Millions of Americans regularly use hair straightening products, which manufacturers have touted as safe. Last year, research from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that women who regularly use hair relaxers were more likely to develop uterine cancer. A new study from Boston University suggests these products can cause even more issues than previously known. Hair relaxers can lead to female fertility issues, making it harder for women to get pregnant. Researchers noted that hair relaxer use is more common among Black, Hispanic, and mixed-race people, so they are more likely to be affected by health complications.
Hair relaxers have declined in popularity recently, but the market is still worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Straightening products contain chemicals that can change the texture of hair by breaking disulfide bonds, which loosens the hair’s curl pattern. They can be found at drugstores and beauty supply stores and are usually inexpensive. The product labels often promise that the products are safe and boast about all-natural ingredients, so consumers have no warning that the chemicals they contain can cause long-term health effects. Hair relaxers can cause scalp burns and hair loss even when used correctly. Recent studies have shown even more concerning risks, leading many women to file hair straightener cancer lawsuits.
Hair Relaxers and Uterine Cancer
Uterine cancer is a rare disease that primarily affects women over 50. Last year, an NIH study found that women who frequently used hair relaxers (more than four times) in the previous year developed uterine cancer at a rate more than double the frequency for women who didn’t use the products. Cases have increased among Black women, who are statistically more likely to buy hair relaxers. Researchers didn’t find a cancer link between other hair products like bleach and highlights.
Endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma are two types of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer is the most common form of uterine cancer, and it has a relatively high survival rate when it’s treated early. In comparison, uterine sarcoma is more aggressive and has a lower survival rate. Even if a patient survives, cancer treatment is physically and financially grueling. A hysterectomy is frequently recommended for women with uterine cancer, which can be devastating for patients who want future children.
Hair relaxers can change hair texture in minutes, but they’re effective because they contain powerful chemicals. Ingredients like formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, and bisphenol A are commonly found in straightening products. Relaxers can cause scalp cuts and burns, allowing an open wound for chemicals to enter the bloodstream. The chemicals are often called endocrine-disrupting chemicals because they affect hormones. Hair relaxers have also been linked to a higher rate of uterine fibroids and endometriosis, both hormonal conditions.
In recent months, hair relaxer lawyers have filed lawsuits on behalf of women who developed cancer after using hair straightener. They are suing the manufacturers who make products like Dark & Lovely, ORS Olive Oil, and Just for Me. The hair relaxer cancer lawsuits allege that these companies knew about the potential health hazards but didn’t tell consumers or add warnings to product labels. Earlier this year, the cases were consolidated into multidistrict litigation to make the proceedings more efficient.
Reproductive Health Issues Linked to Hair Straighteners
The Boston University study analyzed data from thousands of people who participated in the government-funded Pregnancy Study Online (PRESTO), which focuses on fertility and childbirth. The research included more than 11,000 participants who shared information about their hair relaxer use over eight years. People who used relaxers for at least a decade or used the products at least five times a year had lower fertility rates.
It also took these participants longer to get pregnant than those who didn’t use hair relaxers. Researchers say more data is needed to determine why relaxers affect fertility. Still, the same endocrine-disrupting chemicals associated with uterine cancer have also been linked to fertility problems. The study found that Black women are more likely to use hair relaxers before ten years old and may choose to straighten their hair in a desire to conform to societal norms and avoid discrimination.
Infertility affects patients physically, emotionally, and financially. Some states require insurance companies to cover in vitro fertilization procedures, but out-of-pocket costs can still be high. Patients often spend tens of thousands of dollars paying for treatment that isn’t guaranteed a successful outcome. Reproductive health issues increase the risk of mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
Women who have dealt with infertility after using hair relaxers may have grounds for legal action. If you have experienced reproductive issues and have a history of hair relaxer use, you should consider contacting an attorney to discuss your options.