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Life

The Hair-Raising Research About Beauty Products Marketed to Black Women

What chemicals to avoid in your hair products and safer alternatives

If you've ever walked down the hair care aisle at a beauty store, you know just how many different products are out there. Cosmetic manufacturers use marketing techniques that are based on certain ideals of beauty to target different demographics. A lot of products on the market are marketed exclusively for black women, like hair relaxers and dyes. But there is growing evidence that these products marketed to black women contain known harmful chemicals. Research has also shown that there are fewer non-toxic options in black hair products than there are in those marketed to the general public (1). Black women may be disproportionally impacted by harmful exposures to toxic ingredients in their hair products.

If you've been wondering what's in your hair relaxer, styling cream, shampoo, or hair dye, we've done the research and put together some information and simple tips to help minimize your exposure to harmful chemicals commonly found in many of these products.

Harmful Health Effects

Although significantly understudied, certain chemicals commonly used in products for black hair have been linked to cancer, childhood neurodevelopmental impairment, reproductive problems, hormone disruption, and asthma (2) (3). Parabens, formaldehyde, phthalates, and estrogenic chemicals from placenta are used in many hair straighteners and texturizers and have been associated with baldness, uterine fibroids, premature reproductive development, and increased risk of premenopausal breast cancer. In pregnant women, studies have also found that these chemicals are correlated with premature birth, low birth weight, and other adverse birth outcomes. Shampoos, conditioners and styling products marketed as less toxic or for "natural hair" may also contain other toxic substitutes, including parabens and phthalates that promote estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity. Yikes!

In a recent study, which tested 18 hair products used by black women it detected 45 harmful chemicals including five that are regulated by California's Proposition 65 or are prohibited under the EU's cosmetics law. Many of these chemicals were not even disclosed in the ingredients listed on the product label (3). So much for the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act of 1967.

Federal Laws and FDA Regulations (or Lack Thereof)

Why are these toxic chemicals in beauty products to begin with? Well, under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FD&C Act), with the exception of color additives, ingredients in cosmetics do not need FDA premarket approval and cosmetic manufacturers are not obligated to disclose safety information to the FDA (4). To make matter worse, the FDA only has the authority to investigate a product after concerns of non-compliance or violations are reported. Which means consumers will already have been exposed to these toxic chemicals and may even have experienced health problems. (4). Basically, people using these products are the test subjects of the cosmetic chemical industry.

Chemicals to Avoid

There's still a lot research needed to better understand how chemicals in black hair care products affect the public's health. And since the current cosmetics industry is essentially the Wild West of regulations, it's up to you to protect yourself. Below is a list of harmful chemicals like endocrine disruptors, allergens, and sensitizers that are commonly used in black beauty hair care products that you might want to steer clear of. This list is not exhaustive, but it's a good place to start (5) (6) (3).

  • Parabens
    • methylparaben
    • ethylparaben
    • propylparaben
    • butylparaben
    • isopropylparaben
    • isobutylparaben
  • Formaldehyde or methylene glycol
    • DMDM hydantoin,
    • diazolidinyl urea and
    • imidazolidinyl urea
  • Cyclosiloxanes
    • Octamethylcyclotetrasiloxane (D4)
    • Decamethylcyclopentasiloxane (D5)
    • Dodecamethylcyclohexylsiloxane (D6)
  • Diethyl phthalate (DEP)
  • Methylisothiazolinone—This is used as a preservative in conditioners, shampoos, styling gels and lotions.
  • "Fragrance" or "parfum"—This is a generic term used for a multitude of different chemicals. Often times this is what you will see in the list of product ingredients when a manufacturer is not disclosing specific chemicals used.
    • Phthalates
    • Linalool
    • Limonene
    • HHCB (Galaxolide)
    • Linalool
    • Terpineol
  • Resorcinol—This is often found in black beauty brand hair dyes.
  • Sodium hydroxide (Lye)
  • Calcium hydroxide—This is another caustic irritant just used to replace lye (sodium hydroxide) in hair relaxers, but is advertised as safer.
  • Lead acetate—This is often used in hair dyes.
  • Petroleum
  • Retyinal palmitate
  • Specific alcohols
    • Alcohol denat
    • Ethanol
    • Propanol
    • Isopropyl
    • Propyl
    • SD alcohol #4 (wood alcohol)
    • Phenethyl alcohol
  • Sulfates

What You Can Do

Whew, that's a lot to look out for in ingredient labels! We know that list is a lot of information that you'll probably never remember unless you have an upcoming chemistry quiz, so we also have some easy-to-remember safer product alternatives and some DIY tips.

1. Follow the 5-ingredient rule: The first five ingredients make up the majority of what's in the product so, these are the ones that matter the most (6). If the first five ingredients are made from natural ingredients, it's probably a product worth considering.

2. There are many natural ingredients that help promote healthy hair, like aloe vera, avocado, shea butter, castor oil coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, grape seed, honey, and jojoba. Since these oils all have different properties and do different things like hydrating or strengthening your hair, you can solve a ton of different hair problems! (6).

3. Double check products using databases like EWG's Skin Deep database and BLK +GRN, which screens products using EWG's Toxic Twenty list. If a product has a low rating, it's best to avoid to all together.

4. One of the best ways to stand up for safer products is to contact your elected official or the FDA to urge them to strengthen the FD&C Act. You can scroll to the "STAND UP FOR #BEAUTYMADEBETTER!" for ideas on ways to make your voice heard.


References

1. https://www.ewg.org/research/big-market-black-cosmetics-less-hazardous-choices-limited
2. https://www.ajog.org/article/S0002-9378(17)30862-1/pdf
3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118301518?dgcid=raven_sd_aip_email#!
4. https://www.fda.gov/cosmetics/cosmetics-laws-regulations/fda-authority-over-cosmetics-how-cosmetics-are-not-fda-approved-are-fda-regulated
5. https://www.ewg.org/research/big-market-black-cosmetics-less-hazardous-choices-limited#ref10
6. https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/hazardous-chemicals-lurking-black-hair-care-products

Fashion Week is right around the corner, and one trend we don't want to see on the runway is PVC. In recent years, PVC has made its way into the fashion world through trendy see-through bags or rain coats.

What is PVC

Polyvinyl chloride (AKA PVC or vinyl) is a solid plastic made from vinyl chloride gas. PVC can be hard and rigid, or it can be extremely flexible. It's flexibility depends whether or not phthalates are added during production. Because it's water resistant and durable, PVC is used in a lot of different products, including flooring, wall decals, pipes, medical equipment, and of course clothing.

The Problem

Although PVC is used in a lot of things, it's actually pretty bad for health. You can be exposed by touching a PVC product, inhaling fumes from a PVC manufacturing plant or landfill, or accidentally swallowing PVC from food packaging or contaminated water (1). Vinyl chloride, the main component of PVC, is a known carcinogen. Exposure to vinyl chloride gas is associated with an increased risk of liver, brain, lung, and blood cancers, as well as lymphoma. (2)

If you're exposed to PVC, you're also being exposed to phthalates and chlorine as well. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, which change the way hormones are made and disturbed throughout the body. Plus, PVC isn't good for the environment because it's extremely difficult to recycle.

How to Avoid PVC in Fashion

Steer clear of anything see-through! A clear bag is almost always made from PVC, so it's better to just avoid this trend all together. Plus, everyone can see what you carry around in your bag. Does the entire world need to see half dozen chapsticks and a phone charger floating around our purses?! Probably not. Instead of buying a plastic bag, look for one made from natural materials like cotton or leather. Natural materials are also extremely durable and will hold up well over time. The great thing about fashion is that trends come and go and in a year people will probably be onto the next big thing.


References

  1. https://toxtown.nlm.nih.gov/chemicals-and-contaminants/polyvinyl-chloride-pvc
  2. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/substances/vinyl-chloride
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We know climate change poses a real and serious threat; scientists have observed Earth's temperature steadily rise by one degree Fahrenheit over the last 100 years (1). But when we think of climate change, an image of a polar bear on a dwindling iceberg usually comes to everyone's mind. There's so much emphasis on the environmental impacts of climate change, we often forget that climate change is also negatively impacting our health. How? Read on…

Air pollution

Even though you can't see it unless it's a super smoggy day, air pollution is a huge threat to our health. Burning coal, oil, and gas are big contributors to climate change, and they also release harmful air pollutants like particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere. These pollutants have been linked to serious diseases, and can cause severe symptoms in people with heart and lung conditions. When you breathe in, these pollutants get trapped in your nose, travel to your airway, and even enter into your bloodstream. Exposure to these pollutants have been linked to death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeats, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function, and increased respiratory symptoms (2). It is estimated that 4.2 million people a year die from air pollution (3).

Extreme Weather Events

Nowadays, it's hard to not hear about extreme weather on the television or radio no matter what time of year it is. Extreme weather events like heat waves, drought, floods, and hurricanes are increasing both in intensity and frequency due to climate change. The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions created an interactive map that highlights just how many extreme weather events occurred in the past decade. The Guardian also has published a visual guide of the human toll from 2018 climate disasters. In 2018 alone, Europe faced both heatwaves and freezing weather, Argentina suffered through droughts that decimated croplands, India experienced record high flooding, and the United States endured hurricanes and fires. That same year, 10,373 people lost their lives due to disasters, and 61.7 million people were affected by natural hazards (5). As climate change continues, these numbers will only get worse.

Increased Vector-Borne Disease

Very few things can ruin a beautiful summer day, but a swarm of mosquitoes is definitely one of them. Just the thought of their buzzing has us lathering on bug spray and lighting citronella candles! Unfortunately, with worsening climate change, we are in for a lot more buzzing.

Changes in temperature, rainfall, and humidity brought on by climate change have allowed vectors like mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents that carry infectious agents to migrate to new areas (6). With the expansion of their habitats and breeding grounds, these vectors are coming into contact with more people, and more interactions with people means more chance of infection. We've seen higher incidences of diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, and West Nile virus in recent years. To make things worse, a warming climate also allow vectors and the microbes inside of them to grow and reproduce at a faster rate (7).

What You Can Do

While the statistics on climate change are sobering, there's a lot you can do to protect your health! Being prepared and taking small precautions can keep you safe no matter what a changing climate throws at you.

  • If you are travelling to a heavily polluted area, you can limit exposure to harmful pollutants by wearing an air mask. Look for masks called a "particulate respirator" with the word "NIOSH" and either "N95" or "P100" on the package information. Make sure to replace your mask with a new one every few days (if the mask if reusable to begin with).
  • If you live in a buggy area, apply bug sprays before going out to ward off disease-carrying insects and reapply when necessary. Check out our insect repellent guide to find out which repellent is right for you!
  • And if you live in an area that is prone to natural disasters, purchase or assemble an emergency kit to store in your home. There are kits that are specific for flooding, hurricanes, heat waves, and other natural disasters. Make sure to have these kits readily available know how to use them.


References

  1. https://www.epa.gov/pm-pollution/health-and-environmental-effects-particulate-matter-pm
  2. https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-k4.html
  3. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/
  4. https://nca2014.globalchange.gov/highlights/report-findings/extreme-weather
  5. https://reliefweb.int/report/world/2018extreme-weather-events-affected-60m-people
  6. https://www.iamat.org/blog/5-must-read-articles-on-climate-change-and-infectious-diseases/
  7. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mosquito-borne-diseases-on-the-uptick-thanks-to-global-warming/
  8. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/safer-bug-spray-natural-bug-repellents#1
Warm weather screams beaches, smoothies and sunglasses, but there's always the dreaded secret armpit sniff to check for BO. Maybe your first inclination is to check out the drugstore for the deodorant that promises to keep you smelling fresh all day and into the night, but before you run, hear us out. Just like you probably have your favorite coffee or soap brand, you should be choosy about your deodorant too!
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Life

Why You Might Want to Steer Clear of Melamine Dishes

And what outdoor dishes you should get instead for your backyard bbqs, dinner parties, and picnics

Remember those bleak winter days that had you dreaming of summer? Well, no need to dream anymore because it's finally here! Without a cloud in sight, sandals in hand, and perfectly painted toes (check out our article here to learn about which nail polishes are safe to buy!), you're ready for the best summer cookout yet. You remembered the cooler, the fruit salad, and even dad's favorite burger spatula, but melamine, a toxic chemical that disrupts hormone regulation, might be the last thing you'd be expecting to show up at a summer picnic. You might even know what I'm talking about. You know, those brightly patterned, super cute, practically irresistible plates that don't look plastic, but aren't really ceramic either?

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Life

Banish Bugs With Our Recommended Insect Repellent Ingredients

Don't be an all-you-can-eat-buffet for annoying critters again!

Summer is here! But that means so are the biting insects…. Ugh. Mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, fleas, and biting flies seem impossible to avoid when the weather heats up. They're really annoying and they can post a pretty big health risk. Mosquitoes and ticks alone can transmit some scary diseases like Zika, Lyme, malaria, encephalitis, and dengue fever. And to make matters worse, a new CDC report shows the number of mosquito and tick-borne diseases are on the rise (1). To help protect yourself against these pesky insects, we're discussing the most effective insect repellent ingredients that are EPA registered (AKA safe and effective) and CDC recommended: DEET, picardian, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

We know what you're thinking- synthetic chemicals are recommended?! In this case, the risk of disease is a bigger environmental health threat than using these two specific synthetic chemicals. Additionally, there have also been no scientific studies that show essential oils are effective in protecting against insect bites so we can't include them in our recommendations. You can try them and maybe they'll work for you, but there's no guarantee. If you really want our one DEET alternative, non-synthetic repellent recommendation, that has a transparent list of ingredients, and is scientifically proven to keep bugs away, stay tuned!

DEET

DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is considered to be the "gold standard" of insect repellent. It's a good choice if you're outside all day in a high-insect are because it repels the most insects, including both mosquitoes and ticks, and lasts the longest amount of time (2). When applied correctly (make sure to read the label!), there are very few negative reactions from DEET. A product with a concentration of DEET between 20-30% can provide protection from insects for most of the day (3). DEET can be used while pregnant and on children older than two months and has not been found to be carcinogenic. Although some may see dermatitis or an allergic reaction from long-term exposure to high levels of DEET (2) and oral ingestion has been shown to have neurotoxic effects like seizures (4).

Picaridin

Picaridin (icardian) is another repellent ingredient that repels ticks and mosquitoes. It's been widely used in Europe and Australia for years with positive results. A product containing at least 20% picaridin has similar short-term results as DEET, although picaridin does not provide long-lasting protection as well as DEET and has to be reapplied more often (2). Picaridin has not been studied as thoroughly as DEET, but it does not seem to have any major negative health impacts. Although uncommon it can cause skin or eye irritation, so make sure to read the directions when using a product containing picaridin (5).

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (P-menthane-3,8-diol) is a natural oil extracted from the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant (6). It can be an appealing ingredient to people because it's an alternative to synthetic chemicals like DEET or picaridin. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is great at repelling mosquitoes, flies and gnats, but not so great against ticks (2). Products containing at least 30% of oil of lemon eucalyptus have shown to be almost as effective as repelling mosquitoes as DEET, but it has to be applied much more frequently (6). While it is natural, it can irritate the eyes or skin and is not recommended for children under 3 (7). Just a quick note: lemon essential oil and eucalyptus essential oil are NOT the same thing as oil of lemon eucalyptus though, so make sure to look for that exact phrasing in any ingredient lists.

Since oil of lemon eucalyptus is EPA registered and a natural ingredient, we think it's a great synthetic-ingredient alternative! We love Murphy's Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray. It uses 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus as a way to repel those annoying bugs and lists all of the ingredients (ethanol and water). It's super super hard to find a complete list of ingredients in insect repellent products, so we think this is a huge plus.

So which ingredient should I choose?

It depends! Are you in an area with a high amount of mosquitoes and ticks? Are you outdoors for the entire day or maybe just an hour? Do you want to avoid synthetic chemicals or are you okay with it? Are you traveling to a place that has a high rate of diseases like malaria or yellow fever? The EPA has a quiz you can take in order to find the best insect repellent for your needs.

We recommend to always read and completely follow the directions listed on any repellent product you use, and wash your hands after applying a repellent. Generally you want to apply repellent when you're outside while holding the product at least 6 inches away as you spray. While spraying repellent on your clothes is okay (although DEET shouldn't be sprayed on synthetic fabric), it's not a good idea to spray it under your clothes (8). Long sleeved shirts, pants, long socks, and closed toe shoes can reduce the risk of a bite because less skin is exposed.

Now that you're fully up-to-date on the best insect repellent ingredients you can go back to focusing on what really matters: barbecuing, swimming, beach trips, and all of fun activities that come with summer!


References:

1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6717e1.htm?s_cid=mm6717e1

2. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/prevention-of-arthropod-and-insect-bites-repellents-and-other-measures

3. https://www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents/ewg-repellent-guide

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?term=2506420

5. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PicaridinGen.html

6. https://www.beyondpesticides.org/assets/media/documents/pesticides/factsheets/oillemoneucalyptus.pdf

7. https://www.cdc.gov/zika/prevention/prevent-mosquito-bites.html

8. https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods

Life

Why Summer-Time Pests Can be Dangerous for Your Health and How to Avoid Them

The worst thing these little guys do is not just make us itchy

Nearly everyone has been bitten by a tick, mosquito, or flea, and can agree these pests are a damper on otherwise fun-filled summer activities. What most don't know is that these pests are vectors: carriers of many harmful diseases. These diseases are on the rise in the US, and are expected to become an even larger problem as climate change intensifies. Keep yourself and family informed and safe this summer with the following information on vector-borne diseases and how to avoid annoying and dangerous bug bites.

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6 Natural Alternatives to Regular Lotion

Not a fan of lotion? We've got suggestions that are still safe and non-toxic but work just as well

While winter is usually the season that has us reaching for our bottles of lotions and creams, hydrating our skin is important any time of the year, especially if you've been out in the sun! While we've got a roundup of safer non-toxic lotions, we get that not everyone is a fan of lotions for numerous reasons. Don't fret though, there are still many options out there besides regular lotion that are still safe and non-toxic on the body and skin. Here's our rundown on the options available.
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