Hair Relaxers and Straighteners Linked to Cancer
Participants who used hair relaxers were at an elevated risk of developing uterine cancer (endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma) compared to participants who did not use hair relaxers; AND
Participants who used hair relaxers more than four times per year more than two and half times (>2.5x) more likely to develop uterine cancer than participants who did not use relaxers as often.
The study also warned that negative health impacts associated with using relaxers had the potential to impact Black and/or African American women more than women who identify with other races and ethnicities:
“…adverse health effects associated with straightener use could be more consequential for African American and/or Black women because of the higher prevalence and frequency of hair product use, younger age of initiating use, and harsher chemical formulations (i.e., higher concentrations of EDCs and chemicals being regulated or banned) than other races and ethnicities.”
An earlier report from the same study found that frequent users of hair relaxers were more than 2x as likely to develop ovarian cancer.
Hair relaxers are beauty industry products that use chemicals to straighten hair by breaking down cell bonds deep within the hair strand.
Relaxer products are available nationwide at hair salons and at grocery, convenience, beauty supply, and drug stores, although they are only widely used in the Black community.
In its natural state, Afro-hair texture is characterized by tight curl patterns and by its density and texture, but laws and societal pressures have urged or required Black women, in particular to relax their hair to conform to historically European beauty standards.
For decades, companies like L’Oreal USA, Inc. have successfully marketed their chemical relaxer products to Black women and children.
Chemical hair relaxer products are sold as paste or cream formulations that typically contain phthalates, and other hazardous chemicals associated with high cancer risk– the hazardous chemicals are combined with fragrance to act as scent preservatives and to allow products to stick to skin and hair.
Relaxer product instructions direct customers to apply these formulations to their hair near the scalp, and most users must reapply the chemical products every four-six weeks to maintain their straightened style.
But FDA does not require chemicals to be labeled individually when combined with “perfume” or fragrance, and consumers cannot tell from ingredient lists which hazardous chemicals are present in relaxer products.