The Gorilla Glue Nightmare and the Unfathomable Power of Influencers

After a girl went viral for putting on Gorilla Glue on her hair, a few questions beg the answer.
Raycene Nevils-Karakeci

“Gorilla Glue Lady” Tessica Brown quickly became an internet sensation after using Gorilla Glue to slick her hair back into a ponytail when she ran out of her usual products. She took to social media to document her situation. Her hair was essentially a permanent helmet at that point. Her beautiful ponytail was not disrupted by water, shampoo, oil, nor the good wishes of her quickly amassing following. Her posts were viral and copycats began testing out her claims at home. One such person ended up in the ER with a red cup Gorilla Glued to his lip. 

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A post shared by Tessica (@im_d_ollady)

Gorilla Glue is an exceptionally strong and completely waterproof adhesive that people usually use for both indoor and outdoor projects. When Tessica Brown ran out of hair products and reached for Gorilla Glue spray adhesive to slick her hair down, she was initially pleased with the results. However, after washing her hair dozens of times, applying oils and other potential solvents, she realized her mistake.

She went viral after sharing her snafu, and the public had mixed reactions. While most people initially found humor in her mistake, people were divided between being sympathetic and accusing her of clout chasing. The internet watched anxiously as Tessica went to the ER for an unsuccessful removal attempt and then continued trying at home. She was in a tremendous amount of pain and in danger of losing her hair and suffering serious injuries. 

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A post shared by Donald White, Ph.D. (@da_chemist)

People who were critical of the public ridicule that she received pointed out that she was suffering from a chemical mishap. Topics of the social pressure Black women face to have “perfect” hair and a general lack of sympathy for her as a Black woman were brought up. Thankfully, the discourse also caused people to step up and try to help her. Chemist Donald White posted a video about using acetone as a solvent for Gorilla Glue. Chance the Rapper headed to Twitter to express sympathy. A GoFundMe was established to get her help. Finally, plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Obeng stepped up and volunteered to solve her problem.

Dr. Obeng performed a four-hour procedure on Tessica that involved mixing acetone, an adhesive solvent, oils, and aloe vera to remove the glue from her hair without removing the skin on her scalp or giving her chemical burns. She woke up amazed that she had been able to keep her hair in the end. This harrowing experience is a cautionary tale about how detrimental viral content can actually be. The internet went from mocking this woman, to following her health care journey with interest. 

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A post shared by MiKO Plastic Surgery (@drmichaelkobeng)

Dr. Obeng performed the procedure for free, and Tessica ended up donating $20,000 of the money she received in donations to Obeng's charity, R.E.S.T.O.R.E, which provides free reconstructive surgery to people with deformities in developing countries, and the remaining $3,000 to three families in need in her community.

But there is also a larger issue here. Recent research has shown that many hair care products marketed specifically to Black women contain high levels of toxic chemicals, which have been linked to illnesses and diseases that disproportionately affect black women. Many of the products contain endocrine (hormonal) disruptors and some of the toxins in hair products marketed to Black women can cause asthma, cancer, infertility, and obesity.

These studies also show that, on average, products marketed specifically to African American women contain more toxic chemicals than those marketed to any other group.  

In fact, two lumps were found in Tessica’s breasts in a mammogram prior to her surgery. She will undergo testing to see whether they are malignant or not. While Tessica’s medical case is still being evaluated, the prolonged use of hair products (not Gorilla Glue) marketed to Black women has been shown to cause high rates of breast cancer. 

Tessica going viral with her hair drama has reopened a dialogue about the social pressure that Black women face regarding their hair. Their hair in its most natural form is often criticized as unprofessional or inappropriate; the pressure to “tame Black hair” has birthed a billion-dollar industry. While the creativity of Black hair culture is often celebrated in mainstream culture, the industry also has some questions to answer about the safety of its products.

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