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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Cancer and your hair products

Source: The Green Guide

For those recovering from and at risk for cancer, recognizing the links between your personal care products and personal health can be vital to preventing continued exposure to possible carcinogens like diethanolamine, contained in many shampoos and other products (see below). According to a 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), 93 percent of shampoos possibly contain harmful impurities linked to cancer or other health problems. Additionally, EWG found that 69 percent of hair-dye products may pose cancer risks.

Regardless of your current health, it’s important to know the ingredients in your personal care items.

Hair Relaxers

Lye relaxers contain sodium hydroxide as an active ingredient. Sodium hydroxide can cause skin irritation, burns and necrosis as well as breathing difficulty when inhaled. Although “no lye” relaxers don’t contain sodium hydroxide and result in less skin irritation than lye products, they too can burn the scalp if used incorrectly.

Additionally, many relaxers contain paraben preservatives. Parabens are allergens and, according to research published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Applied Toxicology, have been found in breast tumors. An accompanying article suggested that adolescents and close relatives of breast-cancer patients may be at an increased risk due to continued exposure.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns consumers to use caution when using relaxers, as chemicals may accidentally enter the eyes.


Ceramic and metal straighteners are a non-chemical option for temporarily straightening hair. Although ceramic straighteners cost more than metal ones, many salons use ceramic straighteners as they have a reputation for working more effectively. As with any heated surface, straighteners can cause contact burns and should be kept out of reach of small children. Remain on the lookout for straighteners claiming to have a “non-stick” coating. According to research by the EWG, some companies have used a Teflon coating on their straighteners. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) panel recently identified perfluorooctanic acid (PFOA), a chemical used in making Teflon, as a “likely human carcinogen.”

Shampoos and Conditioners

The National Toxicology Program has found that diethanolamine (DEA), widely used in shampoos, can cause cancer in mice, and there is some evidence the related compound triethanolamine (TEA), may do the same. Contamination by nitrites can turn DEA into the compound N-nitrosodiethanolamine, considered possibly carcinogenic in humans by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Contamination is more likely if the shampoo also contains Bronopol (also known as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol).

Found in many shampoos, sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can cause contact dermatitis. Fragrance, another common shampoo and conditioner ingredient, can include possible skin irritants and allergens. The FDA does not require companies to disclose the ingredients listed as “fragrance” and many include phthalates, chemicals that have been found to produce cancer of the liver and birth defects in lab animals.

Hair Dyes

There are two kinds of permanent dyes: oxidation and progressive. Oxidation dyes contain a combination of hydrogen peroxide, which can be an irritant, dye and ammonia, while progressive dyes contain lead acetate as the active ingredient, with up to ten times the lead level allowed in house paint. Watch out for coal tar colors: FD&C Blue 1 and FD&C Green 3 are carcinogenic, and impurities in other colors—D&C Red 33, FD&C Yellow 5 and FD&C Yellow 6—have been shown to cause cancer when applied to the skin.

Henna is a gentle alternative to the harsh chemical dyes commonly used in beauty salons. And while it will not penetrate the hair shaft to truly color it, the pigment will tint your hair.

Styling Products

Unfortunately, styling products contain various combinations of parabens, phthalates, fragrance and coal tar colors, so read ingredient labels carefully.

Better Choices

Luckily, there are a number of eco-friendly and health sensitive hair care products for African Americans. Although they may not be as widely advertised as those for Caucasians, they do exist. And often, some products can work for both ethnic groups.


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