Black hair care has become a multi-billion dollar business and many of the products depend on chemical formulas to make them work, but a new study reveals a toxic hair chemical in hair products for Black women may increase the risk of breast cancer.
According to a study from Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, parabens, which is a group of chemicals that prevents mold and bacteria from growing on beauty products, can trigger the growth of breast cancer cells.
The study reported that while over 90 percent of people in the United States have parabens in their bodies, higher concentrations were found in women and Black Americans. Additionally, hair products marketed and used in Black communities are more likely to contain parabens.
“One reason for the higher risk of breast cancer may be exposure to harmful chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals in hair and personal care products. These chemicals mimic the effects of hormones on the body,” Lindsey S. Treviño, the study’s lead researcher, said in a press release.
A survey that searched for hair care products that are paraben-free showed that fewer of those products are marketed to African American women. However, Treviño also suggested that more research is needed.
“Black women are more likely to buy and use hair products with these types of chemicals, but we do not have a lot of data about how parabens may increase breast cancer risk in Black women,” Treviño continued. “This is because Black women have not been picked to take part in most research studies looking at this link. Also, studies to test this link have only used breast cancer cell lines from white women."
The study, conducted by City of Hope, was part of a community-led project called the Bench to Community Initiative (BCI), which works with scientists, community members and breast cancer patients to reduce exposures to dangerous chemicals in hair and personal care products used by Black women.
Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study tracks 59,000 participants who enrolled back in 1995 and did not see a connection between moderate use of hair relaxers and a higher risk of breast cancer. However, the study did state “heavy use of lye-containing hair relaxers” may be associated with a more aggressive form of breast cancer.
Black women have a 41 percent higher death rate from breast cancer, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
To learn more about breast cancer, self-advocacy and the different types of treatment available, visit the Susan G. Komen website.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that the study was conducted in partnership with Bench to Community Initiative (BCI). In fact, it was conducted in partnership with City of Hope and was part of BCI.