Chemicals can kill: Hair Straightening and Heart Failure in African Communities Worldwide

Listen Siblings, I come in peace,

“Who is teaching us that we have the beauty to be loved as we are?” — Onitaset Kumat

An answer is yours truly. Beautiful Siblings, I love you. I love your hair, your skin tone and your nails. I do. But someone’s telling you not to love that hair that changes into the world’s most fascinating styles while it brings you true enlightening spiritual connection! Someone’s telling you not to love your skin tone that represents those noble dark-skinned men and women who are your watchful, heroic ancestors! And someone’s telling you not to love your nails–I have no idea why they tell you that.

“Love yourself.” That’s a poem I wrote that you will love after you donate to the ABS. But for now, read the below article. We’re connecting heart failure with hair straightening. Read it carefully. You’ll see how we talked about this subject near one-hundred years ago and still get it wrong. But we won’t tomorrow.  With regard your hair, Brothers and Sisters, sooner start over than believe another low-life telling you to not love yourself as you are.  Our Creator did not make you ugly and you can not improve on the Creator’s work!  Write the ABS to influence your community to embrace its beauty.  Write to help build African Blood Siblings Community Centers.  Subscribe, share, love.

Chemicals can kill: Hair Straightening and Heart Failure in African Communities Worldwide
By Onitaset Kumat

“For all speech comes from all listening
But all wise from where is wise”

— Onitaset Kumat in “Maroon and Build For Self”

If you are one of the three African women who straightens her hair without chemicals good for you. But Sisters and Brothers we need to talk. Your health is at risk. Your heart is at risk.

The subjects are chemical straighteners and straightening to belong. This is not the first conversation we had. No, no, it’s nowhere near the first. It’s an old, old, old conversation that we are having over, and over, and over again. Here’s writings from 1919 by a leader we all know and love:

“The Chicago Defender,” that has become my arch enemy in the newspaper field, is so, because in 1918-1919 I started the “Negro World” to preserve the term Negro to the race as against the desperate desire of other newspapermen to substitute the term “colored” for the race. Nearly all the newspapers of the race had entered into a conspiracy to taboo the term “Negro” and popularize the term “colored” as the proper race term. To augment this they also fostered the propaganda of bleaching out black skins to light complexions, and straightening out kinky or curly hair to meet the “standard” of the new “society” that was being promoted. I severely criticised “The Chicago Defender” for publishing humiliating and vicious advertisements against the pride and integrity of the race. At that time the “Defender” was publishing full page advertisements about “bleaching the skin” and “straightening the hair.” One of these advertisements was from the Plough Manufacturing Company of Tennessee made up as follows:

“There were many degrading exhortations to the race to change its black complexion as an entrant to society. There were pictures of two women, one black and the other very bright and under the picture of the black woman appeared these words: `Lighten your black skin,’ indicating perfection to be reached by bleaching white like the light woman. There were other advertisements such as `Bleach your dark skin,’ `take the black out of your face,’ `If you want to be in society lighten your black skin,’ `Have a light complexion and be in society,’ `Light skin beauty over night,’ `Amazing bleach works under skin,’ `The only harmless way to bleach the skin white,’ `The most wonderful skin whitener,’ `Straighten your kinky hair,’ `Take the kink out of your hair and be in society,’ `Knock the kink out,’ `Straighten hair in five days,’ etc. These advertisements could also be found in any of the Negro papers published all over the country influencing the poor, unthinking masses to be dissatisfied with their race and color, and to `aspire’ to look white so as to be in society. I attacked this vicious propaganda and brought down upon my head the damnation of the `leaders’ who sought to make a new race and a monkey out of the Negro.”

[Onitaset Edit: The following part is included as exaltation of the ABS Newsletter (from 1919); subscribe and share]

“The Negro World” has rendered a wonderful service to Negro journalism in the United States. It has gradually changed the tone and make-up of some of the papers, and where in 1914-15-16 there was no tendency to notice matters of great importance, today several of the papers are publishing international news and writing intelligent editorials on pertinent subjects. It has been a long and costly fight to bring this about.

I do hope that the statements of truth I have made will further help to bring about a reorganization of the Negro press. I fully realize that very little can be achieved by way of improvement for the race when its press is controlled by crafty and unscrupulous persons who have no pride or love of race.

We need crusaders in journalism who will not seek to enrich themselves off the crimes and ignorance of our race, but men and women who will risk everything for the promotion of racial pride, self respect, love and integrity. The mistake the race is making is to accept and believe that our unprincipled newspaper editors and publishers are our leaders, some of them are our biggest crooks and defamers.

Situated as we are, in a civilization of prejudice and contempt, it is not for us to inspire and advertise the vices of our people, but, by proper leadership, to form characters that would reflect the highest credit upon us and win the highest opinion of an observant and critical world.

— Marcus Garvey in “Philosophies and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, pages 78-80”

You know that we had this conversation again in the ’60s with “Black is Beautiful.” You may not remember that we had this conversation again in “School Daze.”

But you know that we are having this conversation again today.  Here’s a recent example of the hair debate sure to inspire memories.

On Saturday mornings we would gather in the kitchen to get our hair fixed, that is straightened. Smells of burning grease and hair, mingled with the scent of our freshly washed bodies, with collard greens cooking on the stove, with fried fish. We did not go to the hairdresser. Mama fixed our hair. Six daughters—there was no way we could have afforded hairdressers. In those days, this process of straightening black women’s hair with a hot comb (invented by Madame C. J. Walker) was not connected in my mind with the effort to look white, to live out standards of beauty set by white supremacy. It was connected solely with rites of initiation into womanhood. To arrive at that point where one’s hair could be straightened was to move from being perceived as child (whose hair could be neatly combed and braided) to being almost a woman. It was this moment of transition my sisters and I longed for.

Hair pressing was a ritual of black women’s culture of intimacy. It was an exclusive moment when black women (even those who did not know one another well) might meet at home or in the beauty parlor to talk with one another, to listen to the talk. It was as important a world as that of the male barber shop—mysterious, secret. It was a world where the images constructed as barriers between one’s self and the world were briefly let go, before they were made again. It was a moment of creativity, a moment of change.

I wanted this change even though I had been told all my life that I was one of the “lucky” ones because I had been born with “good hair”—hair that was fine, almost straight—not good enough, but still good. Hair that had no nappy edges, no “kitchen,” that area close to the neck that the hot comb could not reach. This “good hair” meant nothing to me when it stood as a barrier to my entering this secret black woman world. I was overjoyed when mama finally agreed that I could join the Saturday ritual, no longer looking on but patiently waiting my turn. I have written of this ritual: “For each of us getting our hair pressed is an important ritual. It is not a sign of our longing to be white. There are no white people in our intimate world. It is a sign of our desire to be women. It is a gesture that says we are approaching womanhood…. Before we reach the appropriate age we wear braids, plaits that are symbols of our innocence, our youth, our childhood. Then we are comforted by the parting hands that comb and braid, comforted by the intimacy and bliss. There is a deeper intimacy in the kitchen on Saturdays when hair is pressed, when fish is fried, when sodas are passed around, when soul music drifts over the talk. It is a time without men. It is a time when we work as women to meet each other’s needs, to make each other feel good inside, a time of laughter and outrageous talk.”

. . .

Within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, the social and political context in which the custom of black folks straightening our hair emerges, it represents an imitation of the dominant white group’s appearance and often indicates internalized racism, self-hatred, and/or low self esteem. During the 1960s black people who actively worked to critique, challenge, and change white racism pointed to the way in which black people’s obsession with straight hair reflected a colonized mentality. It was at this time that the natural hairdo, the “afro,” became fashionable as a sign of cultural resistance to racist oppression and as a celebration of blackness. Naturals were equated with political militancy. Many young black folks found just how much political value was placed on straightened hair as a sign of respectability and conformity to societal expectations when they ceased to straighten their hair. When black liberation struggles did not lead to revolutionary change in society, the focus on the political relationship between appearance and complicity with white racism ceased and folks who had once sported afros began to straighten their hair.

— bell hooks in “Straightening Our Hair” (1989)

Read More:

In fact, we’re having this discussion all over the world. For instance, in the UK (aren’t we beautiful?):

(The above video is private, search “Kickin with the Kinks.”)

And Nigeria:

the one social status symbol of choice that cuts across Nigeria’s vast class and culture groups is hair extensions. And the longer and straighter, the better.

. . .

Some Nigerians have reported that they have been warned to “do something” about their hair at work. Black women in the US and South Africa have pursued successful workplace harassment cases in similar incidents, saying it amounts to discrimination.

In Nigeria, that puzzles many. “South Africans like natural hair because they’re not fashion-conscious,” said a Lagos salon owner, Abogo Ugwokeghbe. “But Nigerian women like the latest fashion,” he added.

Scores of them visit his popular DSalon Downtown chains to straighten their hair. Sodium hydroxide, the key ingredient used in the bi-monthly process, irons out even the toughest afro curls — but burns the scalp if left on too long. It’s considered a worthwhile risk, with some perceiving it as a necessity in a hyper class-conscious society.

“No rich man will marry a girl with village [unstraightened] hair,” declared Esther, 18, a rural migrant to the capital, Abuja, as chemical fumes wafted off the cream smothered on own scalp in the Natural Beauty salon, a four-seat outfit in a crowded market.

. .

Costs vary from $300–$800 (£194 –£515) and beyond – a third of the average salary in Nigeria — and depends on the origins

. . .

Natural Nigerian points out exceptions: “Black American women can wear their hair natural in Nigeria. They’ll be forgiven for it because they’re seen as exotic creatures.”

Read More:

And here we see that this Hair debate not only regards the unhealthiness but also the “unwealthiness.” But this is not so only in Nigeria where $300-800 USD is normal. In the documentary “Good Hair,” Chris Rock shares this lovable scene:

But the unwealthiness is not only due the consumer, also the race; for the race was manipulated out of the market.  This conclusion has been explicitly decided by Revlon’s President of Professional products Irving Bottner in the 1980’s:

“In the next couple of years, the black-owned businesses will disappear. They’ll all be sold to white companies. . . . We are accused of taking business away from the black companies, but black consumers buy quality products — too often their black brothers didn’t do them any good.”

Read More:

This is the same Revlon with Halle Berry as a spokeswoman.

Revlon’s President explicitly sought to overtake Black’s from the Black haircare business, by putting pretty “African” women as spokespeople. But Halle Berry wasn’t the first . . ..

But she is not the first person to participate in the destruction of the albeit wrongheaded African business:

Back in the 80s many black-owned cosmetic and hair care companies dominated the market in products for black consumers—for many it was due to the popularity of the Jheri Curl style (that money dripped long all the way to the bank). Large white-owned companies who previously ignored the needs of the black hair community were seeing declines in profits and were looking for new markets to tap. They began to take notice that blacks spent a much greater percentage on hair and skin products than their white counterparts. So they put their heads together and began to employ tactics like buying struggling black owned cosmetic and hair care companies and signing big contracts to have leading African-American celebrities like Anita Baker, Billy Dee Williams, and Jayne Kennedy become spokespeople for their products. Soon white owned companies began to dominate the market as black owned companies could barely keep up financially.

So now few Black-owned (albeit misguided) hair care companies exist today: Bronner Brothers, Luster Products and Dudley Products are among the few that still exist.

But you’re interested in the toxicity and heart failure?

Hair relaxers are used by millions of black women, possibly exposing them to various chemicals through scalp lesions and burns. In the Black Women’s Health Study, the authors assessed hair relaxer use in relation to uterine leiomyomata incidence. In 1997, participants reported on hair relaxer use (age at first use, frequency, duration, number of burns, and type of formulation). From 1997 to 2009, 23,580 premenopausal women were followed for incident uterine leiomyomata. Multivariable Cox regression was used to estimate incidence rate ratios and 95% confidence intervals. During 199,991 person-years, 7,146 cases of uterine leiomyomata were reported as confirmed by ultrasound (n = 4,630) or surgery (n = 2,516). The incidence rate ratio comparing ever with never use of relaxers was 1.17 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.06, 1.30). Positive trends were observed for frequency of use (Ptrend < 0.001), duration of use (Ptrend = 0.015), and number of burns (Ptrend < 0.001). Among long-term users (?10 years), the incidence rate ratios for frequency of use categories 3–4, 5–6, and ?7 versus 1–2 times/year were 1.04 (95% CI: 0.92, 1.19), 1.12 (95% CI: 0.99, 1.27), and 1.15 (95% CI: 1.01, 1.31), respectively (Ptrend = 0.002). Risk was unrelated to age at first use or type of formulation. These findings raise the hypothesis that hair relaxer use increases uterine leiomyomata risk.

Read More:


Childhood hair oil and perm use were associated with earlier menarche. If replicated, these results suggest that hair product use may be important to measure in evaluating earlier age at menarche.

Read More:


Since the 1970s, when America’s environmental movement created unprecedented awareness of the damage humans were doing to planet Earth and to ourselves, there has been little if any media attention or research on the possible connections between Black beauty salons, the personal care products utilized primarily by Black women and adverse health outcomes, specifically in the area of reproductive health.

The chemicals found in common Black hair products are known as estrogen and endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs.

Many women are turning to natural styles to avoid exposure to harsh chemicals found in hair care products. Photos (L-R):,, Natural hair sorority and fraternity/facebook
Although comprehensive research is ongoing, many of these chemicals are believed to be linked to reproductive effects and birth defects, breast cancer, heart disease, cognitive disorders, premature puberty and altered immune function, to name a few. Some chemicals found in common Black hair products such as straighteners/relaxers (perms), detanglers, colorants, shampoos and conditioners (Estrogen and endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs) Sodium Hydroxide (Lye) and Calcium Hydroxide (No Lye) Diazolidinyl Urea DMDM Hydantoin Propylene Glycol Diethanolamine Monoethanolamine Triethanolamine Sodium Lauryl Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate Hydroquinone Colorants and Synthetic Colors labeled as D&C and/or FD&C

But that has begun to change.

In May of 2011, Dr. Mary Beth Terry and others authored a study, the findings of which showed that African-American and African-Caribbean women were more likely to be exposed to hormonally-active chemicals in hair products.

Dr. Terry’s study, “Racial/Ethnic Differences in Hormonally-Active Hair Product Use: A Plausible Risk Factor for Health Disparities,” published in the Journal of Immigrant Health, found that the African-American African Caribbean women surveyed used products that contained chemicals—commonly referred to as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)—linked to various reproductive and birth defects, breast cancer and heart disease.

Most recently, a team of researchers led by Dr. Lauren Wise of Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center found strong evidence indicating that Black women’s hair relaxer use increases the risk for uterine fibroid tumors by exposing Black women to various chemicals through scalp lesions and burns from the products.

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or just outside a woman’s uterus/womb from normal uterine cells that begin to grow abnormally. Although fibroids are fairly common, Black women tend to get them two to three times as often as White women and experience more symptoms from them, such as prolonged and heavy menstrual flow, difficulty conceiving a child, and instances of pain during menses and intercourse.

Read More:


What is Brazilian Blowout?

Brazilian Blowout is a professional hair straightener designed to straighten curly or frizzy hair for up to three months. It is applied by a stylist with the use of a flat iron. It is not meant for consumer use at home. Hair straighteners like Brazilian Blowout are also known as keratin hair smoothing products.

How is it harmful?

Though it is labeled “formaldehyde-free,” Brazilian Blowout and several other leading brands of hair straightening products have been found to contain high levels of formaldehyde (also referred to as methylene glycol). Formaldehyde gas is a dangerous pollutant that can be severely irritating to the eyes, nose and throat, and long term exposure to formaldehyde in the workplace has been associated with an increased risk of cancer. It is released during the heating process used in the application of the product.

Read More:


It’s no better with the nail-care industry that Orientals run in our neighborhoods. See:

Yet, thus far, this article showed you a political basis for hair-straightening where it impresses conforming to Occidentalism, and ergo Tribalism, pitting Nigerians against South-Africans and Black Americans against Black Americans–or easier said: Africans against Africans or unwitting self-hatred.

We showed you the economical basis for hair-straightening where we lose monies to Occidentals and Orientals and give their beauty standards higher capital than our own. Even though it’s causing us health problems; the wealth problems are there too!

We even showed you the cultural basis for hair-straightening. We are emulating an inappropriate beauty standard and not appreciating ourselves as we are. On top of this, this chemical poisoning makes us not only reproduce with ourselves less; we’re less able to successfully reproduce due the health effects.

And this article even goes back in time, near one-hundred years of the same behavior and debate that resurfaces every other year since even before then.

I even show you the awesome styles we can get with our natural hair and the spiritual benefits we can gain too.

But you want to know about “heart failure.”

Then become a scientist.

Or gain some power. As long as you’re so powerless, few are studying your problems. And truly, you don’t need to worry about the “heart failure” if you finally settled the debate and told the Occidentals and Orientals that you love yourself as you are.

We are forming Prosperous, Independent African Communities worldwide. You don’t need to concern yourself with the dangers of chemicals when you’re Prosperous, Independent and Natural!

But for your information Chemicals can kill.  So let the Occidentals and Orientals kill themselves.  We need to build!  Build with the ABS!

10 thoughts on “Chemicals can kill: Hair Straightening and Heart Failure in African Communities Worldwide

  1. There may also be a another danger in Whites owning Black hair products. A case in point is the hair straightener called “Dark And Lovely”. Johnson and Johnson, a Black company, developed and sold this product since the 60’s. It was very popular. About 10 years ago a number of Black women were complaining that they used “Dark And Lovely” and it took their hair out.
    I did some research and discovered that a French company called Loreal had bought the company from Johnson and Johnson. They obviously did something to the product. It would stand to reason that they may have been using cheaper ingredients, but still selling at higher prices.
    Dr. Amos N. Wilson details in his book “BluePrint For Black Power” the difficulties that Black owned hair care companies face, particularly in distribution and stocking in retail stores. The discrimination faced at every level, from marketing to stocking in retail stores contributed to their struggles to stay afloat. The real danger with white owned companies making products exclusively for Blacks is: From a historical perspective, can we really give them this power?

    1. Excellent commentary. It reminds of the posting on the fillers added to chicken to give less product for the same price:

      White people poison themselves for money. They sell cigarettes to themselves and they put pork in their chicken to reduce cost and maximize profits.

      Insomuch as they are willing to kill themselves, what makes us think that they are unwilling to kill us?

      We promote Community Centers for a plethora of reason. African people need learning centers to keep abreast with what’s important and to learn that which we are neglecting to learn. Yet, it also centralizes distribution stations and commerce. The difficulties of our products distribution is cleared when people come to a Center where operations for distribution are no longer reliant on Europeans or Asians, but is African-based and local.

      We work to improve our lives. The shame is the necessity. We need to inform our people that these Europeans and Asians mean us harm.

      Thanks for your comment,

    2. Another reason why I wholly disagree with the selling of Black hair care companies to whites is the fact that they are not experts on “Black hair”. They will buy up all of these companies and most likely use the same chemicals in all of their products not realizing (or caring) that all Blacks do not share the same hair texture and/or type. The movie “Good Hair” really opened my eyes about the business practices of this.

      1. Sibling Mickey, I come in peace,

        I think that it is imperative that we as a people overlook what Mastery Europeans (or Asians) may or may not have, mostly because when we adopt the paradigm that we can judge the quality despite its maker, we fall into their view of money consciousness and endorsements. An important passage from the above article relates to Anita Baker, Billy Dee Williams, and Jayne Kennedy being spokeswomen for White-owned products. This endorsement, true or not, instantly legitimizes the quality of the European’s product. Why? These women with much more money than us, who are arguably incredibly beautiful, fashionable and loved (what we want to be seen as), use a ‘cheap’ product within my or your budget. How can it be illegitimate? Then, these White-owned companies close us out of the market and we are no longer the arbiters of our own beauty.

        To me, it would not matter if Europeans or Asians made better quality food, clothing, shelter, our own need to own this, because this is how we survive as a Community. This is the consciousness that our people need to adopt. If we argue for the quality of Europeans or Asians, we argue that as long as they are cheaper and have the right product, we should endorse them over our own. This is the belief that keeps recurring and getting us into the same messes. This is their consciousness imposed upon us and we continue to not teach ourselves to not live in this sense. This is the falsehood that results from our not learning Ecology from a purposeful perspective. This is why I urge every reader, including yourself, to get serious about creating an African Blood Siblings Community Center.

        For more information on the study of Sociology, Ecology, and Psychology, read “The Philosophical Basis of African Liberation . . ..:”

        Thanks for sharing, I go in peace,

  2. SPike Lee?
    This wasn’t about hair. THis was an excuse to watch fine women in tight clothing whilst pretending to be examining a political issue. (“,)

      1. One man put a seed in the ground, saw no tree the next day, then neglected it thereafter.

        Another man put a seed in the ground, saw no tree the next day, but cared for the mound.

        Which tree grew flourished and which tree grew diminished? What should you be doing?

  3. When I was younger, I used to relax my hair. My first time doing so was when I was 10 years old… I would continue maybe once or twice a year from the time I was 10 until the time I was 20. 10 years of causing internal harm to my body, and 10 years of repeating my own imposed-upon self-hate. I cut the relaxer from my hair 2 years ago.

    Alarmingly, I was shown this today:

    It’s a list of cancer-causing personal hair products and personal care products. Many of these “Africa’s Best” and so forth, are marketed to “natural haired” women. It just shows the importance of owning our own and making for our own… Let them poison themselves!

    1. Peace,

      If crocodiles eat their own eggs what would they do to the flesh of a frog — African Proverb

      The idea of Europeans poisoning their own yet Hating us doesn’t dawn on us that it means he reserves the serious poisons for us. After the countless medical experiments–on himself and us–and the countless injuries–to himself and us–and the inferior social organization–for himself and us–we remain confident in their ability to do right by us. We must do for self. What’s more–as you point out–our people are applying European beauty standards to ourselves. We’re looking at what the European people see most desirable in us and copying it. We’re also imposing that desirability to ourselves. Nevermind the beautiful designs African men and women have on their continent–that’s not what we want for ourselves! And that’s what our youth are learning! There’s much that needs to be done; but first and foremost we must recognize who our enemies are and who has our best interest at hand and which Organization will advance the African Race. Of course to the last, it’s the African Blood Siblings.

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