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Does the FDA Regulate Hair Straightener Products?

Hair straighteners, like all personal care products, may be brought to the market without approval for safety by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The law does not require cosmetic products and ingredients, other than color additives, to have FDA approval. However, there are laws and regulations in place that apply to hair straighteners. These personal care products are regulated by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) which the FDA administers. 

The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act is a United States Federal law that sets standards for the safety and labeling of food, drugs, and cosmetics. It was first enacted in 1938 and has been amended several times to keep up with changing technology and consumer demands. As defined by the FD&C Act, cosmetics include “articles intended to be rubbed, poured, sprinkled, or sprayed on, introduced into, or otherwise applied to the human body…for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body’s structure or functions” (FD&C Act, sec. 201(i)). Cosmetics include a wide range of products such as skin creams, lotions, powders, nail polish, lipsticks and hair care products. 

Hairdresser relaxing the hair on an african woman head and also using comb to stretch and apply the relaxer cream through the hair

Manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their products before they are sold to consumers. However, the FDA has the authority to act against cosmetics found to be unsafe or misbranded. The FDA can also ban or restrict the use of ingredients in cosmetics that are found to be harmful.

What Women Who Use Hair Straighteners Need to Know?

Women need to be aware of the potential risks associated with hair straightening products and educate themselves on the products they use. In October, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a study examining the effects of hair straightening products on women’s health. The study’s results indicate hair straighteners and relaxers increased the risk of uterine cancer.  NIH also released a study in 2019 that reported there may be an increased risk of breast cancer among those who use chemical hair straighteners. 

Certain chemicals found in hair straightening products, such as formaldehyde and coal tar, are also associated with an increased risk of cancer. Formaldehyde and coal tar are classified as known human carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Carcinogens cause cancer in humans. Formaldehyde is used in some hair straightening products to help bond the hair to a straighter shape. Exposure to formaldehyde can also cause eye, nose and throat irritation.

It is important for women to be aware of the potential risks associated with hair straightening products and to use these products with caution. If you have health concerns after using any hair straightening products, consult a healthcare provider to help determine if the products could be causing the issues.

How Can Women Who Have Used Hair Straighteners Seek Help?

Women who have experienced problems or adverse effects after using hair straighteners can report it to the FDA voluntary MedWatch. Hair straighteners can cause a range of adverse side effects, including damage to the hair, scalp and skin.

Women who have used chemical hair straighteners and developed uterine, breast or other cancers or health issues can consult an experienced hair straightener attorney for legal guidance to determine whether they have a valid claim and possible legal options. The first hair straightening lawsuit against L’Oréal and other cosmetics manufacturers was filed in October 2022. And many more hair straightener cancer lawsuits followed after the release of study findings by the NIH. If you have experienced health problems associated with the ongoing use of a hair straightener, working with a personal injury attorney can ensure your claim is filed correctly.  

sign for boston university on campus

Boston University Study Finds Increased Uterine Cancer Risk For Black Women Using Hair Relaxer

Another major study on the possible carcinogenic effects of chemical hair straighteners has linked their regular use to increased uterine cancer rates, particularly in Black women. Researchers who conducted the Boston University Black Women’s Health Study (BWHS) found that postmenopausal women who used hair-relaxing products…