The Hazardous Chemicals Lurking in Your Hair Care Products

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Caring for your Afro hair is a journey

 When Slavery was abolished in the 19th century, many Black people felt compelled to fit into the mainstream European/Western culture. This led to an increase in the use of chemicals to help straighten or texturize their hair to give it that straight, smooth, and silky appearances. However, what these chemicals did in the process, is damage Afro hair types.   

 Currently, there is a natural hair movement in the UK and Afro consumers are demanding to know the chemical compositions of hair care products. This demand for information stems from years of trusted brands that have always promoted hair care products as the ‘one for all users’, only to find that it often leads to extreme hair loss. 


 A study conducted by the Environmental Working Group (2016) found that 70% of hair care products for afro hair such as shampoos, conditioners, hair dying agents, and hair relaxers contain hazardous chemicals compared with 40% of hair products that are made for the general public.


The study of more than 1,100 black hair care products marketed for black consumers found a bias in the chemical composition of the products. Less than one in four products tested “low hazard” for the inclusion of dangerous ingredients, with most containing toxic chemicals that can potentially cause cancer or developmental and reproductive damage, disrupt hormones and trigger other adverse health effects. Toxic ingredients such as lye (found in relaxers) and formaldehyde (found in keratin straightening treatments and Brazilian blowouts) are still commonly used in black hair salons. The lack of proper regulation in the cosmetic industry has allowed this to happen but new regulations will hopefully help to address this issue in the UK. 

Having transitioned from permed hair to natural hair, one year ago, I can attest that there is a need for hair education. Like my fellow sisters, I grew up watching my mom and grandmother struggled with maintaining my hair. I’ve had a hot press comb through my long kinky,coily hair with the occasional outburst ” lawd, your hair hard man”, and TCB hair straighteners that left my scalp with sores and cause my hair to break excessively. I guess this was something that happened from generation to generation due to the portrayal of ideal beauty being centered around Eurocentric societal standards. Anything else is considered “bad hair”. I once believed this to be true to the extent that I have lost count on how many occasions I have tried to achieve this ideal ” good hair” gyal image. I tried to do the impossible. My hair couldn’t cope.

Please don’t get me wrong, nothing is wrong with having straight hair because the natural hair movement is all about choice. By choosing to keep my hair in its natural form, I am writing my own narrative of what is good hair, I am building my self-confidence and embracing my own beauty and culture. Lupita Nygongo once said: “I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be”


When deciding on a product, you must check the first five ingredients list as research has shown that it makes up 90% of what is in the product. Remember that part of the hair care journey involves two key things: develop an everyday routine and pay attention to what works and what does not. You can even keep a hair care journal to help you note things down.

Healthy Hair Ingredients

  • Shea butter ( protects the hair strand)
  • Castor oil (antifungal; cleans the scalp, clearing follicles and promoting hair growth)
  • Coconut oil ( seals moisture around the hair follicle)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (moisturizer, good at softening hair)
  • Grapeseed (lightweight conditioner and moisturizer; good at fighting dandruff; easily absorbs into hair and scalp and is packed with healthy fatty acids)
  • Aloe vera (contains proteolytic enzymes good for healing scalp problems and stimulating hair growth)
  • Avocado (dermatological benefits for the scalp, with vitamins A, D, and E; effectively lubricates hair strand, preventing breakage)
  • Honey (antifungal)
  • Jojoba (hair strengthener, rich in vitamins C, E, and B; repairs scalp dryness and inflammation)

Hazardous Ingredients to Avoid

  • Calcium hydroxide
  • Formaldehyde or methylene glycol (formaldehyde is also released by DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, and imidazolididinyl urea)
  • Lead acetate (common in hair dyes)
  • Methylisothiazolinone
  • Parabens (propylparaben, butylparaben, or methylparaben)
  • Petrolatum
  • Retyinal palmitate
  • Specific alcohols:
    • Alcohol denat, ethanol, propanol, isopropyl, propyl, SD alcohol #4 (also known by stylists as wood alcohol)
  • Sulfates (strips the hair of moisture)
  • Silicones

Remember the journey to healthy hair starts with using natural ingredients.

Please share and comment. I would love to hear all about your hair care routine and journey.  

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