” on product ingredient lists, is also linked to endometriosis, or when uterine lining grows outside the uterus. Phthalates, parabens and animal placenta can mimic hormones and disrupt critical processes in the body, scientists have said.
“African-American women, compared to their white counterparts, have higher levels of phthalates and they have higher levels of BPA,” said Dr. Ami Zota, an environmental health researcher at the University of California San Francisco. BPA is used in plastic manufacturing and has been linked to cancer and reproductive abnormalities. “Nobody has really figured out why,” Dr. Zota said. “But I think the hair care products are part of that story.”
The hormone disruptors in beauty products may have already had an effect on a generation of young girls. The onset of puberty for all girls in the U.S. has gradually increased by a few months since the 1950s, while breast development has accelerated by up to two years, according to a 2009 report from the Collaborative on Health and the Environment.