Girl! You LookGood! (But at what cost) Mystery of Fibroids Pt 2: Beauty Products

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Whatever you do, who ever you are as a woman, you use some type of beauty products every day: Make up, relaxers, nail polish, lotion, hair spray, wax, powder,deodorant…..

But most of these items contain chemicals that can be dangerous to our health with long term exposure, even in small doses.

Talcum powder has been in the news a lot lately because of questions of cancer in women and in workers who mine talc. (Find out more here.)

Most women already know about formaldehyde and the possible link to cancer in nail polish, and other beauty products, like the Brazilian Blowout that was popular a few years ago. (here)

The question is though, do any of these beauty and health products cause or contribute to fibroids?

I’d like to preface this by saying that I am not a scientist. (though I was good at biology in high school, if that counts for anything) I’m just a woman with a little bit of time, and access to great wifi who wants answers, and wants to share the answers with you.

Let’s start with the mother of beauty products for many Black women: The Relaxer

For those of you who may not know:

A relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with tight curls or very curly hair which makes hair easier to straighten by chemically “relaxing” the natural curls. The active agent is usually a strong alkali, although some formulations are based on ammonium thioglycolate instead.

-via Wikipedia

A relaxer is applied to “new growth” every 6-8 weeks to straighten the roots.

You can also watch this clip from Chris Rock’s Good Hair, where he explores relaxers, their frequency in the Black community, and an experiment with a chemist. Prince jokes aside, its a great way to gain an understanding of relaxers.

 In the last few years, many black women have decided to “go natural”, ditching perms and opting to wear their hair in its naturally curly or kinky state, or using heat to straighten instead of chemicals. Many women made this choice because it seems healthier, and part of that is the possible link to relaxers and uterine fibroids.

The rumor that relaxers, and other Black hair care products, may be linked to the higher rates of uterine fibroids in Black women has be circulating for a while. But is there any truth to this?

The most often sited study is this 2012 American Journal of Epidemiology study. The study is ongoing, and surveys 59,000 Black women 21–69 years old. The participants from around the country are asked to update their medical information and complete a survey every two years.  The study tracks various items, relaxer usage being one of them, by sending additional questionnaires for those who have been diagnosed with fibroids, and confirmed via ultrasound or other means. For the relaxer/fibroids portion, the researchers premise was: “Hair relaxers are used by millions of black women, possibly exposing them to various chemicals through scalp lesions and burns.”

Hair relaxers (straighteners) have been used by millions of US black women, often for long periods of time (6). Hair relaxers can cause burns and lesions in the scalp, facilitating entry of hair relaxer constituents into the body (714). The main ingredient of “lye” relaxers is sodium hydroxide; no-lye relaxers contain calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate, and “thio” relaxers contain thioglycolic acid salts (15). No-lye relaxers are advertised to cause fewer scalp lesions and burns than lye relaxers, but there is little evidence to support this claim (16). Products may also contain hormonally active compounds (17), such as phthalates, which are not required to be listed separately as ingredients and are often reported under the term “fragrances” or “perfume” (18). Cosmetic products are not subject to premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration, and a complete list of ingredients is not mandatory (19), making it unclear what types of chemicals they contain. However, because the vast majority of hair relaxers list “fragrance” as an ingredient, and 100% of popular fragrances tested in a 2002 study were found to contain phthalates (18, 20), most hair relaxers likely contain these chemicals. In addition, some hair relaxer products directly list phthalates as one of their chemical ingredients (21).

 We’ll get more into phthalates later….Trust me. You need to know about them.

But the basic question is are Black women being exposed to harmful chemicals more and are the being absorbed quicker into the body via scalp burns?

Their conclusion:

In this large population of premenopausal US black women, we observed increased risks of uterine leiomyomata in association with ever use of hair relaxers, duration of use, frequency of use, and total number of burns experienced during use.

There’s a lot more to this study, and there are other studies out there, if you want to learn more. Please read the full study linked above as well as these articles/studies:

Journal of Women’s Health

Scientific American (a Black woman scientists take on some of the research out there)

Now if you can still hang with me I’ve got more. This is a long post, something I try to avoid, but its necessary sometimes.

Lotions, Shampoos, Soaps, Make Up

Above, there is a mention of phthalates.

What the f*** is a phthalate? (Pronounced phthal·ate )

I’m glad you asked.

Phthalates are a sort of plastic, and it is used in all types of  products, from CDs and toys to nail polish and hairsprays, and literally everything in between. Phthalates make plastics more flexible and durable. In beauty products, it is used to  make things less stiff and prevent cracking. On a label, phthalates are usually listed as: phthalate, DEP, DBP, DEHP, or fragrance.

This chemical can be found in many beauty product we often use like body washes, or perfumed lotions, deodorant, (basically anything that has a smell to it), and nail polish. The use of phthalates in cosmetics is banned in Europe, but still 100% OK here in the US. This chemical is so common in so many daily products (not just beauty products), that many of us have detectable amounts of the chemical in our body, and, they can be passed on from mother to child.

But phthalates are not alone.

They have a buddy: parabens

Parabens are often used a a preservative in cosmetic products, such as shampoo, toothpaste, lubricants (ex: KY Jelly), shaving gel, and spray tan solution. There is often more than one type of paraben in a product. Parabens on a product label are usually listed as methylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, or benzylparaben.

Parabens and Phthalates: Best Buds!
Parabens and Phthalates: Best Buds!

Phthalates and parabens do not need to work together, and they may not always be in products together, but very often when you see one, there is the other.

Now what is it about Parabens and Phthalates that is so bad? Well, they are both endocrine disruptors.  Endocrine Disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system, and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. (National Institutes of Health)

The ednocrine system is what produces hormones. Any system in the body controlled or affected by hormones could be impacted.

Getting the connection? Fibroids linked to increased levels of estrogen, natural hormone production possibly being interfered with by chemicals……

The problem is these two are in pretty much everything we use, including various beauty products. Many women are exposed to these chemicals at high rates, having them absorbed into the skin, daily, weekly, monthly via lotions, body washes, shampoos, nail polish, combined with their broader use in food packaging, plastic toys, toothpaste, and many other daily products. So there can be no conclusive evidence that these beauty products alone cause or contribute to fibroids, as they are so plentiful in our modern world, but as women, we are willingly exposing ourselves to higher doses.

 So do these products directly increase uterine fibroid risk, I side on yes, but not the beauty products alone.

Solution:

Look for products free of these chemicals. Organic and natural hair care and beauty lines. This might mean putting out a few extra coins, but it may be worth it in the end.

I use natural shampoos and conditioners, and I try to use natural oils and butters (shea, coconut) on my skin. Soaps have been a little more of a challenge for me, and I have not at all transitioned to “natural” makeup brands, though I’m a big fan of Shea Mositure products, including their foundation.

Sulfate free Shampoos

Three Top Paraben and Sulfate free Shampoos and Body Washes

Natural Make Up and Skin Care

What about all of the other things we do to beautify ourselves?

Waxing: 

Pretty harmless as long as your esthetician knows what s/he is doing, like using clean sticks and not double dipping. There are instances of STDs being spread due to bad practices. Otherwise, waxing is pretty safe.

Waxing Dangers

Manicures:

We all know nail polish can contain harmful chemicals like our buddies mentioned above and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole). The curing process of a gel manicure, which requires time under a UV lamp, can create a new risk.  Prolonged exposure to UV light is known to increase the risk of skin cancer. (Think tanning beds)

If you can, find an organic nail polish (IDK how good they are or where you would even find organic polish, but apparently it is a thing)
Also, if you’re into gel manis, but sunscreen on your hands up to an hour before you go in. If they have you wash them, bring it with you to re apply.
Bottom line: You expose yourself to a lot of chemicals that may have negative effects long term, but there are ways to lessen  the damage.

7 things to know before getting a manicure

Gel Nail Safety Tips

Conclusion:
Chemicals are bad. They can cause or contribute to health problems, including uterine fibroids, but we can’t really avoid them in our day-to-day lives.

Make smart choices and eliminate or limit your exposure to these chemicals if you can. There is a risk for cancers, fibroids, birth defects, and a host of other issues associated with many of these chemicals.

Be BeYOUtiful, but don’t make yourself sick for it.

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Fibroid News You Can Use

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The summer season is officially over, and so is my blog break.

This summer was great: A trip to Vegas, wedding planning, and cookouts.

To get back into the swing, I want to highlight some stories from around the web on fibroids.

 

Meds on the Way?

A medicine designed to help shrink uterine fibroids is currently in the human trial phase. This is good news, but my concern is it becoming one of so many drugs that are pushed on people, and the pharmaceutical industry winning big financially, and in the long run the people lose and no other research or prevention methods will be tried. Don’t get me wrong: medicine is wonderful and in most cases can really help to manage symptoms or even cure conditions. For some situation, drugs are the only thing that will help. However there’s a point where it becomes more about getting patients to take the drug for a solution, and not looking at other methods, and that for me is a problem.

One of the researchers is quoted in the article as saying “There’s no rhyme or reason why women get fibroids, and there’s nothing they can do to avoid developing them; it’s just something that happens…

What?!

This quote irritates me. The medical community, or us as women should not be content with a ‘that’s just the way it is’ attitude.

Check the article out here. If you’re in the San Diego area, you may be eligible to participate in the trials. (The article is sponsored by the firm conducting the research, Precision Research Institute)

 

Money for Research!

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc has awarded the Distinguished Professor Endowed Chair Award to Dr. Darlene K. Taylor of North Carolina Central University. Dr. Taylor associate chemistry professor, will use the $200,000 award to support university efforts in integrated biosciences that focus on uterine fibroid tumor research.

Please click here to read more about this wonderful grant from the ladies of Delta Sigma Theta, and the work or Dr. Taylor.

This news makes me excited! A Black woman, being awarded a grant by a Black sorority, to research uterine fibroids. Something that affects up to 80% of women, and Black women are affected at a higher rate. Girl Power!

Woman Power!

First, a Woman, a BLACK woman in STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) is amazing! The numbers of women in STEM are low, and even lower for minority women. There is something about this that makes this grant and her research even more amazing. This is why we need more women in STEM: so that they can be a voice in the lab.

There’s progress, which is always a great thing.

 

I hope to share some updates soon about efforts that I’m fortunate to be a part of to help spread fibroid awareness.

I’m also participating in Blogging 201, so you may see some updates on the website, and maybe a few out-of-place posts. I really want to take this little blog to the next level. The craziness of wedding planning is slowly coming to a close, so I will be back to having my free time to devote back to blogging and other efforts.

 

Thanks for sticking with me!