For years women have been perming our hair without much thought to what the chemicals did to our bodies. While some black women have decided to give up the “creamy crack” because of the damage its done to their tresses, a pair of new studies could cause others to forgo their next touch up.

According to researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, women who used childhood hair products, such as perms and “hair oil”, were much more likely to reach puberty before those who did not.

The study recruited 300 women from various ethnic backgrounds between the ages of 18-77.  Researchers then asked the group why type of hair products they used before age 13. What they found was interesting. According to the numbers, “African-Americans were more likely to use hair products and reached menarche earlier than other racial/ethnic groups.”

In another study, researchers at the Slone Epidemiology Center in Boston also found that black women who used relaxers have a higher risk of uterine leiomyomata, or fibroids.

While both studies showed links between relaxers and other health issues in black women, doctors believe that more research is needed on these topics. However, these studies, again remind us that we have to be vigilant about what goes in and on our bodies.

How do you decide what hair products you use? 

  • Reality Check

    hair Nazis !

  • ruggie

    Neither study compared BW who had no exposure to relaxers with to BW who did, so this so-called “link” to fibroids is pure speculation.

  • bk chick

    There could be a 3rd factor explaining the link between early menstruation and use of perms…I hate when studies are published with correlations and nothing else…hopefully the public is willing to dig deeper and actually read the study and get the full picture

  • edub

    Holla! I’m a researcher at Slone! Wow.
    Anyhoo, I don’t think any causal interpretation was implied, only associations–big difference.

    Here’s the conclusion:


    In this study, childhood use of hair oils and perms was associated with earlier recalled age at menarche, independent of year of birth and race/ethnicity. Given the cross-sectional design of this study these findings could be due to reverse causation. However, when restricting to women who recalled initiating hair oil use for a prolonged period of at least 2 years before the onset of menarche, we found the association between hair oil use and early menarche to be stronger. On the other hand, hair lotions, leave-in conditioners, and other types of products, were not associated with an early menarche.

    The variation in these associations may reflect greater EDC or estrogen content in hair oils and perms compared to other types of products. For example, hair oils may contain more methylparaben or mono-ethyl phthalate, than other types of hair products. If these chemicals are more likely to alter menarche, then we may expect to see a stronger association between hair oil use and earlier age at menarche. Alternatively, use of hair oils and perms could be a surrogate for using other types of products containing EDCs, such as body lotions or nail polish. It is also possible that use of these products is a surrogate for other unmeasured environmental factors.

    Given the racial/ethnic differences in hair product use, African-American and African-Caribbean girls may be more likely to be exposed to estrogens or EDCs, such as phthalates and parabens contained in hair products (3). Based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, African-American girls between 6–11 years of age have double the mono-ethyl phthalate levels compared to children of other racial/ethnic groups (15). Interestingly, African-American girls are also more likely to reach menarche earlier than other racial/ethnic groups [16], [17] and [18]. Exposure to EDCs from hair products may explain some of these variations in age at menarche.

    Additionally, in adult studies phthalates have been shown to be associated with increased risk of obesity [19], [20] and [21]. Although this association is yet to be evaluated in children, larger body size is associated with earlier age at menarche (22). Thus, increased body size or fatness may mediate the association between hair product use and age at menarche. Although this study does not have data on prepubertal body size, future studies may be able to examine the role of this potential mediator of the association between hair product use and earlier age at menarche.

    Our study has several limitations that warrant consideration. First, we used a retrospective assessment of age at menarche. We did not have other measures of pubertal development. However, we restricted our analysis to girls who had initiated hair product use at least 2 years before the onset of menarche and found stronger associations between product use and age at menarche. We also did not have data on childhood body size, childhood socioeconomic status, and other important variables that may be related to age at menarche. We also used convenience sampling techniques, which could bias our study results. In addition, the current study did not have historic samples of hair products to test for estrogen or EDCs, such as phthalates or parabens. However, chemicals such as parabens have been added to cosmetic products for over 70 years (23). Given our broad age range, the chemical composition of hair products may have changed over time. As such a prospective study would provide more definitive confirmation of our findings. Nevertheless, these results suggest that the use of certain types of hair products could impact age at menarche.

    Despite these limitations, this novel study contains the following strengths: (1) use of an extensive hair products study questionnaire and label book, which were informed by racially/ethnically diverse focus groups; (2) an assessment of the association between duration of hair product use and age at menarche; and (3) an evaluation of the research question in a racially/ethnically diverse study population, including both African-American and African Caribbean women who differed in prevalence of hair product use and age at menarche.

    Future studies should evaluate this research question prospectively and test the chemical composition of hair products to ensure that the results are not due to information or selection bias. Further information is needed on the estrogenic activity of hair products, as well as alterations in circulating estrogen levels in prepubertal children who use these products. These findings warrant further investigation to determine whether hair product use could be a modifiable risk factor for earlier age at menarche.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    be nappy and happy……..

  • itsme

    Ummm, can you translate this please?

  • JaeBee

    Exactly. I’d like to know if diet was accounted for in this study. I find it very difficult to believe that early onset menarche is caused by using certain hair products alone. Did the researchers study the diet of the control group versus the one that received relaxers/used hair oil?

  • I got sense!

    HA! Now where are all those who want to defend putting poisons in their bodies and worse, their young daughters bodies???

  • Nunya

    This is very interesting. I do recall that in my female biology textbook that it has been long proven that the absence of an adult male in the home brings menarche earlier. I suspect that this has more to do with it than relaxers.

  • Tonton Michel

    In other words the jury is still out.

  • jamesfrmphilly

    say wha…….

  • Nunya

    Yes, the female body is all about chemistry. To be more exact, girls who have a heavily invested biological father in the home have later menarche. Stepfathers bring menarche earlier, as does the absence of a father in the home. Google it.

  • Tonton Michel

    Makes sense, I have heard of women who live together having their cycle come at the same time, even witnessed it in one case my self. If that can happen why not this. Of course you do know you will be dragged through the mud for the implications behind that statement.

  • thinkpink

    Thank you so much for mentioning this I was just about to add that. Young girls who are subject to domestic violence in the home or high stressors at a young age are subject to early onset menarche. So this “study” gives us no real insight into what truly causes early menarche. African american girls just so happen to use relaxers but the true cause could be caused by factors that have absolutely nothing to do with hair.

  • Tabby

    Even though I’m down with the au naturale movement, I must say, this “study” sounds a little suspect. Did they only survey 300 women who have used relaxers or a portion of women who do not / have not used relaxers? Sounds like another “researcher” reaching for another way to condemn black women for their hair choices. Let’s leave the scientific stuff up to the real biological scientists please and thanks!

  • apple

    Is this why it took me til 22 to get big breast? Should have been got a perm /sarcasm

  • Nunya

    Yeah, sadly many young black girls have that perfect trifecta of fatherlessness, high stress
    environments, and poor diets of highly processed,estrogen hormone-injected meats. Additionally many of our girls are at risk for sexual abuse which also can affect the onset of menarche.

    In the 1800′s the average onset of menarche was like, 16 or 17 years old. The food conglomerates are playing a HUGE role in this multi-billion dollar catastrophe, but they pretty much have a stranglehold government, so don’t count on this info getting into high school textbooks.

    We now have little girls who still play with Barbies who are menstruating with the breasts of a 25 year old woman. This is not normal and puts them at serious risk.

  • CaramelBeauty

    Well, it may be true, but what about the 80% of white women who have fibroids? They do perm their hair also, but, are the chemicals in their relaxers similar to those in the “creamy crack”?

    I agree perms are no good, they ruin black womens’ hair and make it difficult for black women to get any real length to their hair. I gave up the “creamy crack” and the texturizers and my hair is healthy and beautiful and I love it!!!!!!

    This may be a breakthrough, but I think they should look at other factors as well. Fibroids are way too common, not only for black women, but for white women as well.

  • African Mami

    @ edub,

    A one line summary is all I needed….all that was translated in my mind as:dkhfhksdhi8w3ru39203w09ueu34983r409

  • Bridge

    Poor you edub,

    itsme and AfricanMami didn’t get what you said.
    As Tonton michel said, the one line summary is the jury is still out.
    But you know I think if you gave a one line summary people still wouldn’t get it. Yeah, Clutch spoke about the article briefly (3 line summary) and people had questions. So you gave answers and they said give us a 1 line summary.
    Edub, I think this is your fault :P, you need to learn how to communicate technical information to the public.

  • Bridge

    80% of white women do not have fibroids. The figure is more like 40%. But 80% of black women do have fibroids.

  • Bridge

    Tabby, scientists work together.
    This is a preliminary study (which is why they use a small number of women 300). Scientists don’t waste resources on thousands of study participants when they’re exploring preliminary hypotheses. Also, how do you know that the epidemiologists who did the study aren’t also biological scientists? Scientists get multiple degrees in different fields and at different levels. Scientists in different fields work together and are in the same circles, hospitals, and universities. Most biological scientists would not explore this hypothesis if epidemiologist didn’t already get the ball rolling by doing a simple preliminary study (they probably wouldn’t get funding even if the wanted to study it).

  • Ebony82

    My hair is natural and for the most part, I use products that are also natural. My hair texture does not respond to the everyday beauty supply store products because of how many chemicals are in them. If I don’t understand the ingredients, then neither will my hair. I always make sure I read the ingredients in the products first and then I do a sniff test to decide if it is appropriate. Most of the time, that works.

  • edub

    Sorry. I just wanted to present the conclusions straight from the horse’s mouth. I can’t summarize it any better than this.

    The jury is still out, yes. It took a LONG time for our country to accept that smoking caused cancer. I think it’s a novel preliminary study. They FULLY admit to not having all the pieces of the puzzle but just wanted to take a stab and see what’s there. Clearly there are many confounding parts to the story–as so many of you have rightly addressed. However and again, it’s a start. Research takes time.

    So, if eventually they find that perms do cause significant harm, you WILL turn down class action law-suit coins?

    In this day and age when research funding is so tight, I am happy that people are interested in unearthing things that influence our (black women) lives.

  • edub

    So well said, Bridge. I agree with you completely.

    I know the people who worked on this study. They are NOT out to sham black women. I would think that you would be happy that someone was interested in seeing if chemicals you put in your hair could negatively and significantly affect you? No?

  • 2cents

    I don’t know how true it is, but when I first read about this study last week there were a number of women who were responding that they didn’t care what the study concluded they weren’t giving up there relaxers.

    The fact that it can burn our scalps and leave sores doesn’t stop us, the possibility of increased health risk won’t stop us…what price are we willing to pay for straight hair?

    I gave up relaxers 15 years ago and my hair as never been longer or healthier. And I get more compliments on my curls than I did when it was straightened.

  • Jersey Vixen

    It’s common knowledge that a lot of products geared towards black hair contain estrogen-like substances. These kind of substances is also in a lot of the processed foods we eat. It explains why many of my nieces started going through changes as early as age 5 and 7 yo. It’s crazy. The worst part is those substances not only drive us to go through puperty early but the extra hormones also contribute to breast cancer and other issues as an over load of estrogen, and menstruating early is a factor. We need to stop getting sensitive when our creamy crack and products are questionned, it’s for our own good. looking at the comments a lot of people are wilding out. When I have kids I will use basic oil mixes and spritzes for their hair, like olive oil mixed with other essential oils. Even myself now I keep it simple. I have locs and use mostly products with unprocessed ingredients that I recognize. This loctician I know makes a wonderful oil blend that I use called “Ancient Blends”. Her name is Yendys Nefer-Atum of the cowrie shell center, Google her.

  • Georgia

    The article above is a summary; thanks, edub, for giving Clutch readers access to more information that they can analyze for themselves.

  • KT

    edub thank you for providing an executive summary of the research. Well done. My mother always said “who can’t hear will feel”. I stopped chemically processing my hair at 22 (started at age 13) I’m now 39. I can remember the horrible burns I use to get from relaxers to the point where I would shake uncontrollably, I’d also get headaches and nausea. There were times when I even felt mentally confused after receiving a perm. I didn’t stick around for the research to tell me that receiving chemical burns once ever 8 weeks is bad for my health. Just as how I won’t be sitting around waiting for research to tell me not to hold the cell phone to my head all day.

  • BASE

    Natural hair need all types of oils and moiturizers to keep it from drying out . I wonder if Madame CJ Walker new that oils would be a problem. Th food we eat does way more harm than any relaxer.

  • BestHair

    Estrogen is present in all sort of products we consume not just hair oils and perms. I think the jury is still out on the issue. One day we hear about the study showing early menarche related to perms, other day saying perms not related to any side effects including cancers. It is a known secret that the society had made us to put beauty above safety and people continue to use perms and relaxers. Side effects if there seem minimal at this stage. But, none of us know the long term side effects…

  • Kam

    Thank you for the great summary and reading that was wonderful. It’s so rare to read something online that’s well written and at a higher reading level.

  • edub



  • edub

    and just to clarify: that conclusion was NOT written by me but is the conclusion in the paper that was published. I WISH I could write that well!

  • pacquiao vs bradley

    I do not even know the way I finished up right here, however I thought this publish was good.
    I don’t know who you’re but definitely you’re going to a well-known blogger for those who are not already. Cheers!

  • Ayannah

    Sisters Be Happy to Be Nappy! God doesn’t make Mistakes! If he wanted you to have long stringy hair, he would have given you it! Too many risks, cancers and other problems for the self hate we sisters have accepted for too long just damaging us and our self esteem. Black is Beautiful from head to toe! Get rid of the perms, black women in the US health will improve! God bless all!

  • Cynthia Truss

    Edub! This is the most logical adn CLEAR explanation I’ve heard of or read since I heard of this cause of Fibroids! I wish you would please contact me for more in depth understanding! This comes out from time to time and my answers are weak and sometimes faded. Again, do see the defense that rises up against relaxers and not other damaging services such as perm. coloring and syn. nails? Please contact me: [email protected] Thank you!

  • Valsays

    I believe this, because uterine fibroids are common among African American women but no one knew the link. Relaxers make perfect sense. Until Chris Rocks documentary no one really gave a whole lot of thought to the chemical breakdown of relaxers or any studies done on the effects (were not the demographic that hair product companies want to turn away)

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  • Love my Natural

    I began going natural about two years ago. I was motivated by a statement my mom made to me. She said, if you can’t consume it, than you shouldn’t put it on your skin. After thinking about how relaxers make my head itch, burn my scalp, and the potent smell immediately after my hair is permed, I realized that this has to be affecting my health. I don’t need science to prove that – my god given instincts informed me. Also, I realized that hair relaxers is a multi-trillion dollar business. So, why would anyone come out with a study proving its link to other health issues like cancer. Just like cigarette smoking, it took someone from the inside to come clean, and despite its strong link to lung cancer, people still smoke. I work in corporate America and wear my Afro proud. The country is evolving and becoming more accepting of other cultural make-ups. We (the black community) are demonizing ourselves; therefore, it is completely within our control to change it.

  • Jenny M.

    So if you can’t consume it then you shouldn’t use it… Does that mean you don’t use deodorant, shampoo, conditioner, make up, lotion… the list goes on.

  • Sarah Joe

    This is an interesting observation however, more research or evidence are needed to validate these claims. Black women in the US are one of the groups of individuals with a prevalence of obesity and obesity related disorders or other factors could also contribute to this connection between using relaxers and early menarche etc. Apart from the color of their skin we don’t know from this article the health status of these women so we should say their seem to be a correlation or a connection but saying that perming your hair causes such things is too far-stretched based on evidence. Also the firbroids etc are all related to inflammatory origins which is prevalent among populations who are overweight/obese or at risk for this

  • Tosha Downey

    yes, jenny. that shd be tru 2. baking soda, olive oil, borax, lemon juice, peroxide and apple cider vinegar are all consumables that can be used as cleaning products or cosmetics. you would be surprised at the known toxins in toothpaste, deodorant, etc. we also need to realize that our body functions are completely natural and b4 the chemical invasion, there were completely natural and non-life threatening ways to manage them. also, eating better minimizes the need for these product because the body can self-detoxify better.

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  • Echi

    Direct quote from the original paper, “Anthropometric and other childhood factors were not collected in this study.” In other words, they did not take into account the child’s weight, the age at which the mother menstruated, etc. It’s a well known fact that AA women menstruate earlier than others. It’s a well known fact that weight, location, mother’s age at menses contribute to this. To not account for this in the study leads to inaccurate results. That may not have been the intention of the researchers, but when popular media enters the realm of science, all sorts of issues pop up.
    As someone who sports dreadlocks and loose natural hair prior to that, I’m team natural all the way and I’m glad that I no longer use hair relaxers. However, fighting against the use of hair relaxers and oils with faulty data helps no one.

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