It can be difficult to monitor what’s actually in your hair products, because manufacturers are not obligated to list all the ingredients they use. This is particularly true in the case of Black haircare products. This unnerving reality is evidenced in a study, released in April by the Silent Spring Institute and the Battelle Memorial Institute, which indicated that 80% of haircare products marketed at Black women contained potentially harmful ingredients that were not included on the product labels. While the study was based on products from the US, the impact on Black women in Britain is potentially huge, since a large proportion of haircare products are imported from the US.
Discontent with the lid that seems to have been nailed shut onto the coffin of the Black haircare industry, UK-based author, haircare coach and renowned blogger, Tola Okogwu, is putting together a 14-month-long project aimed at raising awareness of the situation, and educating women about how to utilise available data to make more informed choices that will benefit their health.
The main part of the project will be the production of a documentary, ‘My Haircare Nightmare’, that will delve into the issues and seek to answer pertinent questions about the safety of Black haircare products. Tola said: “By bringing the issues into the spotlight, it is hoped that the documentary will encourage more research and demand more from manufacturers.”
Following her appearance in a BBC interview in April, to discuss the dangers of Black haircare products, Tola decided to pursue the documentary project when the interview went viral.
“Thousands of women were rightly shocked and concerned at the revelations,” Tola explained. “Eighty percent of products tested contained endocrine-disrupting and asthma-causing chemicals. Endocrine disrupters have been linked to hormone-related diseases such as breast cancer, and conditions such as fibroids. The even more worrying issue is that the majority of these products have been formulated based on assumptions about how Caucasian women use haircare products. But Black women’s usage of products is unique, in that they typically use considerably more products and they use them frequently. This has implications in terms of increased exposure to the harmful chemicals contained in these products.
“The Black haircare industry is unregulated, and therein lies the problem. My advice to women is to seek out ethical and transparent product manufacturers, who are committed to the welfare of their customers.”atary is estimated atney.n indeogo t of recommndations. turers
Tola admitted that unearthing a company’s ethos can sometimes be a tricky business, but Almocado, Root2Tip, Shea Decadence and SuperFoodLX are a few of the companies that came high on her list of recommendations. She favours companies that are willing to engage openly with customers. She said these usually tend to be smaller companies, with a personal story behind their product development, and advises women to contact companies directly if in doubt about any ingredients. “Companies are obliged to answer consumer questions, and good companies will certainly be forthcoming regarding what they are about,” Tola said. “Consumers can also check for information on ingredients on the Environmental Working Group’s website.” Tola said one of the objectives of the project was to produce a directory of recommended haircare brands.
The projected cost of the ‘My Haircare Nightmare’ documentary is £86,000. Tola and her team have set up an Indiegogo campaign to raise the money, with perks such as books, guides, discounts, credit mentions and hair consultations for supporters.
Tola has collaborated with Lake Health and Wellbeing and award-winning film-maker, Sheila Marshall, to execute the project. “This project is an important venture,” she said, “because Black women spend disproportionately more on haircare products than their racial counterparts, yet they are severely underrepresented and underserved by the industry. Social and economic factors make us vulnerable and, as a double minority, our issues are largely ignored. This documentary is a chance for us to tell our collective stories, and to make a change that will affect generations to come.”
Further information can be obtained from Tola’s website: www.tolaokogwu.com, or connect with Tola on her blog: ‘My Long Hair Journey’.