December 4, 2023

80% of hair products aimed at black women contain chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and obesity

Last week, a local sustainability group in Knoxville, Tennessee named Natural Rebels hosted a DIY workshop at a local library on making homemade, natural hair products showing some alternatives to commercial hair products. 

Commercial hair products have gained negative attention recently when a US study showed “nearly 80% of hair products aimed at black women contain chemicals linked to cancer, infertility and obesity.”

Some common chemicals and linked side effects found in these products are: 

Phenoxyethanol – show sense organ effects and is a neurotoxin and carcinogen

Diazolidinyl Urea – known human immune system toxicant, irritant and neurotoxin in animals

Butylcarbamate – show brain and nervous system effects at moderate doses

Hair sprays, gels, wax and other hair products have a long list of chemicals like these and some banned by the EU but legal in the US. These shocking results have led many to conduct further research into products that touch their scalps and is what inspired last week’s DIY workshop.

Natural Rebels is a new sustainability meet-up focused on encouraging a more diverse environmental space in Knoxville, Tennessee. A core issue for the group is black women’s involvement in sustainability and the unique environmental factors they face, like higher risk of toxic hair product use.

Thanks to the growing movement of consumers promoting sustainable products, the group found DIY recipes online to serve as alternatives to on-the-shelf shampoos and conditioners. 

Green tea shampoo and apple cider vinegar conditioner were the two recipes the group crafted. According to Healthline, green tea helps to fight dryness of the scalp and dandruff, while apple cider vinegar is rich in vitamins and minerals producing healthy and moisturized hair. The group added additional ingredients like honey and olive oil that both have properties packed with nutrients. 

A healthier human equals a healthier planet. An ingredient from the kitchen cabinet produces fewer carbon emissions than constantly restocking a toxic commercial hair product. Harmful chemicals, like polyquaternium-11, a common chemical found in hair gel and a possible carcinogen and respiratory toxin, can be poisoning to humans and the environment. Using natural ingredients spares people’s health and the environment. Plus, choosing apple cider vinegar as your next conditioner will save the average person more money than buying a pre-made conditioner every month. 

Natural Rebels founder hopes workshops like these will encourage other local residents to practice more caution and awareness when it comes to putting products on their scalps, especially black women who are more likely to exposed to these toxic chemicals. 

Below are the two recipes that were used at the DIY workshop: 

Green Tea Shampoo (Source: Minimalist Beauty)

  1. Steep a green tea bag in two to three cups of hot water. Wait 30-60 minutes to allow the green tea to totally infuse the water with healing green tea goodness
  2. Remove the tea bag after 30-60 minutes. Use a spoon or fork to remove the tea bag from the water when you’re ready.

Add 2-3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon of raw honey. Mix everything until the honey is no longer visible.

  • Apple cider vinegar has antibacterial and antibiotic properties.
  • If the tea gets cold, then the honey may not dissolve. Warm the tea up in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds.
  1. Pour the liquid into a spray bottle. With the shampoo in a spray bottle, it will be easier for you to use later.
  2. Apply the shampoo to your hair. Get your hair wet, then spray the green tea shampoo on it. Gently massage the shampoo into your scalp. If you have thick hair, then you may need to divide it into sections to get an even application. Once all your hair is covered with the shampoo, wait five minutes, then rinse it out.[11]
  • If you have any green tea left over, you could rinse your hair out with that before rinsing with water.
  • Condition your hair after you rinse out all the shampoo.

Apple Cider Vinegar Conditioner (Source: DIY Natural)

1 Tbsp ACV (apple cider vinegar) 

1 cup water 

For greasy or oily hair/scalp, add 6-8 drops of an essential oil such as bergamot, lavender, lemon, rosemary, sandalwood, tea tree, or ylang ylang.

For dry scalp and dandruff, you can add 6-8 drops of essential oils like tea tree, peppermint, eucalyptus, lemon, sage, or rosemary.

Madelyn Collins is a recent University of Tennessee graduate, a leader of the Knoxville-based sustainability group, Natural Rebels, and an avid hip-hop dancer.

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