“Banana fiber has the ability to absorb different things, retains the shape of the braid when you curl it, and can be heated up to 400 degrees. It’s actually really strong and really durable,” explains Jessica Sanders, the brand’s chief science officer. In late 2020, May told Bustle that shoppers can send in their PVC-based braiding hair to be recycled and potentially turned into things such as outdoor furniture. Thus far, they’ve collected 140 pounds of plastic, synthetic hair.
The brand also says it uses “only clean and safe” ingredients, straying away from animal meat fat, the synthetic plastic polymer polyvinyl chloride (PVC), emulsifiers, mono and diglycerides, phthalates, and toxic dyes. “Scalp irritation is really just the beginning. Some of the ingredients [in plastic, synthetic hair] [can] affect your central nervous system, your reproductive system, and are listed as carcinogens,” Sanders says. BeautyStat CEO and cosmetic chemist Ron Robinson notes that some of the ingredients in question include phthalates, which “some studies [show] are cancer-causing. That’s why it’s a very big no-no ingredient that is certainly not being used in cosmetic products but is found in a lot of plastics.”
Rebundle braiding hair also doesn’t contain tritium, also known as triton. Referring to California’s Proposition 65, the brand notes that California has recognized the chemical as a carcinogen, “PVC contains phthalates and is on Prop 65 for that reason,” shares cosmetic chemist Ni’Kita Wilson.
Wilson says that while any ingredient has the potential of causing harm, understanding how it’s being used (topically, injected, etc.) and the concentration is essential. She does note that in her opinion singling out emulsifiers as particularly harmful is a bit tricky “as that is an entire class of products, many of which are not in the least bit harmful.” For example, emulsifiers can occur naturally in the food we eat (such as the lecithin in eggs), or they can be synthetic and edify the structure and movement of braiding hair.
Wilson, who describes herself as “not anti-chemical,” acknowledges the potential dangers of these ingredients, but also the ambiguity regarding their impact and the importance of putting the product in context. And context is everything. According to the American Cancer Society, Proposition 65 does not require labels to “say anything about how much of the chemical(s) the product contains or how you might be exposed to it.” “California looks at what we call the ‘neat’ chemical, for what it is,” Wilson explains. “They’re not looking at it in a formula, where it’s at .1 percent or 1 percent because there is not a lot of research on the long-term effects if it is touching the scalp for six months. And because we don’t know, we err on the side of caution.”