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Jul 25
Black Hair Salon Study Offers Health Lessons

​The Black Hair Salon Study is a research study completed by Brandeis University undergraduates in the Environmental Studies Program, supervised by Professor Laura Goldin. The study explored work-based exposures to chemicals in Black women's hair salons. Along with other partners, the Boston Public Health Commission helped Brandeis students to understand their findings and identify recommendations to salon workers.

Black women's hair is embedded in a context of deep-rooted racism, which continues to this day to exert pressure on black women and girls to straighten or "relax" their hair. According to Black Women for Wellness, Black women spend about $9 billion dollars each year on beauty products, which is twice as much as any other ethnic group. Many of the hair care products Black women use are filled with a mix of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, phthalates, phenylenediamine, resorcinol, ammonium hydroxide, hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide, and calcium hydroxide.

Research indicates that the products used in Black women's hair salons to relax or dye women's hair is harmful to health, especially for those who work with these products every day as a part of their jobs. Short-term health concerns include:

  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Respiratory irritation
  • Skin burns
  • Headache, dizziness, weakness
  • Nausea

In the long term, workers are at increased risk of cancer, kidney and liver damage, skin damage, asthma, heart disease, neurological damage, and reproductive effects. This especially puts salon workers at a disproportionate risk for poor health effects. Hair salon hazards are both direct occupational hazards and a symptom of environmental/social injustice that must be addressed to protect the well-being of Boston's most vulnerable populations.

Brandeis research indicated that there were higher amounts of carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds (chemicals), and particulate matter (tiny particles of pollution) than health guidelines recommend in the hair salons they monitored. Through their research, the Brandeis students recommended that salon workers:

  1. Limit chemical exposure through improved salon ventilation,
  2. Replace salon products with other products that do not contain chemicals,
  3. Limit the use of salon products containing chemicals where no replacements exist, and
  4. Wear personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, aprons, and goggles to protect themselves from chemical exposures when using salon products

The students believe that more research must be conducted to better understand the health effects of salon work and how workers can protect themselves. To learn more about the study, visit Brandeis' Environmental Health Studies website: http://www.brandeis.edu/programs/environmental/news/blackhairstudy.html

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