A new study shows that a toxic chemical used in hair products for black women fuels breast cancer.

The chemicals are called parabens. Manufacturers favour them because they prevent the growth of mould and bacteria, thus prolonging a product’s shelf life. 

The study found that parabens increased the growth of breast cancer cell lines in black people, but did not affect breast cancer cell lines in white people at the same dose. 

The chemicals have already come under scrutiny as previous research showed parabens can mimic the hormone oestrogen, possibly fueling dangerous cell growth.

But the effect on black women in particular was never closely studied as they were not picked to take part in most research related to the topic, despite having a 41% higher death rate from breast cancer in the US, according to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Studies testing the link with cancer only used breast cancer cell lines from white women. 👀 This is according to Lindsey S. Treviño, the new study’s lead researcher. That thankfully changed with her research. 

Cancer isn’t the only problem. In 2019 other researchers tested 18 hair products commonly used by black women like hot oil treatment, anti-frizz/polish, leave-in conditioner, root stimulator, hair lotion, and relaxers. They found multiple chemicals associated with endocrine disruption and asthma in these products. Frighteningly, the hair relaxers for children they tested contained chemicals prohibited by EU cosmetics regulation, that were often NOT listed on the product label. 😱

It’s a shocking legacy of historical prejudice and insecurity related to black hair, and a still-thriving industry that makes billions off the back of this, using dangerous chemicals. We’re glad that’s starting to be challenged.