I missed this interesting piece in The Atlantic last week, about 1930s movie star Jean Harlow, and how she suffered for her bleached blond hair. The tragic, yet intriguing story made me wonder if women will ever stop risking their health for the sake of looking beautiful.
In the story, writer Taylor Orci describes the toxic mix of chemicals Harlow used to get her signature hair color.
Harlow, towheaded as a child, insisted she was a natural blonde, but her stylist knew differently. “I used to bleach her hair and make it ‘platinum blonde,’” Alfred Pagano, hairdresser to the stars, once said. “We used peroxide, ammonia, Clorox, and Lux flakes! Can you believe that?”
Orci goes on to suggest that there’s a chance the actress’s untimely death at age 26 could have been caused by her frequent exposure to ammonia and bleach—she might have died from dyeing. Even if it wasn’t the homemade hair color that killed Harlow, the concoction probably had some sort of negative impact on her health. Yet she endured the painful lightening process every week because she believed her success in the film industry depended on it.
We could blame ignorance for her behavior and say that Harlow and her well-meaning stylist were just working with what they had at the time. But even now, women embrace products that are likely to be harmful. For example, they fork over good money for Brazilian Blowouts that contain cancer-causing formaldehyde, relaxers, which have been linked to fibroids and perfumes with hidden ingredients that can cause allergic reactions. I’m guilty of knowingly using iffy beauty products, too. I’ve relaxed my hair on and off for years, and I have a pretty big collection of fragrances (although I don’t spritz myself every day).
Not everyone is aware of the risks associated with some of the beauty products they use, but I bet even women who’ve been informed don’t necessarily ditch everything that’s potentially bad. The desire to feel attractive is a very powerful, complicated emotion—one that apparently causes us to do questionable things.
Is there anything in your beauty stash that could be a health hazard? Have you ever stopped using a product because you learned that it might be toxic? ‘Fess up, please.