The rise of ‘clean beauty’ has seen many beauty brands make a conscious effort to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. In skincare, some brands are standing up and making changes to be more conscious with formulas and chemicals contained in products. For example, Coty’s CoverGirl are making steps towards being “clean” and transparent as the brand’s first clean and vegan line doesn’t include sulphates, formaldehyde, phthalates, parabens, or talc. Additionally, Japanese hair care brand Masami uses just one natural source as a main ingredient that tackles all hair issues. Mekabu powder is a Japanese ocean botanical, mainly used as a food source, which is known for providing massive hydration and nourishment. The brand’s low-foaming shampoo contains no parabens, sulphates, phthalates, alcohol, silicone, or animal testing.
However, despite the efforts – these revolutionary changes do not seem to be translating into health concerns around ingredients – most notably in the hair products marketed at black women.
Lye, also known as sodium hydroxide, is traditionally used as an industrial cleaner and for unclogging drains, however, lye is also used in hair relaxers, a type of lotion or cream commonly used by black consumers to make it easier to straighten out curls and coils. Worryingly, an Oxford university study found that hair relaxers and leave-in conditioners and oils, commonly used by Black or African American women, may contain oestrogens or oestrogen-disrupting compounds which contribute to breast cancer risk; black women who use lye-based relaxers are at an increased risk of breast cancer by 30%. But Lye and other harmful ingredients still exist in 40% of hair products that are made for the general public and 70% of products marketed for black hair. (Source: Sierra Club, 2018)
A growing community of UK feminists, Level up, are demanding beauty giants remove harmful chemicals from hair care products with the campaign – #NoMoreLyes. The goal is to raise awareness of toxic relaxers. Their petition states “even products that are marketed as ‘no lye’ still contain harmful hydroxides including calcium hydroxide and lithium hydroxide which have been linked to hair loss and scalp burns.”
What do brands need to do? If brands are saying they are cleaning up their act on the ingredient fronts this should mean doing it across the board looking at all angles of harm, not just sustainability. Consumer health is paramount and ingredients that affect this should be top of the list to look for alternatives for. It is up to brands to make a conscious effort to be transparent and highlight the implications of toxic chemicals. Brands need to review all their ingredients including lye, sulphates, and parabens.
For more information, and to sign the petition, visit: https://act.welevelup.org/campaigns/petition-no-more-lyes