FDA is mulling a ban on certain chemical HAIR STRAIGHTENERS which have been linked to


The Food and Drug Administration is mulling over a ban on chemical hair straighteners over concerns the products cause cancer.

The products are primarily marketed to black women and contain formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals which scientists have long known have links to hormone-related cancers including ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer.

The proposed rule announced on Friday will be followed by a public comment period, but a ban is not imminent. The FDA‘s rulemaking process is typically a multi-year slog. 

Chemical hair straightening cream breaks protein bonds of curly hair to permanently straighten it with the help of formadehyde, the chemical used to preserve cadavers, to lock in its effects. 

Several women who have used these products all their lives have sued beauty giants including L’Oreal over claims that devotion to their products led to their uterine and breast cancer diagnoses. 

Chemical straighteners, typically marketed to black women, break down protein bonds in curly hair using chemicals known to disrupt the body's hormone balance, leaving the hair permanently straight

Chemical straighteners, typically marketed to black women, break down protein bonds in curly hair using chemicals known to disrupt the body’s hormone balance, leaving the hair permanently straight

Jennifer Mitchell, 32 and from Missouri, claims that L'Oreal's hair straighteners left her with uterine cancer. She had to have a full hysterectomy ¿ removing her womb and cervix ¿ to stop it spreading to the rest of her body, robbing her of the chance of having children

Jennifer Mitchell, 32 and from Missouri, claims that L’Oreal’s hair straighteners left her with uterine cancer. She had to have a full hysterectomy — removing her womb and cervix — to stop it spreading to the rest of her body, robbing her of the chance of having children

The FDA’s proposed rule does not specify which products could be affected. But given that formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing ingredients, like methylene glycol are commonly used ingredients to lock in the straightening effects, the effects will be wide-reaching.

The FDA has known about the risk of formaldehyde in chemical straighteners since at least 2016 when the popular Brazilian Blowout straightening treatment hit salons nationwide, but a ban never materialized. 

The proposed rule comes on the heels of an October 2022 study from the National Institutes of Health which found that women who used chemical straighteners that contained formaldehyde, parabens, bisphenol A, or heavy metals, had a nearly 150 percent higher risk of developing cancer of the uterus.

The study did not break down the level of risk by race, but said the adverse health effects may be greater for black women due to more frequent use. 

Uterine cancer is fairly uncommon, accounting for just over three percent of all cancers, but rates have been rising among black women in recent years. 

The FDA’s proposed rule noted that using products ‘containing FA and FA-releasing chemicals is linked to short-term adverse health effects, such as sensitization reactions and breathing problems, and long-term adverse health effects, including an increased risk of certain cancers.’

About 81 per cent of uterine cancer patients live for at least five years after their diagnosis, but for black women the rate falls to 63 per cent, which experts say is because they are more likely to be diagnosed with more aggressive types of tumors.  

The FDA’s move was applauded by Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Shontel Brown, both black women from Massachusetts and Ohio respectively, who urged FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf in March to conduct a thorough investigation into whether chemical hair straightening products currently on store shelves contain carcinogens that lead to a higher risk of uterine cancer. 

Rep Pressley said: ‘The FDA’s proposal to ban these harmful chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers is a win for public health – especially the health of Black women… Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk.’

Rep Brown, meanwhile, said: ‘On behalf of women, especially Black women across the country, I applaud the FDA’s new proposed rule banning formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals from hair straighteners.’ 

Millions of women born with coarsely textured hair are introduced to chemical relaxers and straighteners from a young age and continue using them for much of their lives. 

Alabama-born Rhonda Terrell was among several women who sued major beauty brands including L’Oreal, Revlon, Strength of Nature and Soft Sheen Carson which made products she claimed contributed to her aggressive uterine cancer diagnosis.

Ms Terrell started using chemical hair straighteners when she was eight years old — and kept applying them until her late early 40s. 

After her initial diagnosis in 2019, she underwent six rounds of chemotherapy and was in remission for just over two years. But the cancer returned and spread to her liver and abdomen.

And 32-year-old Jennifer Mitchell who was the first to sue L’Oreal over claims that their products lead to her cancer and subsequent hysterectomy, had been straightening her hair as far back as third grade. 

She was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 28 and ultimately had to undergo a full hysterectomy — which involved removing the womb and cervix — to get rid of the cancer. 

L’oreal said after the filing: ‘We are confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit. L’Oréal upholds the highest standards of safety for all its products.’ 

Ms Mitchell told Good Morning America: ‘Not being able to carry my own children has been the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to deal with.

‘This is a dream of mine that I’ve always wanted.’

Ms Mitchell is also suing four other companies — Carson Inc in Georgia, Strength of Nature Global in Georgia, Dabur USA in New Jersey and Namaste Laboratories in Illinois.

Her attorney says black women — who use the products more frequently— have ‘long been the victims’ of company marketing strategies.

A 2020 study conducted by researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health found as much. They detected harmful hormone-disrupting chemicals such as parabens and phthalates in 50 percent of products marketed to black women compared to just 7 percent of products marketed to non-Black women. 



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