New Study Explores Toxins Inside Black Hair Salons

By Yessenia Funes Jul 11, 2016

Researchers at Brandeis University are taking a closer look at air quality in an unexpected place: Black women’s hair salons.

Environmental studies professor Laura Goldin launched a study—with the help of 12 undergraduate students, the regional Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) office and community partners—to check the air quality of 10 Black hair salons in Boston.

“It’s a very complicated space,” said student researcher Teleah Slater to the campus’ news site, Brandeis Now. “It is a safe place that Black women go to be together and leave feeling good about themselves. At the same time, it’s where women may go to conform to a White standard of beauty.”

Seven out of the 10 salons had particulate levels higher than the allowed outdoor standard. Levels of the carcinogen benzene were higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels in all 10 salons. The same went for carbon dioxide, which indicated poor ventilation.

The data couldn’t tell whether or not the air quality led to negative health effects among salon workers, who use harmful chemicals like sodium hydroxide and formaldehyde in hair relaxers.

“Overall there is a lack of research into environments where workers are primarily women of color,” said Goldin to Brandeis Now. “We already have joined in collaborative grant proposals with a number of research- and community-based organizations to pursue further research into air quality in Black hair salons. Our study provided critical data to support additional investigation.”

Students presented the study in June at the Academy of Sciences’ Eighth International Conference on Environmental Science and Technology. The group is currently preparing it to submit to a scientific journal.