Hair Relaxers & Cancer in Women
In 2022, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) published a significant study highlighting the correlation between the frequent use of chemical straightening products and the increased risk of developing uterine and ovarian cancer. The study revealed that women who used these products more than four times a year had twice the chance of developing cancer than those who did not.
In the NEIHS study, non-Hispanic Black women have the highest uterine cancer death rates and are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive subtypes. While the study didn’t find that the link between hair relaxers and uterine cancer was different by race, it suggested that the effects are more significant among Black women because they’re more likely to use the products than women of other races and ethnicities.
A 2023 study by Boston University’s School of Medicine found that postmenopausal Black women who used chemical hair straighteners long-term had a high risk of developing uterine cancer. The study examined the dangers of chemical hair straighteners to help identify safer alternatives.
Shortly after the NIEHS study was released, people filed hair relaxer cancer lawsuits. Notable lawsuit defendants include L’Oréal USA, Inc., Revlon and various other products and brands.
In 2021 alone, hair straightening products produced over $700 million in sales.
Does the FDA Regulate Hair Relaxers?
Not exactly. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates cosmetics, including hair relaxers, based on the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act for products marketed for retail. Companies and individuals manufacturing or marketing hair relaxers are responsible for the safety and labeling of products and ingredients. The law requires companies to list their products’ ingredients. However, the law allows exceptions to protect “trade secrets.”
While the FDA does not actively regulate these products, they keep an eye on reports of adverse reactions from consumers who have used them.
In 2023, the FDA proposed banning hair relaxers containing formaldehyde. According to the proposed rule, chemicals in hair-smoothing or hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde or similar ingredients would be prohibited.
Dangerous Chemicals in Chemical Hair Relaxers
In 2021, the California Department of Toxic Substance Control (DTSC) released a report on harmful chemicals in hair straightening products. The report identified several hair relaxer ingredients with documented harms. The 2022 NIEHS study also identified some substances in these products that may increase cancer risk. Harmful chemicals in hair straighteners include:
- Cyclosiloxanes: Cyclosiloxanes are chemicals used in the manufacture of silicons. Some data indicates cyclosiloxanes may be carcinogenic to female reproductive organs in animals
- Diethanolamine (DEA): Some sources suggest that DEA may be present in half of all hair relaxer kits. International regulatory agencies list DEA as carcinogenic to animals. They also classify it as possibly carcinogenic to humans. DEA has been associated with certain cancers in mice.
- Formaldehyde: Consumer watchdog groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have found high levels of formaldehyde in hair straightening products.
- Metals: Various metals may be present in chemical hair relaxer products. Some metals can cause adverse health effects; a few are considered carcinogenic.
- Parabens: Parabens are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs may be a risk factor for cancer and other health issues.
- Phthalates: The phthalates diethyl phthalate (DEP) and diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) have been found in hair relaxers. Exposure to high doses of phthalates has been observed to cause reproductive and developmental issues in animals.
These chemicals may be present in various brands of chemical hair relaxer products. Exposure to these and other chemicals in hair relaxers can lead to uterine and ovarian cancer in frequent users. Some of these chemicals can also cause immediate reactions ranging from irritation of the eyes and throat to coughing, wheezing, or chest pain to chronic or long-term problems such as more frequent headaches, asthma, skin irritation and allergic reactions.
How Do Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?
Most hair relaxers contain chemicals such as formaldehyde, metals, parabens and phthalates, and synthetic endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which may contribute to uterine cancer risk because of their ability to alter hormones. Hair products such as relaxers that contain EDCs may provide a pathway for these chemicals to enter the body through scalp burns and cuts often caused by hair relaxers. These chemicals have been associated mainly with hormone-sensitive cancers such as ovarian and uterine cancer.
What is Endometrial Cancer?
The endometrium is the inner lining of the uterus, which is a hollow and muscular organ located in a woman’s pelvis. It is the place where a fetus grows during pregnancy.
Endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer, develops in the layer of cells that form the uterus lining called the endometrium. Although other types of cancer, such as uterine sarcoma, can also occur in the uterus, they are not as common as endometrial cancer.
Symptoms of endometrial cancer may include:
- vaginal bleeding after menopause
- bleeding between periods
- pelvic pain
What is Ovarian Cancer?
Ovarian cancer originates in the ovaries or the related areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum.
Ovarian cancer may cause the following signs and symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding (especially if you are post-menopause), or discharge from your vagina that is not normal
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
- Abdominal or back pain
- Feeling full too quickly or having difficulty eating
- A change in your bathroom habits, such as a more frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation
The CDC says ovarian cancers are diverse, with various tumor types and subtypes. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type and serous adenocarcinoma is the most common subtype. Serious adenocarcinomas are typically high-grade tumors.
What is Uterine Cancer?
The uterus is the womb, where the baby develops during pregnancy. Uterine cancer is one of the most common gynecologic cancers. Diagnoses and deaths due to uterine cancer have increased in the past two decades, with more than 65,950 new cases and 12,550 deaths expected in 2022.
Uterine cancer can be classified into two main types: endometrial cancer (which is more common) and uterine sarcoma. Symptoms of uterine cancer include bleeding between periods or after menopause. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that uterine cancer is primarily found in women going through or have gone through menopause, which is when menstrual periods stop.
Symptoms of uterine cancer may include vaginal discharge or bleeding that is unusual. Bleeding may be considered abnormal if it is heavier than usual or occurs outside your regular menstrual cycle, particularly after menopause. It’s worth noting that bleeding should never happen after your periods have stopped altogether. You may also experience pain or pressure in your pelvis due to uterine cancer.
File a Chemical Hair Straightener Lawsuit
Beasley Allen is investigating uterine and ovarian cancer cases in women who used hair relaxers. Contact us for a complimentary consultation.
Our firm is seeking compensation for women who developed ovarian or uterine cancer after using these products. Contact us for a free case evaluation.
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