Uterine fibroids are just worse for black women than for any other group. African Americans develop these tumors three times as often as women of other races. Plus, their fibroids develop earlier–often in their twenties. In comparison, most white women don’t get fibroids until their 30s. Of course, those are scary statistics. But what’s worse? We don’t have concrete explanations for the disparities. What we do have, however, are theories. And one of those theories has to do with hair styling.
Could Hair Products Impact Fibroids?
Hair products–can’t live without ’em, right? Well, as it turns out, it also may not be wise to live with them.
According to the Silent Spring Institute, many of the hair products marketed to black women are full of harmful chemicals. Ever wondered why they smell so bad? It’s basically the poisons inside them. They’re just revealing their nature.
In fact, there is some science to back up this claim. A 2017 Rutgers University study linked breast cancer and Black women’s use of hair relaxers. A 2012 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology associated fibroid risk with the use of hair relaxers. Shirley McDonald of the Hair and Scalp Clinic says, “We now know that many hair products contain chemicals that are considered carcinogenic and/or hormone disrupters, leading to increased risk of medical issues such as fibroids (non-cancerous tumors that grow in the uterus, potentially damaging fertility and leading to a host of other complications). Trichologists see lots of conditions that are likely to be triggered by hair products, particularly central centrifugal cicatricial alopecia, a type of permanent hair loss to the crown area of the scalp.”
Chemicals in Black Women’s Hair Products
Among the many dangerous substances in black women’s hair products? Cyclosiloxanes, nonylphenols (also found in certain detergents), and phthalates (also found in plastics, they are the main reason people are working to ban plastics from food containers.) Besides their toxicity, each of these chemicals share a common bond–they have all been linked to hormone disruption as well as an increased risk of developing fibroids, asthma, infertility, and even cancer. That’s a hefty price to pay for shinier hair.
Throwing Flames on the Fire
Being exposed to these chemicals is particularly troubling for black women, as they already have a higher risk of developing fibroids than other populations of women. Family history plays a part in that risk but, more and more, certain hair products are also starting to shoulder the blame. According to the Silent Spring study mentioned earlier, 80% of Black hair products they tested contained “endocrine-disrupting and asthma-causing chemicals.” Products examined included by the study included relaxers, hot oil treatments, leave-in conditioners, and anti-frizz balms. The scariest statistic? Hair relaxers that specifically targeted children had the highest levels of chemicals; many of those chemicals have already been banned in the EU.
New Evidence Links Relaxers to Female Cancers
Of course, fibroids are a major problem. But hair relaxers are linked to so many other health problems. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) just released results from an eight-year study. They followed over 46,000 women, of all races between the ages of 35–74. And they found a link between chemical hair relaxers and breast cancer. Perhaps not surprisingly, African American women had a 45 percent increased risk of breast cancer as compared to women of other races.
While you can’t do anything about your family history, being selective about the hair products you choose can certainly go along way towards protecting your health. To find out more about dangerous hair care products and your individual fibroid risk, please contact our office for a consultation with Dr. Fox or Dr. Hardee.
Sources: NY Times parenting, Silent Spring Institute, NIH