Marie Claire (South Africa) - - BEAUTY -

Town, she is turn­ing her vast knowledge of skin to study­ing hair. ‘Hair is just an ex­ten­sion of the skin, like nails,’ she says.

Her re­search in­cludes un­der­stand­ing the en­vi­ron­men­tal, ge­netic and me­chan­i­cal causes (ex­ces­sive comb­ing, for ex­am­ple) that lead to hair loss. But it is the ef­fect of harsh chem­i­cals on our hair that is giv­ing her most cause for con­cern. In the 12 months since the lab opened, her re­search has re­vealed fright­en­ing facts re­gard­ing the toxic and of­ten il­le­gal in­gre­di­ents used in ev­ery­day cos­met­ics. One of her main con­cerns is the high con­cen­tra­tion of formalde­hyde used in some Brazil­ian ker­atin treat­ments, which can cause con­tact der­mati­tis, res­pi­ra­tory prob­lems and can­cer.

There are many kinds of alope­cia af­fect­ing South Africans. Trac­tion alope­cia de­scribes hair loss caused by hair­styles that con­strict blood ow in the scalp – and tight braids are the cul­prit ‘I am al­ways lec­tur­ing my pa­tients and friends that it does not have to be tight,’ Nonhlanhla says. ‘The mo­ment it’s painful, your body is telling you some­thing is wrong. If you ig­nore the warn­ing, you will lose that hair.’

Hair loss re­sult­ing from chem­i­cal use (re­lax­ers and Brazil­ian straight­en­ing), heat styling and braids is called cos­metic alope­cia and it’s one of the most com­mon types af­fect­ing South African women, Nonhlanhla says, with around 33% of African women over the age of 18 af­fected. And it’s com­pletely pre­ventable. ‘What’s worse is that % of African six-year-old girls al­ready show some ev­i­dence of hair loss.’

Re­lax­ers are the main cul­prits of cos­metic alope­cia, and com­bin­ing them with hair dyes, es­pe­cially ones with bleach or per­ox­ide, wors­ens the sit­u­a­tion. Re­lax­ers work by in­creas­ing the nat­u­ral pH of the hair from be­low six (acidic) to above 11 (al­ka­line). This breaks down the disul­phide bonds (part of the primary struc­ture of a pro­tein) be­tween the ker­atin, al­low­ing the hair to be straight­ened. The hair is then combed straight and a neu­tral­is­ing sham­poo used. The disul­phide bonds will then re­form with straight hair.

‘Some re­lax­ers go up to a pH of 13 and 14,’ Nonhlanhla says. ‘That’s why peo­ple ap­ply­ing re­lax­ers don’t touch it with their own hands – the prod­uct is too toxic; it will ir­ri­tate the skin. And yet we are ap­ply­ing it to women’s heads.’ Con­sider this de­pila­tory creams used to re­move body hair have sim­i­lar in­gre­di­ents to hair re­lax­ers. ‘The same in­gre­di­ents used to re­move hair are used to straighten hair; the con­cen­tra­tion is just dif­fer­ent.’

Though still in its early stages, she hopes her re­search could lead to the reg­u­la­tion of toxic or il­le­gal in­gre­di­ents and a de­crease in women suf­fer­ing from hair loss. Nonhlanhla has more to say about what can be done to save our hair. Based on your re­search, do you be­lieve women should not be us­ing re­lax­ers? I have no prob­lem with peo­ple who want to straighten their hair. Our role here is not to judge; our role is to pro­tect peo­ple.As a doc­tor, I am in­ter­ested in safety rst be­fore prod­uct ef cacy. I want to make sure the prod­uct is go­ing to be safe. We know so much now about hair as a pro­tein, we know how to ma­nip­u­late pro­teins, we know how to change them, we know how to reshape them and yet that knowledge has not yet come into the African hair mar­ket. . How close are you to nd­ing safer al­ter­na­tives to the in­gre­di­ents found in straight­en­ing treat­ments? Some of my stu­dents are work­ing on a project about safely ma­nip­u­lat­ing hair tex­ture. Ac­cord­ing to our re­search, an Amer­i­can in­ven­tor, Gar­rett Au­gus­tus Mor­gan, held the rst patent for a chem­i­cal hair straight­ener us­ing sodium hy­drox­ide as early as 1913. In 2016, we are still us­ing sodium hy­drox­ide or sim­i­lar prod­ucts. Ev­ery­thing has in­no­vated, ad­vanced and changed – so why are we us­ing the same old in­gre­di­ents? Do you think cos­met­ics should be more closely reg­u­lated? There are cur­rently rules in place, how­ever some com­pa­nies are bring­ing prod­ucts into the coun­try know­ing very well that they are il­le­gal. The big­gest prob­lem is en­force­ment. We have been work­ing hard on es­tab­lish­ing a data­base of prod­ucts for test­ing. We ran­domly buy prod­ucts, cat­a­logue then test them for il­le­gal in­gre­di­ents. The cur­rent fo­cus is on il­le­gal in­gre­di­ents such as steroids, hy­dro­quinone and mer­cury, which is of­ten also used in skin lightening creams. With time, if we get ad­e­quate fund­ing, we will have a fa­cil­ity within our Hair and Skin Re­search Lab where any­one can send a prod­uct for test­ing. What we need is a gov­ern­ment pro­gramme of ran­dom test­ing of cos­met­ics for il­le­gal in­gre­di­ents. What can con­sumers do? Look out for toxic in­gre­di­ents, such as hy­dro­quinone or mer­cury. The prob­lem is that th­ese in­gre­di­ents aren’t al­ways shown on the la­bel. Other in­gre­di­ents to avoid are steroids look for be­tametha­sone, cor­ti­sone and clobesol), which should not be avail­able for ev­ery­day use. What’s the most in­ter­est­ing thing you’ve learned about hair? We are cur­rently re­search­ing the use of hair to test for drugs, such as med­i­ca­tion or an­tiretro­vi­rals. All hu­man hair in­cor­po­rates any­thing cir­cu­lat­ing in the blood, such as tox­ins and chem­i­cals, so de­pend­ing on the length of some­one’s hair, we can nd out what was taken three or four months ago. mc Ideally, re­lax­ers should not be used be­cause they cause so much dam­age but if you are go­ing to use them, please do not use them on chil­dren – the per­cent­age of chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents in chil­dren’s re­lax­ers is just as high as those for adults. If you are go­ing to use re­lax­ers on pre­vi­ously re­laxed hair, only re­lax the new growth. Re­lax­ing pre­vi­ously pro­cessed hair will cause break­age. Never use a re­laxer without wash­ing off with a neu­tral­is­ing sham­poo. Avoid us­ing re­lax­ers and hair dye to­gether (or wait at least two weeks in­be­tween) – the com­bi­na­tion of chem­i­cals in­creases break­age. Avoid trac­tion or pulling hair­styles like braids or weaves on re­laxed hair. The hair is al­ready weak and prone to break­age. Any­one who wears braids and dread­locks and en­dures a painful hair­style will even­tu­ally lose their hair­line. (If you have a re­ced­ing hair­line and you don’t wear trac­tion hair­styles, see your der­ma­tol­o­gist to rule out frontal fi­bros­ing alope­cia, which is a dif­fer­ent per­ma­nent type of hair loss.)


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