The dangers of using chemical relaxers on Afro hair have been well documented, with complaints of hair loss after treatment being far from uncommon. But a new study in the US suggests that the threat posed by these products also extends to the hairdressers whose job it is to apply them.
According to CityLab, a sister website of American magazine The Atlantic, UCLA Fielding School of Public Health PhD student Teni Adewumi conducted a study of African American hair salons in Inglewood, California, to determine if the stylists had observed any detrimental effects of using hair relaxers on customers.
Chemicals lead to hair loss
She kept coming up with the same answers: asthma, dermatitis and hair loss. Even more alarming, she encountered uterine fibrosis and miscarriage. According to veteran stylists, they experienced the symptoms when they applied relaxers and other chemical straightening treatments.
The findings are alarming: complaints of medical problems caused in this way have not been widely reported. Adewumi says it is her goal to educate the stylists in the hazards of their work and help them to adopt safer working practices. According to CityLab, this includes proper ventilation at their salons, protective equipment and a better understanding of the products themselves.
There is a precedent to Adewumi’s work: CityLab points out that studies dating back to the 1980s found that hair stylists were at risk of a range of conditions including skin and respiratory disease. Furthermore, certain chemicals found in some powerful hair products have been linked to cancers and other diseases.
Says Adewumi: “When we held focus groups with salon workers, we found stories of lack of education on chemical exposures and chemical-related health problems. Even though they had all gone to beauty school, there was just really no training around what these products could do to your body.”
Likely allergic reaction
The reason hairdressers may experience hair loss themselves, despite using the product on others, is due to an allergic reaction prompting a condition called Allergic Telogen Effluvium. This is basically the temporary hair loss condition Telogen Effluvium but when it is triggered by an allergic reaction rather than by an emotional or hormonal response.
It behaves in the same manner, affecting the whole head and causing thinning hair across the scalp. The condition tends to present up to three months after the initial trigger incident and the hair should regrow naturally within around 12 months. Treatment for Telogen Effluvium featuring topical applications of minoxidil directly to the scalp can be used to help accelerate the regrowth process.
Should the hair loss take the form of rounded bald patches rather than thinning, it is possible – though less likely – that a shock brought on by contact with the chemicals used during the relaxing technique could induce Alopecia Areata. This is a common autoimmune condition which disrupts the hair growth cycle leading to patchy hair loss. In the majority of cases it tends to right itself, returning to normal hair production in up to a year but treatment using high strength minoxidil can help to stimulate the follicles back into action.
New legislation sought
Adewumi is hoping to bring about new legislation that requires all manufacturers to list each ingredient on the labels of beauty products and is also fighting to get an outright ban on every ingredient that has been linked to cancer and birth defects.
While stylists have recently been helped to a degree by the black hair trend for untreated, natural hair, they are unlikely to voluntarily turn their backs on customers who want to use chemical relaxers as their financial wellbeing depends on providing the service their clients want. They have, however, been very interested by information Adewumi provides about less chemically-intense products and practices.
If chemical treatments – or exposure to them during application to others – has damaged your hair, whether through hair breakage or causing it to thin, a visit to a specialist clinic may be beneficial for obtaining a professional diagnosis and assessment of your treatment options. In many cases, though not all, conditions related to chemical treatments can be corrected with a bespoke hair loss treatment plan.
However, it is always worth visiting your GP if you are experiencing health issues caused or triggered by your work environment. Belgravia’s hair loss specialists are able to work in tandem with your doctor to treat your hair loss whilst they deal with addressing the underlying cause.
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.