Black hair products, women's diseases and UWI research priorities


Friday, December 14, 2018

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The research done by white people on black people's health, published in journals, which black people do not read, is amazing. Today we consider the epidemiology of African Diaspora women especially in the prevalence of hormone- impacted conditions, and the likely links to chemicals in black hair products in a new USA study.

A local writer says, “As health costs soar, women turn to social media for alternative medicine.” ( Jamaica Observer, All Woman, December 2018, by Candiece Knight) She dilates on street remedies used by women to avoid high-cost medicine for gynae complaints; vaginal steaming, yoni eggs “promise a range of benefits” for “irregular menstrual cycle…fibroids …yeast infections”. Wow!

The epidemiology of Jamaican women may also have links to chemicals in hair preparations which affect hormone balance and may lead to cancers, but the Jamaica Cancer Society's list of risk factors do not include parabens. This chemical used in hair products to prolong shelf life mimics oestrogen, a hormone disruptor, and, as hormone balance is crucial to women's health, may presage premenstrual syndrome, ovarian cysts; breast, ovarian, uterine cancers; even low sperm count in men. Hear this, “Most of us know someone who has fibroids; about three-quarters of women in Jamaica will have fibroids at some point in their lives.” ( Observer, July 10, 2017, by Dr Ryan Halsall) Epidemic! Even an ovarian cyst is “associated with bloating, fever, weight loss, vaginal bleeding, lower abdominal pain”. Are there contributory or causative factors from long-term use of hair preparations with chemicals leaching into women's bodies? Who tracks health research for us? Who verifies what's in the bottle vis a vis the label and impact on health? New research shows black women's conditions are higher (compared to whites) in America so as we copy their consumption; two million of us embedded in their cities; let's not ignore it.

Spend by black American women on hair products is at least twice as much as white women, and this is a multi-billion-dollar industry mainly white owned. Hair is religion to African Diaspora women. Black and hybrid hair are difficult to manage, so to whom might these be a research priority but the only African Diaspora university — The University of the West Indies (UWI)? Sirs, check black male balding too?

The highlights of the American study are: “#Hair products for black women contained mixtures of endocrine- disrupting chemicals #Hair relaxers for children contained regulated or restricted chemicals #All tested products contained fragrance chemicals #Seventy-two per cent of products contained parabens and diethyl phthalate #Eighty-four per cent of detected chemicals were not listed on the product label.” (“Measurement of endocrine-disrupting and asthma-associated chemicals in hair products used by Black women” authored by Helm, Nishioka, Brody, Rudel, Dobson; Environmental Research, Volume 165, August 2018) Read the full study.

They performed tests on hair products used by black women in America — hot oil treatment, anti-frizz, hair lotion, leave-in conditioner, relaxer, and more. They tested for 66 chemicals and these products contained 45 endocrine-disrupting or asthma-associated chemicals. The potential damage to women's health is frightening considering the high incidence of hormone-mediated diseases in black women; higher prevalence of asthma in black women and kids; higher rate of obesity, diabetes, pre-term birth; prevalent fibroids; more aggressive breast, endometrial cancers and more. (Measurement; op cit) Might these be relevant to our women and kids too?

So what action might we take? #UWI, University of Technology, Jamaica as publicly funded universities and the locus of African diasporic intellectual prowess, should attend needs of black women who suffer more health issues than men. Sirs, link with these scientists and Cabinet should fund research of hair and personal care products to save health care millions, production, pain and suffering. #Industry must create naturopathic products for black women's hair using UWI science; support full labelling as consumers tend to focus on active ingredients not inert substances as E numbers, preservatives and fragrances. #Cabinet must put our epidemiology first — not foreign agendas. There is a 30-pager on HIV/AIDS, but none on items which afflict women. Why? Foreigners fund AIDS research to their agenda ours is secondary. #Peeps say slavery affects mass mental health, feeds crime, cripples productivity; fibroids an epidemic! Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton, who will fund this research since the European Union has no horse in this race?

The UWI could rake in billions from the hair care market if they did the research and licensed the Intellectual Property. Recall E V Ellington and the catch UWI missed? We export ackee based on his research. Does the ackee industry which earns millions celebrate him, donate to UWI, have scholarships in his name? Shame! Does this Rhodes Scholar deserve a national and UWI “golden ackee” award? Yes! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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