FDA suggest prohibiting hair smoothing and straightening products due to their carcinogenic ingredients

FDA wants to stop the use of straightening hair products. Picture: Pexels.

FDA wants to stop the use of straightening hair products. Picture: Pexels.

Published Oct 30, 2023


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared its intention to put forth a new regulation that would outlaw chemical relaxers, commonly known as hair straightening products, on the grounds that their usage has been connected to long-term health issues, including a higher risk of cancer.

According to the EPA, they may also provide short-term health hazards, such as hypersensitivity reactions and respiratory issues.

The proposed rule would forbid the use of formaldehyde (FA) and other compounds that release FA, like methylene glycol, as ingredients in hair smoothing treatments.

The FDA will request public feedback on the proposed rule before deciding what to do next, in accordance with FDA rules, following a review.

A proposal from the FDA may "decide to end the rulemaking process, to issue a new proposed rule, or to issue a final rule“, according to the agency's official website, after receiving public comments.

In 2019, a study that was published in the International Journal of Cancer connected the usage of chemical straighteners and hair dye to an increased risk of breast cancer among American women.

The connection was further confirmed in 2022 when a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health revealed that women who used hair straightening chemicals had a higher risk of developing uterine cancer.

The study also suggested that black women may be more vulnerable due to their higher use of these chemicals.

The smoothing solution is first applied to the hair, and then it is heated, usually using a flat-iron device to seal the solution into the hair strands.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified formaldehyde gas as a human carcinogen, and it is emitted when the solution is heated.

The results of a study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in October 2022 provide evidence of an elevated risk of certain types of cancer.

Researchers discovered that the risk of developing uterine cancer was more than twice as high for women who used hair straightening products frequently - more than four times in the preceding year - as for those who did not.

The authors noted that while the chance of doubling was alarming, uterine cancer is still a relatively uncommon disease.

The results showed that by the time they were 70 years old, 1.64 percent of women who had never used hair straighteners had developed uterine cancer, compared to 4.05 percent of frequent users.

Other hair treatments like perms, bleach, highlights and hair dye were also examined in the study, and no higher risk of cancer was discovered. Formaldehyde has long been linked to human cancer, according to data from research on animals and in the workplace.

They argued that black women are disproportionately affected by the increased risk and that it adds to racial health inequities in the country because these items are sold and utilised predominantly by black women.

The reps stated that the FDA is mandated to analyse the most recent data and re-evaluate the safety of these goods.

Nearly three out of five participants who said they frequently used the straighteners self-identified as black women, according to researchers in the NIEHS study.

Dr Che-Jung Chang, a co-author of the study and research fellow in the NIEHS Epidemiology Branch, states in a press release published by Everyday Health that these findings may be even more relevant for black women because they use hair-straightening or relaxer products more frequently and tend to start using them at earlier ages than other races and ethnicities.

Women should not use hair smoothing treatments at home, according to the FDA, even if the regulation hasn't been proposed yet. Assuming you decide to receive the treatments, be certain that the salon has adequate ventilation.

The organisation also suggests having a conversation about the product, finding out how much formaldehyde is in it, and finding out about substitutes that don't emit the dangerous gas.

Remember that, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), it might be challenging to determine whether hair products contain or may emit formaldehyde.

You may still be exposed to formaldehyde even from items that are labelled as "formaldehyde free", "no formaldehyde" or that do not contain methylene glycol or formaldehyde.

Products of concern, according to WebMD, may contain substances including formalin, methanal, methanediol, and formaldehyde monohydrate, which are interchangeable with formaldehyde or methylene glycol.

According to information from Healthline, the following chemicals emit formaldehyde when a product is heated, like when flat-ironing or blow-drying: timonacic acid, dimethoxymethane, and decamethyl-cyclopentasiloxane.

Experts from all around the world hailed the FDA's proposed new rule as a victory for public health, particularly for black women's health, which is disproportionately at risk from these products due to institutional racism and anti-black hair attitude.