BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – FOR many years, following the abolition of slavery in 1834, women of African descent in the Caribbean have taken pride in the way their hair is groomed.
With the application of brown or white vaseline, and sometimes coconut oil, these women combed their hair and had it groomed either in large plaits or cornrows. And on special occasions, in an attempt to mimic the styles of Caucasians, they would have applied hot combs to straighten their hair. Paper, which was later followed by plastic curlers, was used to give the hair a curly-look before styling.
Prior to the 1960s, many Caribbean men and women had used a mixture of Caustic Soda and English potatoes to straighten their hair. Then came the popular ‘Afro’, a symbolic hairstyle that exists even unto this era, which has its origin in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. This was followed by the polular Jerry Curl era.
Wigs were also prevalent.
Historically, in Africa, hairstyles were used to define status or identity in regards to age, ethnicity, wealth, social rank, marital status, religion, fertility, manhood and even death. But what are they used for in the Caribbean?
Today, in the Caribbean, we see women and men with braids and many of the former normally have extensions which assist in the growth of their hair. But there are also those who use chemical relaxers, and these are the individuals whom this article targets with the aim of sensitising them to the dangers of some of these products that a recent research found.
According to a recent article written by Charlotte Evans of BlackDoctor.org headlined ‘New Study Links Relaxers To Fibroids’, a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology has linked hair relaxers to uterine fibroids and early puberty in young girls.
Evans wrote, “Scientists followed more than 23,000 pre-menopausal Black American women from 1997 to 2009 and found that the two to three-times higher rate of fibroids among black women may be linked to chemical exposure through scalp lesions and burns resulting from relaxers.”
She noted that a separate study published last year in the Annals of Epidemiology stated that women who got their first menstrual period before the age of 19 were also more likely to have uterine fibroids, and early menstruation may result from hair products black girls are using.
The research was done on 300 African-American, African-Caribbean, Hispanic and White women in New York City, which found that women’s first menstrual period varied anywhere from age eight to age 19, but African-Americans, who were more likely to use straightening and relaxers hair oils, also reached menarche earlier than other racial/ethnic groups.
“While so far, there is only an association rather than a cause and effect relationship between relaxers, fibroid tumors and puberty, many experts have been quick to point out that the hair care industry isn’t regulated by the FDA; meaning that there’s no definite way to fully know just how harmful standard Black hair care products really are,” Evans noted.
According to Medical News Today, fibroids are non-cancerous (benign) tumors that grow from the muscle layers of the uterus (womb). They are also known as uterine fibroids, myomas, or fibromyomas. The singular of uterine fibroids is Uterine Fibroma. Fibroids are growths of smooth muscle and fibrous tissue. Fibroids can vary in size, from that of a bean to as large as a melon.
They affect at least 20 percent of all women at sometime during their life. Women aged between 30 and 50 are the most likely to develop fibroids. Overweight and obese women are at significantly higher risk of developing fibroids, compared to women of normal weight.
Malignant (cancerous) growths on the smooth muscles inside the womb can develop. It is called leiomyosarcoma of the womb. However, this is extremely rare.
It is also said that fibroids are rare in women under the age of 20, but most common in women in their 30s and 40s, and tend to shrink after the menopause.
Another individual however chronicled that from lessons in Epidemiology, they learnt that A might be associated with B but not the cause of B.
They noted that in this case, the study found that there is only an association rather than a cause and effect relationship between relaxers and fibroid tumors. In lay terms this means relaxers are associated with fibroid tumors, but relaxers are not the reason why people get fibroid according to this study.
“Until more research is done in this area,” the individual said, “we can’t dispel anything with confidence. My hypothesis remains a hypothesis until someone spends years looking into this.”