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Campaign Group Takes Against ‘Toxic’ Hair Products Marketed At Black Women

Hair relaxers and leave-in conditioners and oils, commonly used by Black/African American women, may contain estrogens or estrogen-disrupting compounds

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Divya Dhadd
Divya Dhadd
Journalist

UNITED STATES: A campaign group, Level Up is demanding that “toxic” hair products marketed at Black women be taken off the shelves, after research found that long-term use of lye-based relaxers used for hair treatment may be linked to increased breast cancer risk, apart from hormonal imbalance and fertility problems, learned Transcontinental Times.

The group, which previously forced ITV to remove plastic surgery and diet pill adverts from Love Island, is behind the #NoMoreLyes campaign petition and is challenging some brands to respond.

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Lye is the common name for highly corrosive sodium hydroxide.

Seyi Falodun-Liburd, the group’s co-director, said it is “disgraceful that well-established companies are still using harmful hydroxides in their relaxers”.

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“If the lives of Black women and girls are important to these companies, they’ll listen to the science and the voices of Black women and take these poisonous products off the shelves,” she said.

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A recent study, published in the Carcinogenesis Journal by Oxford University, concluded that Black women who used lye-based relaxers at least seven times a year for over 15 years or more, had around a 30 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer, compared with those who used it less frequently.

The US-based researchers examined data from Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study, which followed more than 50,000 African American women for more than 25 years to assess their medical diagnoses and any factors that could influence their health. 

It was found that between 1997 and 2017, around 95 per cent reported using lye-based relaxers and 2,311 developed breast cancers.

Concerns around racial disparities in healthcare linked to chemicals used in cosmetic products are not new; previous studies, as far back as 2012, have also suggested a link between the use of chemical relaxers and uterine fibroids, a condition that disproportionately affects Black women.

Detailed research in this area has yet to be carried out in the UK, but Black British women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer than their white counterparts, according to data from Public Health England and Cancer Research UK.

Responding to #NoMoreLyes, World Afro Day founder Michelle De Leon said, “If we can ask companies to be cleaner for the environment, then we can also ask them to protect Black women’s bodies from harmful chemicals.”

“Hair discrimination has long been a life and death issue for Black people and more studies are showing this to be the case.”

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