A new study published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute this week suggests that there is an association between uterine cancer and chemical hair straighteners. According to the US study, which followed 34,000 women for over a decade, chemical relaxers double the risk of developing the form of the reproductive disease by the age of 70.
The research goes on to state that women who use chemical straighteners frequently (more than four times in the previous year) have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women who have never used the products.
To put it in perspective, those who never used hair straightening products would have under a two percent chance of being diagnosed with uterine cancer by the age of 70. That number doubles, creeping up to 4.05 percent among women who frequently straighten their hair chemically – a still small, but appreciably higher risk.
“We’ve seen this association between hair straighteners and breast, ovarian, and now uterine cancer— it’s been a consistent finding among hormonally driven female reproductive cancers,” said Dr. Alexandra White, head of the environment and cancer epidemiology group.
Although the increases risk was seen among women of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, Black and Arab women may be more at risk since they are disproportionately more likely to use relaxers to straighten and chemically alter their hair. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for POC women to undergo numerous rounds of chemical relaxing treatments before they’re even of school age due to increasing societal pressures.
From a young age, non-White women are bombarded with Eurocentric standards of beauty and constantly told that our cascading ringlets and tight coils are unkempt and make us appear slovenly. What’s worse, a lot of Black women in the United States undergo chemical relaxing treatments and risk their health to be perceived as “socially acceptable” in the workplace, hence the reason for The Crown Act, a California law which prohibits discrimination based on hair style and hair texture.
Researchers have noted in the paper that several hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been found in straighteners, such as parabens, bisphenol A, metals and formaldehyde, could play a role in the increased uterine cancer risk, and that some of those chemicals impact our body’s natural hormonal process. Meanwhile, chemical exposure from hair products like straighteners could be more concerning than other personal care products because of the potential for increased absorption through the scalp.
And since hair products and other cosmetics do not need approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be sold, there’s little to no regulation, meaning that you have virtually no way of knowing whether the ingredients in the products you are using are actually safe to use.
In short, non-White women are literally risking their lives to fit into Eurocentric standards of beauty. This new study serves as a harrowing reminder to work towards decolonizing our self-perception and begin embracing our natural hair texture and beauty.