Force big beauty brands to remove cancerous chemicals from Black women’s hair products
Millions of Black women around the world use hair relaxers, chemical hair straightening creams, for a number of reasons: because we find it easier to manage, to avoid hair discrimination at school or work, or because some of us just prefer it that way. But recent studies have shown that use of hair relaxers is linked to increased risk in breast cancer, and other serious illnesses.
Black women should be able to trust beauty brands to sell us products that are safe – not that could kill us.
How it began
In July 2021 Oxford University published research which found that long-term use of lye-based relaxers is linked to a 30% increased breast cancer risk for Black women. Lye (sodium hydroxide) is the chemical used to unblock drains. Many Black women understand the risk of scalp burns but most have no idea that hair relaxers could be detrimental to our health.
L’Oréal is one of the biggest manufacturers of hair relaxers in the world through its ownership of Dark & Lovely and SoftSheen Carson. Level Up found that lye is present even in their products labelled “no lye” – including those designed for children. So even when Black women think they are making a healthier, more conscious decision, they’re being lied to.
We don’t accept this. Big beauty brands like L’Oréal must take responsibility for the harm caused by their products, and remove toxic chemicals from hair relaxers.
The journey so far
2021: In July we launched the #NoMoreLyes campaign with a petition in response to the research released by Oxford University, demanding that beauty brands like L’Oréal commit to removing lye and other dangerous ingredients from hair relaxers. Within a week, the petition had 4,000 signatures and received news coverage in The Independent, gal-dem, Loose Women and cosmetic beauty news.
In August, more than 3000 Level Up supporters sent emails directly to the Managing Director of L’Oréal urging him to take action.
2022: On 14th March 2022, we sent L’Oréal a request for the safety sheets of two hair relaxer products. Under EU regulations, consumers have a right to access the product safety information for anything they purchase.
We wanted to know: was L’Oréal aware that lye-based hair relaxers were linked to fibroids and increased risk of breast cancer? If so, how can we make a true choice about our hair products if we don’t have the full information about what’s in them? L’Oréal was required to share this information with us within 30 days.
We still have not received the safety sheets, or a response from L’Oréal. Almost 1000 campaign supporters emailed L’Oréal demanding that they #ShowUsTheSheets – and they still have not responded. What are they hiding?
2023: In May 2023 we sent an open letter, signed by more than 200 academics, activists, journalists and supporters, to L’Oréal demanding that they:
- Make the products safe to use or take them off the shelves
- Make the nature of the ingredients and possible harms clear on the product label/packaging
- Invest in research about the long-term impact of these ingredients and products on Black women