Hair straightening chemicals are in demand in the U.S., especially among Black women — this demographic makes up the majority of consumers. While the popularity of hair relaxers has declined recently, the market size is still expected to reach $854 million by 2028. These relaxers are typically sold in cream and solid forms, and the chemicals they contain are effective because they break disulfide bonds to change hair texture. These products are marketed as all-natural and safe to use and can be found on grocery store shelves. But recent research is giving women a reason to take a break from hair straightening chemicals. A study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found a concerning link between hair straightening products and uterine cancer.
The study included more than 33,000 women and aimed to find potential risk factors for cancer. Women who reported using chemical hair straighteners more than four times a year were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer. Among women who didn’t use hair straightening products, the risk of a uterine cancer diagnosis by 70 years old is 1.65%. In contrast, women who frequently used hair straightening chemicals had a uterine cancer risk of 4.05%.
Uterine cancer is the most gynecologic cancer in the U.S. The most common type is endometrial cancer, which is easy to treat and has a five-year survival rate of 81%, higher than the average cancer survival rate. Uterine sarcoma, in contrast, is much more aggressive and has a survival rate of roughly 50%.
In the days after the study’s release, hair straightener cancer lawyers assisted dozens of women in filing lawsuits against relaxer manufacturers like L’Oreal. These women claimed they received uterine cancer diagnoses after regular hair relaxer use. The lawsuits allege that the cosmetic giant knew or should have known that the products increased the risk of uterine cancer and warned consumers about the danger. Thousands more could decide to sue, and plaintiffs’ lawyers have urged the court to consolidate the cases into multidistrict litigation (MDL). If the claims are consolidated, one federal judge will oversee them and streamline the process.
A 2021 study found a link between lye hair relaxers and breast cancer. Hair straightening products can cause burns, permanent scalp damage, and increased cancer risk. Many women who have relied on straightening products for years are turning to alternative hair styling methods in hopes of making healthier choices.
Ways To Straighten Hair Without Dangerous Chemicals
There are safe alternatives to hair straightening chemicals, which can be used at home or by a professional in a salon. These options don’t always work as quickly and may take longer than chemical treatments, but they are just as effective as hair relaxers without the increased chance of cancer.
A silk press is a hair service that involves a blow dryer and flat iron. After the hair is shampooed and conditioned, a hair stylist blows it out and uses a flat ironing tool to straighten it. Silk presses don’t last as long as relaxers — in most cases, a stylist must redo them after two or three weeks — but they give similar results without chemicals.
There are a variety of creams and gels that can help reduce frizz and make hair straighter without containing any of the harmful chemicals found in other hair straightening products. Some products are applied before using a heat styling tool, while others can be used standalone. They help keep hair healthy and reduce the risk of breakage.
Hot combs are similar to flat iron tools but are often recommended for people with thicker, harder-to-manage hair. These metal combs take longer than flat irons but are more precise when straightening hair. If using a hot comb at home instead of seeing a professional, it’s essential to be very careful. The tools can reach temperatures upwards of 450 degrees Fahrenheit and cause severe burns if mishandled, so it’s important to know how to use them.
Women who depend on hair relaxers may feel blindsided by the news that they might spike the chance of developing cancer, but other styling options work well and don’t come with any health risks.