Foul Fragrance

Everything that smells good to you is not good for you…

Earlier this year a study was released by researchers at Boston University which hypothesizes that there is a correlation between fibroids and relaxers.  Of course this riled people up and seemed to lend credence to the “relaxers are bad” movement.  At the time I was the (irritated) owner of a rather enormous fibroid (it has since been evicted) so I wanted to know more.

It turns out that the culprit is most likely phthalates.  Pronounced thal-lates.


Phthalates are known as “endocrine disruptors” because they mimic the body’s hormones and have, in laboratory animal tests, been shown to cause reproductive and neurological damage.  Unfortunately, it’s not particularly easy to avoid phthalates. ~ Dan Shapely, The Green


Shapely also mentioned in his 2008 article that “…baby powder, lotion and shampoo [are linked] to higher levels of phthalates in babies’ bodies”


Clearly this is deeper than relaxers.  Now for the bad news.  Its not very easy to identify phthlates on product labels.  But the easiest way to tell that your product may  contain phthalates is if you see the word “fragrance” among the ingredients.  Yep, that’s right…fragrance.  The stuff they use to mask the chemical smell of the…uhhh….chemicals in your favorite products.  Shampoos, conditioners, lotions, etc…etc.

Dan Shapely gave a nice list of chemical names and abbreviations to look for:

1. Read the ingredients.  According to the organization Pollution in People, you can identify phthalates in some products by their chemical names, or abbreviations:

  • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate) and DEP (diethyl phthalate) are often found in personal care products, including nail polishes, deodorants, perfumes and cologne, aftershave lotions, shampoos, hair gels and hand lotions. (BzBP, see below, is also in some personal care products.)
  • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate) is used in PVC plastics, including some medical devices.
  • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate) is used in some flooring, car products and personal care products.
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate) is used in insect repellent and some plastics (as well as rocket propellant).

2. Be wary of the term “fragrance,” which is used to denote a combination of compounds, possibly including phthatates, which are a subject of recent concern because of studies showing they can mimic certain hormones.


3. Choose plastics with the recycling code 1, 2 or 5. Recycling codes 3 and 7 are more likely to contain bisphenol A or phthalates.


Basically, its not enough to avoid relaxers if you want to lessen your risk of fibroids.  There’s a gigantic list of things to avoid.  Too many for me to name.  At the same time there is no surefire way to know that the fragrance used in your favorite products contains phthalates.

My advice is to:

  • Limit your use of products that contain or may contain phthalates
  • Be careful when doing your relaxers and avoid scratching or burning your scalp
  • Try to use fragrance-free products whenever possible

I use the Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil (ORS) relaxer and I checked the list of ingredients yesterday. There was no mention of phthaltes or fragrance in the base or the activator fluid.  There is fragrance in the ORS Creamy Aloe Shampoo that I use to neutralize my relaxer…but I didn’t see any of the chemical names for phthalates.  I’ve read that Phytospecific relaxers are paraben and phthalate free as well.

For more info please read:

How to Avoid Phthalates In 3 Steps

Hair Relaxers and Fibroids? – An Update from Dr. Wise

Hair Relaxer Use and Risk of Uterine Leiomyomata in African-American Women by Lauren A. Wise, Julie R. Palmer, David Reich, Yvette C. Cozier, Lynn Rosenberg