The Fight To Get Toxic Chemicals Out Of Black Salons

Photo: Leonard McCombe/Getty Images.
I vividly recall my first time getting a whiff of relaxer. The smell of the white, creamy substance used to straighten hair fills the salon as soon as the stylist pops off the top of the container. It's hard to pinpoint exactly, but the scent is most like a combination of Nair, rotten eggs, and bleach. No matter how you might categorize the aroma, one thing's for sure: There's no way something with a smell like that, that can cause mild to severe burning of the scalp, and has the ability to disintegrate a soda can, is kosher to be around for long periods of time. This is the issue that The Atlantic is bringing to light in a recent article.

When Teni Adewumi, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, spoke with stylists in Inglewood, California, she noticed a common theme among African-American salon workers: They all suffered from similar health concerns. And we're not talking bad backs or sore feet — although we're sure those were problems, as well. These ailments were more severe, like asthma, hair loss, miscarriages, and uterine fibroids.

“When we held focus groups with salon workers, we found these stories of lack of education on chemical exposures and chemical-related health problems,” Adewumi told The Atlantic. “Even though they had all gone to beauty school, there was just really no training around what these products could do to your body and to your reproductive system.”

In response, Adewumi is aiming to educate women on these health risks through the nonprofit organization Black Women for Wellness. As the environmental-justice program coordinator, she helps train stylists on safe products and practices — from understanding the ingredients in products to protecting themselves from certain equipment.

Even though they had all gone to beauty school, there was just really no training around what these products could do to your body and to your reproductive system.

Teni Adewumi
Advertisement
The article explains that the main reasons stylists are often kept in the dark regarding the risks are the lack of research regarding long-term health effects and the loose federal regulation of the beauty industry: "The FDA regulates cosmetics in the U.S., but it doesn’t approve products before they hit the shelves. It also doesn’t require manufacturers to list the ingredients of professional salon products. In the U.S., companies can ask for forgiveness rather than permission, letting potentially hazardous products slip through the cracks."

While advocates like Adewumi are working to enact legislation that "requires manufacturers to list ingredients on all beauty-product labels; bans ingredients linked to cancer, birth defects, and developmental harm; empowers the FDA to recall unsafe products; and enforces stricter salon safety standards," it might be some time until we see true change, largely thanks to the chemical lobby.

In the meantime, there's a way you can help. Head over to The Atlantic to read the informative piece in its entirety, print out some information about the dangers of certain chemicals (along with what products to avoid), and start a conversation with your own stylist about safety.
Advertisement

More from Hair

While the summer may have some beauty benefits (hello, dewy skin!), it can seem like a crapshoot for your hair. From protecting your color to maintaining ...
Classic 💀 Beard Accessory @kratomilano First orders are available with 50% off discounts! Link in the bio ☝️️Respect to true beardsmen 👊👊 #beard #...
Sure, the lob may be the reigning cool-girl cut. And you may have a few friends who are snipping their strands into impossibly chic pixies. But that doesn'...
Looks like the PLL star is trying to soak in all of the fun as a blonde. Her hairstylist, Kristin Ess, posted a picture on Instagram of the actress ...
After a long summer of hot sun, chlorine, and salt water, your strands may not be looking their best. That's why fall is the perfect time for a hair ...
We'd be lying if we said our desktops, Pinterest boards, and Instagram explore pages weren't loaded with hair porn. While we like stalking our friends' ...
In the past few years, we’ve witnessed the launch of silent hair dryers and damage-free bleaching. We’ve learned that shampoo comes after conditioner, and ...
Our hair loves the idea of summertime. Beachy waves! Golden highlights! Braids on braids on braids! But unfortunately, summertime doesn’t always love our ...
Think about your most expensive possession. You probably treat it with the utmost care, making sure to keep it away from anything that may cause it damage...
Can I get an amen for air-drying? For those of us who lack the time, energy, or desire to repeatedly shoot a concentrated stream of scorching hot air on ...
Blowdryers are essential. (Not in the way that food, water, and shelter are, but you know what we mean...) And essentials just aren't that sexy. Add the ...
The curly-hair market has been booming lately. New natural hair brands are popping up left and right, while "mainstream" lines are adding more products and...
Over the past few years, the tousled beach-wave look has proven to be much more than a passing trend. It’s a hairstyle with staying power, possibly on its ...
As you well know, we love drugstore products here at R29. Which isn't to say that prestige products are overrated. But finding a balance between high and ...