Campaign calls on beauty giants to remove cancer-causing chemical from black women’s hair products

By Becky Bargh | Published: 10-Aug-2021

Lye is traditionally used in hair care to straighten coils and curls, but a new study has found repeated use increases risk of breast cancer by 30%

A new campaign is demanding beauty giants remove a ‘harmful’ chemical from hair care products, after an Oxford University study found that repeated use could increase the risk of breast cancer by 30%.

Lye, most commonly referred to as sodium hydroxide, is a heavy-duty, metal hydroxide that is traditionally used as an industrial cleaner or for unclogging drains.

But 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.

#NoMoreLyes, kick-started by feminist group Level Up, has specifically called out cosmetic Behemoths L’Oréal and Revlon, both of which sell products that contain lye, with some targeted at young girls, according to the activist group.

A petition set up by the community has garnered more than 3,700 signatories, with an aim of getting to 5,000.

“Hair relaxers and leave-in conditioners and oils, commonly used by Black/African American women, may contain estrogens or estrogen-disrupting compounds,” the Oxford study wrote.

“Thus, their use may contribute to breast cancer risk.”

In 2014, the EU’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS) ruled that under the Cosmetics Regulation potassium hydroxide – or sodium hydroxide – is safe for use as a callosity softener or remover with a maximum concentration of 1.5% by weight.

In a campaign video, Level Up said: “Black hair products are killing black women, and it’s time we do something about it.”

L’Oréal has come under scrutiny once before for its hair relaxing products.

In 2016, two women filed a lawsuit against the French giant, claiming that its hair relaxer kits caused hair loss and scalp burns.

Despite not listing lye as an ingredient on the brand’s SoftSheen-Carson Optimum Amla Legend No-Mix, No-Lye Relaxer plaintiffs said it was unclear whether the product was truly ‘no-lye’.

Complainants demanded that L’Oréal was tried by a jury and sought compensation on the grounds of false advertising.

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