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FDA Misses Deadline to Ban Dangerous Chemical in Hair Relaxers

Millions of Americans who use chemical hair straightener products may have been putting their health at risk for years. In October 2023, the FDA proposed a ban on formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals as ingredients in chemical hair straighteners and hair relaxing products for sale in the U.S. The ban was scheduled to begin in April. As May arrived, no ban had been announced. 

When the FDA was reached for comment about the proposed rule on April 3, officials shared that the action date set for the proposed ban to come into effect was April 2024. FDA officials shared with NPR that they were “still developing the proposed rule.” When pressed on what the ban’s content may include and a potential timeline, a spokesperson for the FDA declined to comment. It is unclear when a proposed ban may come into effect and its details.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) and FDA logos are seen at the FDA headquarters

The proposed FDA rule is a further step to raise awareness about the potential harm and health risks associated with chemical hair straighteners and relaxer products that contain formaldehyde. The highly toxic gas is colorless and strong-smelling. Health risks are possible for those who breathe in or come in contact with formaldehyde through their skin or eyes.

Once the toxic gas is present at levels exceeding 0.1 ppm (parts per million) in the air, those who come in contact with formaldehyde can experience skin irritation, nausea, watery eyes, coughing, wheezing, and burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat. Others may experience contact or allergic dermatitis. This itchy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance or when direct skin contact is made with a substance like formaldehyde. This dangerous gas has also been connected to serious long-term health conditions, including headaches, asthma, and cancer. The longer the exposure and the amount of formaldehyde someone is exposed to, the higher the risk to their health. For those using chemical hair relaxers for years or even decades, this may mean countless exposures.

Studies Show Cancers Linked to Hair Relaxers

In a recent study, chemical hair relaxers and straighteners have been linked to an increased risk of ovarian, breast and uterine cancer. In 2022, a decades-long study by the National Institutes of Health was released to the public. This study revealed the increased risk of hormone-related cancer in women who have used chemicals to treat their hair.

Alexandra White, the head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group shared with NPR, “We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%.” 

Due to Western beauty standards and bias, many who use chemical hair products are Black and Latina women who may have been using chemical hair products to straighten and relax their hair for years and even decades before learning the risks to their health. Some of the claimants who have filed hair relaxer lawsuits report having their mother or guardian chemically straighten or relax their hair as young as seven years old. 

Hair Relaxer Lawsuits Continue 

Chemical hair straightener lawsuits continue to be filed. Thousands of product liability lawsuits allege that the manufacturers failed to properly inform consumers about the potential risks of health conditions, like certain types of cancer.

In early 2023, hair relaxer lawsuits were consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL). Due to the size of the MDL, it will take a considerable amount of time to complete pretrial proceedings. It is expected that the first bellwether trials may begin in late 2025 and early 2026. 

Manufacturers of hair straightening products continue to maintain that their products are safe for use. A spokesperson for Revlon shared with NBC News, “Our highest priority is the health and wellbeing of all our consumers. Our products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that we strictly follow all regulations in every market in which we operate.”

Using consumer products like chemical hair straighteners and hair relaxers should not put your health at risk. If you or someone you know has used chemical hair straighteners and have been diagnosed with cancer or other associated health conditions, know that there is legal support available to seek compensation for your injuries. Consider contacting a personal injury attorney handling chemical hair straightening lawsuits. Their expertise can help determine whether your claim has merit, the compensation you should be entitled to, and what to expect from the legal process.

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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…