New Study Reveals Dangerous Levels of Toxins in Black Hair Salons

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    A new study out of Brandeis University revealed the poor air quality in black women’s hair salons across Boston.

    Environmental studies professor Laura Goldin, with the help of 12 undergraduate students, launched a study to test the air quality in 10 hair salons catering to an African-American clientele. What she found was alarming – seven out of the 10 salons contained particulate levels beyond the permitted outdoor standard, and all 10 had higher levels of the carcinogen benzene and carbon dioxide than the EPA’s acceptable limit. These findings indicated poor ventilation within the facilities.

    The data was not able to definitively say whether or not the insufficient air quality produced negative health effects among workers at the salon, but Goldin said that she plans to take her research further.

    “Overall there is a lack of research into environments where workers are primarily women of color,” Goldin told Brandeis Now. “We already have joined in collaborative grant proposals with a number of research- and community-based organizations to pursue further research into air quality in Black hair salons. Our study provided critical data to support additional investigation.”

    One undergraduate researcher, Teleah Slater, was particularly interested in the damage caused by these black hair salons, but the poor air quality, she argued, was not the only harmful agent.

    “It’s a very complicated space,” said Slater. “It is a safe place that Black women go to be together and leave feeling good about themselves. At the same time, it’s where women may go to conform to a white standard of beauty.”

    Slater was concerned about the societal pressures black women face to change the texture of their hair. However, the harmful effects went beyond the psychological damage. Slater herself suffered years of chemical burns to the back of her neck due to the hair straightening regimen she had undergone since childhood.

    “Everyone I knew had straight hair,” said Slater. In an attempt to convince her parents that she should let her natural hair grow out, she searched for documented evidence that straightening treatments were harmful. To her disappointment, she could not find any research on the products typically used by African Americans.

    In reality, there has been very little research conducted on black hair care, treatments, and salons. Yet, African Americans spent about $7.4 billion in 2009 on personal care products and services, including hair care. Researchers like Goldin and Slater intend to shed more light on the effects of modern hair care practices in order to come up with safer solutions for women of color.