Like so many of my fellow feminine cohorts, high school was a time of wild hair color and styling experimentation, with the cherry on the top almost always being a liberal application of Aqua Net super hold, except on weekends when I occasionally chose to rock my crunchy helmet head one extra day. If you’re a member of the fairer sex, perhaps you can relate. Remember the cloud of hairspray that hung low in your bathroom, obscuring your mirror while concurrently gripping your throat like some sort of 30 minute influenza? And the stubborn residue that your magical spray of choice left on your plastic teasing comb and fingers as you spritzed, fluffed and rearranged your locks repeatedly until your mother physically pulled you away from the mirror?
With many years of life experience now under my belt, I can look back on my hair spray addiction with an odd sense of fondness, not to mention great relief that I’m no longer hooked. It’s amusing to think that I intentionally wore what appeared to be sky high bangs while the view from behind resembled the curl of an ocean wave that surfers glide through. More importantly, for all of the years that I inhaled that hair-freezing cocktail of chemicals, it’s truly a blessing that I’ve been able to enjoy excellent health thus far.
Of course, none of us knew that the stuff we were spraying on our ‘dos was anything but hunky dory. Why would we even question such a thing? Ignorance is bliss, and we had far more important things to contemplate, such as how to create the absolute perfect, gravity-defying mane. I suppose that part of the bummer about being an adult is recognizing that life is far more complicated that it once was and that certain manufacturers don’t exactly have our best interests at heart. Alas, that conventionally-produced hairspray that you currently rely on to give your locks their final lustrous and perfectly coiffed polish is up to no good. Read on for the hair-raising details!
These chain like molecules – either naturally derived (such as rubber, shellac and cellulose) or synthetically produced (think PVC, silicone, and polystyrene) – help hair to stay put due to their glue like properties. One common water-soluble hair spray polymer called polyvinylpyrrolidone also does double duty as plywood layer adhesive, while copolymers like ethylene-vinyl acetate are normally used to make glue sticks. As for the effect of polymers on human health, they can trigger everything from allergic reactions and asthma to what is referred to as an inhalation-triggered fever-like syndrome.
This magical fluid, often created courtesy of formaldehyde, benzene, methanol or denatured ethanol, successfully carries chemicals without compromising their structure. Wondering how it works? Once hairspray is applied, the solvent slowly but surely evaporates into the air, leaving strategically applied polymers on each strand. The obvious downside to this process is that solvent micro-droplets can often enter the lungs, triggering leukemia among other ailments. On the positive side, when hairspray is applied directly to an ink stain, it effectively dissolves the pigment, so if you’re going to use it to address your stubborn laundry needs, spritz outside!
Ever heard of vinyl chloride? Several decades ago, far too many individuals in the hair care industry were exposed to the low pressure gas while primping and preening their clients, resulting in multiple types of cancer including that of the liver. In an effort to come up with a suitable and seemingly safer replacement, manufacturers then chose to use methylene chloride instead, which just so happened strip paint like it was nobody’s business (is it any wonder that it was consequently later banned due to…surprise…its cancerous side effects?). It may be hard to believe, but hair spray manufacturers have continually relied on a string of propellant duds that have not only endangered the lives of humans but have also compromised our planet’s upper atmospheric ozone layer, as was the case with hydrocarbons such as propane and butane. Today, companies are now relying on purportedly less polluting, faster drying hydrofluorocarbons like 1, 1, 1, 2,-tetrafluoromethane and 1,1,-difluoroethane which are STILL believed to contribute to global warming.
In addition to mainstream hair sprays containing anti-corrosion agents such as cyclohexylamine, ammonium hydroxide, borate esters and aminomethyl propanol (all of which prevent the inside of the can from rusting directly into the formula you’re applying to your locks), multiple brands also contain plasticizers like diethyl phthalate, silicones, and isopropyl myristate which ensure that you can still bend your strands ever-so-slightly. Let us not forget the word ‘fragrance’, which serves as a catch-all phrase for hundreds of mostly petroleum-based chemicals that are linked to a wide array of health ailments connected to the central nervous system as well as various cancers and birth defects.
ELIZAH LEIGH — GREEN BLOGGER FOR ORGANIC BABY UNIVERSITY
Elizah Leigh’s master’s degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as an eager-beaver eco-journalist on such sites as Organic Authority and 1-800-Recycling, among others. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah does her best to inspire positive planetary change with each new article that she authors. Follow Elizah on Twitter.