Black Salon Workers have Increased Exposure to Toxic Chemicals

Dangerous endocrine-disrupting chemicals in beauty products for women of all cultures are commonplace in the U.S.  We have published results from previous scientific studies that found salon workers as a whole are at risk from daily exposure to toxic chemicals in the beauty products they work with. Over the past few years, the scientific data has started to reveal that the chemicals used in beauty products designed for Black women can be especially risky. We recently published the results from a scientific study linking cancer and other health problems to hair dye chemicals and  toxic chemicals commonly found in hair straightening products designed especially for Black women.  Now, in a small pilot study, researchers have examined the exposure and risk levels to toxic chemicals in beauty products in Black and Hispanic salon workers*. The results suggest that compared to their office-working cohorts, Black and Hispanic hair stylists had higher levels of various chemicals in their urine. Those substances included not only known chemicals commonly present in U.S. beauty products like parabens, phthalates and bisphenols, but also many more chemicals the researchers could not even identify.  Scientists say the findings underscore a need to better understand the chemical exposures inherent to salon work — and what the health effects and risks to the salon workers and consumers really are.


Study overview

The research team analyzed urine samples from 23 hairdressers and 17 office workers, all of whom were women of color. Instead of looking only for expected substances, the researchers used a screening method that has been employed to hunt for chemicals lurking in food and wastewater.

Overall, they found that hairdressers were exposed to more chemicals than office workers, including many that have not been previously reported in previous studies of salon industry workers. Using the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) database, the researchers tried to identify possible sources of the unknown chemicals.  They found data on 13 of the compounds, and most have been previously associated with hair care or other personal care products like parabens, phthalates and bisphenols. Some of the others chemicals were linked to cleaning products and air fresheners commonly used in salons. So one possible explanation is that most of the additional chemicals found in hairdressers’ urine also likely came from the workplace environment.

*According to the researchers, there are roughly 700,000 hairdressers in the United States. More than 90% are women and almost one-third are Black women or Hispanic women. Many work in salons while pregnant — as did half of the hairdressers in the present study.

Journal reference:  Newmeyer, M.N., et al. Implementing a suspect screening method to assess occupational chemical exposures among US-based hairdressers serving an ethnically diverse clientele: a pilot study. Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology. January 24, 2023. DOI:  Study