Organic pretenders: hair care products that are not from Mother Nature
Whether due to skin or scalp irritation or greater consciousness about the potential dangers of some chemicals, more and more black women are seeking out organic products for their hair, and cosmetics companies are blatantly exploiting this demand by misrepresenting their products through deceptive marketing strategies.
According to French hair and beauty products company L’Oréal, black women in the UK spend six times more on hair care products than white women, 1 and in 2004 the ethnic hair care market in the UK was worth £60 million. 2
Small wonder then that cosmetics companies will do whatever they can to cash in. But whilst black women spend so much of their hard-earned money on hair care products, are we really getting value for our money, and are we being sold products that are beneficial?
According to Science of Black Hair author, Audrey Davis-Sivasothy; “The vast majority of products geared toward our community are utterly useless.” But that doesn’t stop cosmetics companies from pretending otherwise.
Words like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ are frequently appearing on products aimed at afro textured hair, but a little research on the ingredients listed often reveals that not only are the products not organic, but worse, that they contain a whole host of undesirable chemicals.
A few months ago I purchased a few hair care products from a local store. Not having any knowledge at that point of what chemicals should be avoided, I simply relied on the product names and descriptions to guide me on products that were natural or organic, which is what I was looking for.
I chose All Ways Natural shampoo and conditioner, which both state on the bottle that they “contain no artificial colours or harmful chemicals.” Yet the list of ingredients includes the following nasties:
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – these are used as detergents and surfactants – they can enter the bloodstream and cause potentially carcinogenic formations of nitrates and dioxins to form in shampoos and cleansers by reacting with other product ingredients. They also sdtrip the hair of moisture.
Cocamide DEA – Diethanolamine, more commonly called DEA, is a suspected carcinogen and has been shown to have a negative effect on the development of memory cells. It is a particularly dangerous ingredient for pregnant women to use.
Methylisothiazolinone – This has been shown to cause neurological damage, potentially putting a fetus at risk for brain damage. The chemical might also be a factor in the development of Alzheimer’s and other nervous system disorders.
Propylparabens – parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system and have been found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) tested urine from 100 adults and found parabens in nearly all. (Environmental Working Group – Parabens)
Propylene Glycol– an active component in antifreeze – do your really want to put this in your hair?
Methylparaben – see shampoo
Propylparaben – see shampoo ‘parebens’
Propylene glycol – see shampoo
Parrafin oil – a mineral oil – Petroleum by-product that coats the skin like plastic, clogging the pores. Interferes with skin's ability to eliminate toxins, promoting acne and other disorders. Slows down skin function and cell development, resulting in premature aging. Any mineral oil derivative can be contaminated with cancer causing PAH's (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons).
Other products I purchased were from the Soft and Beautiful Botanical range.
The LITE CRÈME MOISTURISER contains:
Propylene glycol – see above
Mineral oil – see above
The 3-N-1 DRY SCALP TREATMENT contains:
Mineral oil – see above
Propylparaben – see above ‘parabens’
Butylparaben – see above ‘parabens’
Isopropylparaben – see above ‘parabens’
Even DARK AND LOVELY STYLING GEL contains:
Methylparaben – see above ‘parabens’
If these products were not bad enough, some cosmetics companies even go as far as creating names for their products that are so similar to genuine organic products that consumers will obviously get confused and assume the two are the same.
Take Organics by Africa’s Best. These products are not organic but similarly named to Organics Africa, a company based in South Africa that produces Rose Hip, an organic oil.
The Center for Environmental Health has a website called Sham Organics, in which Africa’s Best Organics is listed. It says:
“Though the brand name promises ‘organics’ there appear to be no organic ingredients in any of these products – but numerous products, including some ‘Kid’s’ products, contain harsh chemicals (a warning on one ‘Kid’s’ hair product reads, ‘keep out of reach of children’!)”
When I made the discovery a few weeks ago the whole lot was tossed in the bin and I have since replaced them with genuine organic products. There are very few organic hair products that are aimed at women with afro textured hair in the UK.
But most organic products are made of natural ingredients that are suitable for all hair types and many products recommended by hair experts such as Audrey Davis-Sivasothy are generic ingredients such as vegetable glycerine, aloe vera juice/gel, castor oil, coconut oil, jojoba oil, and shea butter – all of which are best purchased in unrefined form.
Many companies that produce hair care products aimed at afro textured hair often include these ingredients in processed form which is inferior as most of the nutrients are stripped out during processing.
So my advice is be informed – do your homework before you go shopping for hair care products and you will not only avoid being ripped off by greedy manufacturers, you will also avoid exposing yourself to harmful chemicals!
1 The politics of black hair by Althea prince