Health and Beauty

Is Wen Hair Care Tested On Animals

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The Lies About 'Lye' and Other Toxic Cosmetics Marketed to Black Women

Deborah Cutkelvin, a hairstylist in Brooklyn, always keeps the contact information for her dermatologist on-hand. She does it for her clients—over the years, she’s seen more than her share of distraught women complain of hair loss, as well as scalps that need medical attention rather than a touch-up. The doctor often treats her clients for alopecia that’s a result of lifetimes of abuse—braiding, ironing and relaxing hair with gallons of lotions and creams that contain more chemicals than a plumber might use in a month of unclogging drains.

Cutkelvin’s business, Seymonnia’s Hair Salon, is one of thousands in Brooklyn that cater to the specific needs and preferences of black women. Because her salon has many local competitors, she tends to stick with products that produce the results her clients expect when they pay $50 to have their hair relaxed. These products contain lye, a chemical that seems to magically undo the curl of hair. It’s also a highly effective agent for cleaning the crud out of ovens, unclogging drains and dissolving animal carcasses, and it’s even used at some funeral homes for chemical cremation. Lye has been a mainstay in hair relaxers since the early 1970s, and many black women who want straight hair have come to view the pain and burning relaxers can cause as simply part of a routine salon experience.