(RNN) - More and more women of color are going to natural hair styles, which are not only trendy and flattering, but likely more healthy than using hair-straightening products, which studies say can be dangerous and unhealthy.
Sodium hydroxide is the main active ingredient widely used in salon products that change the texture of the hair, eliminating the kinks and curls of African American and multi-racial women. But in the process, it can burn the scalp and leave scabs.
Dr. Melanye Maclin, who owns Innovative Hair Technology, Inc. and is the hair and skin medical director for Hype Hair magazine, said that credible journal studies have shown that chemical relaxers are dangerous for women's reproductive and overall health.
She said that studies have shown that these hair products can cause early menses in girls younger than 10 years old, increase women's risk of fibroid tumors and infertility and cause conditions that require hysterectomies before the age of 40.
"What woman deserves to have her uterus out before the age of 40?" Maclin asked. "I've got tears from women in my brain. I've got tears from emails from women ... I've gotten this information and it's so serious that I have to ask all moms out there, 'is it straight hair today or grandchildren tomorrow?'"
Companies that manufacture products like relaxers, sometimes half-jokingly called 'creamy crack,' generate millions of dollars a year. Celebrities have helped promote the ideal of straight hair and have for decades endorsed these products that guarantee an easy way to manage texture.
Now these relaxer-based companies seem to be responding to the natural hair shift. Several companies such as Motions, Dark and Lovely, Dr. Miracle's and Silk Elements are offering natural hair products and tips on how to manage natural hair.
Maclin said she has run into challenges in the African American community and in the media, because she espouses a controversial viewpoint. But she stressed that she does not want to ban the products.
"By no means am I telling the chemical relaxer companies to never make this stuff again… no," she said. "You know, people say the hair industry is a billion dollar industry. Why, yes, it is, but at the end of the day I'm a physician and a medical doctor that took an oath that says 'first do no harm.' All I'm doing at this point is trying to help to get this information out there, to increase awareness."
Her aim is to spread information that will encourage parents to protect daughters and young girls from using the products until they are old enough. She would like to place the products in the same category as cigarettes and alcohol.
"I'm not saying relaxers are bad for everyone," said Dr. Maclin. "Let's just keep the chemicals off of our baby girls' hair. My slogan is 'chemical free curls until sweet 16, for healthier girls.' And I almost want to say, wait until your child can decide if they want to put that in their hair."
Mahisha Dellinger, CURLS LLC owner, said she has four children and chooses not to relax her daughters' hair. Her decision comes from a philosophy of self acceptance as much as it does from her views on fashion and health.
"Self-love is important to me. Learning to love yourself and having your daughters love themselves as they are helps their self-esteem later in life," she said.
Maclin points out that caring for one's hair, regardless of the style, can be as significant a health imperative as brushing teeth, eating right and exercising.
"We should all be washing our hair at least once a week, scalp and skin. Washing the skin on your scalp once a week is going to make it healthier," said Maclin. "With natural hair, comes a lot of products that we have to use, and extra build up on the scalp can lead to yeast and bacteria growth on the scalp, which is why it's even more crucial to make sure that the hair is clean."
Maintaining healthy hair can be a process of tough love.
"If a woman is transitioning from relaxed hair, it would be best to do a 'big chop,' or once a month cut off at least an inch of that relaxed hair. It's the fastest way for an entire head of hair to become healthier."
Maclin said to consider flat irons and other non-chemical ways of straightening the hair. And there are also many products on the marketplace and at natural hair salons that can help manage your hair.
She's passionate about it, because she says the information that helps consumers make the right choice is a matter that can affect their health for years to come.
"I care about how many people I'm going to reach, and get this information out to. We spend $20,000 a pop to try to have a baby, when back in the day we never had trouble having a baby. So, why all of a sudden is it different now? It's called hydroxide, OK, can we all say hydroxide?" said Maclin.
"That's the chemical that's in all relaxers, no-lye and lye," she said. "It was a lie when they came up with no-lye relaxers is safer. These topics need to get to people like Katie Couric and to Ellen; I'm open for whatever, because we've got to get the information out there."
Maclin further discusses the importance of healthy hair in this video.
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