The results of a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology have some black women thinking about going “au natural” when it comes to their hair. A published paper from researchers at Boston University linked hair relaxers to uterine fibroid tumors in women and early puberty in young girls.
Led by Dr. Lauren Wise of Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center, scientists followed more than 23,000 pre-menopausal black American women from 1997 to 2009 and found that the increased rate of fibroid growth among black women may be linked to chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns resulting from relaxers.
In the study, among African-American women who had reported being diagnosed with uterine fibroids, a majority of them also admitted to having had chemical relaxer treatments at some time. According to researchers, such hair products may contain hormonally active chemicals, like parabens and phthalates that have been known to cause negative effects on cell models and animals and are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration. The article proposes that these chemicals can be absorbed into the skin via lesions from chemical burns.
According to the study, women who got their first menstrual period before the age of 10 were also more likely to have uterine fibroids, and early menstruation may result from hair products that these young, black girls are using. This is reportedly at an earlier age than other racial groups including African Caribbean, Hispanic, and White women in New York City. The women’s first menstrual period (menarche) varied anywhere from age 8 to age 19, but African Americans, who were more likely to use straightening and relaxers hair oils, also reached menarche earlier than these racial/ethnic groups.
While so far, there is only an association rather than a cause and effect relationship between relaxers, menarche, and fibroid tumors, as Tamika Fletcher, co-owner of Natural Resources salon in Houston, pointed out in a Fox Report, the hair care industry isn’t regulated by the FDA so there’s no telling what black women are putting in their hair and how harmful those products may be.