Living on Earth - Toxic Black Hair Products

June 15, 2018

By: Steve Curwood

Excerpt: "CURWOOD: Hair: you can style it just about any way you like – if you use enough heat or hair product. And if your hair reflects your African roots but you’d rather keep it straight and smooth, chances are you use a whole bunch of products including leave-in conditioners, root stimulators, and relaxers. But some of these products may be harmful to your health. The Silent Spring Institute measured concentrations of estrogen-mimickers and other chemicals that disrupt the hormone system in hair products marketed to black women. They tested 18 popular products and detected between 4 and 30 of these chemicals in each one, and worked with epidemiologist Tamarra James-Todd at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. And she joins us now. Welcome to Living on Earth!

JAMES-TODD: Thank you so much for having me.

CURWOOD: So, talk to me about how diverse black women’s hair is. You know, as black people, we come in all kinds of shades; I imagine, the hair comes all kinds of different ways.

JAMES-TODD: Right. So, there are different textures and different grades of hair from relatively straight hair to very curly, sometimes called “kinky” hair, and they have different requirements. It's really dependent on the shape of the hair shaft, but that can cause people to need to use different types of products.

CURWOOD: And people often don't like the hair they have. If it's straight, they want it curly. If it's curly, they want it straight, huh?

JAMES-TODD: I think that would be universal for most women. [LAUGHS] Definitely. But certainly in the black community I think that there are some real issues around hair and part of that is kind of social and cultural issues regarding what is seen as beautiful, with straight long hair being kind of the stamp of beauty -- oftentimes in American culture particularly, in Western culture -- and so, people will do different things to try to adhere to that standard of beauty."