Study finds hair straightening chemicals linked to higher risk of uterine cancer

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hair straightening products like chemical relaxers are very popular, especially among Black women.

But a new study by the National Institutes of Health shows using these products may increase your risk for developing uterine cancer over time.

“Your skin can absorb chemicals that are placed on your scalp so that’s one way in which chemicals can enter the body,” said Dr. Symielle Gaston, staff scientist for the study.

“We investigated the relationship explicitly across racial groups because we know products differ by race,” said Dr. Chandra Jackson, Stadtman investigator on the study.

The Washington News Bureau talked with two of the Black women researchers of this study.

They said women who used chemical straighteners four times a year or more were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer. That’s compared to women who never used these products.

Researchers also explain the adverse health effects may be greater for Black women.

“Black women use straightening products more frequently than other groups [and] tend to use these products starting at earlier ages, multiple products are often used simultaneously,” said Dr. Jackson. “And the products marketed to Black women differ with there being some evidence of harsher formulations.”

The FDA regulates cosmetics, including hair smoothing products, under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

But some lawmakers believe this is a wakeup call to do more.

“We put forth the information in a public information campaign about the possible outcome of these straighteners and hair straightening products,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, (D) California.

In a previous study the same team found that permanent hair dye and straighteners may increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancer.

“Just to be mindful. We’re mindful about the things that we eat, about the other things that we’re exposed to, I suggest to take the time to do research about what you’re using,” said Dr. Gaston.

Some federal lawmakers say these findings are also why the CROWN Act is important. The legislation would provide protections for race-based hairstyles like braids, locs and twists in the workplace and at schools.

“People should be able to wear their hair however they want to wear it not pressured to wear it one way or the other,” said Rep. Lee.

This comes as recent studies show an increase in uterine cancer cases particularly among Black women.