Fashion & Beauty

Do They Really Mean No More “Lyes”?

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By Tanya Maswaure

Previously, we discussed black hair, including politics and good natural products to use.  However, there are so many avenues to explore when it comes to natural hair. We have spoken about some advantages, but in our hair journeys, we can encounter hazards. This is beyond straightener burns and upper arm strain from all the combing. Some of these hazards can actually be fatal such as chemical poisoning from hair relaxers, specifically the toxic chemical called Lye.

Lye is a common name for sodium hydroxide, a harsh chemical commonly used in drain cleaners and hair relaxers. It is a metal hydroxide, traditionally obtained by leaching wood ashes or a strong alkali which is highly soluble in water, producing basic caustic solutions. Cosmetic companies that produce hair relaxers, use this complex and toxic chemical. Sodium Hydroxide relaxers effectively break down the hair bonds and straightens it quickly. Unfortunately, the chemical does not end at the root of the hair.

Recent studies by Oxford University in the Carcinogenesis Journal concluded that Black women who used lye-based relaxers at least seven times a year for over 15 years or more had around a 30 per cent increased risk of developing breast cancer compared with those who used it less frequently. Similar studies by American researchers at the Boston University under the Black Women’s Health Study found that between 1997 and 2017, 95 per cent reported using lye-based relaxers and 2,311 developed breast cancers. Several cosmetics companies claimed to have extracted this chemical from their products due to the damages and effects on women. Companies even advertised that their products have “No lye”. The marketing may have been successful for a while using their play on words and claims, but studies recently discovered that the chemicals still exist in the products on further inspection. The companies just changed the labelling.

News agencies such as The Independent recently examined products aimed at Black women in UK-based hair shops. They found that many contain Lye, including Classic Rhelaxer by Mizani, Shea Miracle Bouncy Curls Pudding by African Pride, and OGX Beauty’s range of shampoos and conditioners, plus a variety of Dark & Lovely shampoos. “Some relaxer kits, such as Just for Me No-Lye Conditioning Crème for children, Africa’s Best Herbal Intensive Deep Conditioning No-Lye Relaxer System and Soft sheen Carson’s Optimum Salon Haircare Defy Breakage No-Lye Relaxer, contain lye in its contents despite the packaging stating otherwise,” they stated in their reports.

Recently, campaigns against these products and relaxers have begun under the hashtag #NoMoreLyes. This is being led by the feminist campaign group Level Up, and their research and studies show that 95.5% of Black British women do not trust big beauty brands to sell them safe products. Level Up has been targeting major brands, including L’Oréal, Revlon and Motions, over shampoo and relaxants containing Lye and other chemicals linked to serious health complications including hormone imbalance, asthma, fibroids and fertility problems. They also petitioned against other unrealistic beauty standards on ITV and stood for different causes such as gender and racial inequality.

Although it is a right of every woman to have her hair done however they wish, it is also a right for them to be safe from harm when creating their individual looks. As discussed earlier in this Amazons Watch  Hair & Beauty series, it is unfortunate that racial stereotypes and persuasions led many women with natural hair to feel that their hair does not meet up with the beauty standards, so they had to straighten their hair. It is even more unfortunate that the desire to feel beautiful in line with misleading standards has dire consequences. Hopefully, this is not an issue that will end in research and papers, but real change can be seen in the major companies and cosmetic lines.

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