The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may propose a ban on hair-straightening products connected with severe and potentially life-altering health conditions. The FDA administers the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), which regulates personal care products like chemical hair straighteners, hair smoothing products, nail polish, and skincare products.
This proposed rule would ban formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals in hair straightening or hair smoothing products sold in the U.S. market. These chemicals have been connected to short-term health effects like challenges in breathing. Formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, which include methylene or glycol, have also been linked with long-term health problems, like certain cancers and reproductive health issues. Scientists have long associated chemical hair straighteners with an increased risk of hormone-related cancers, like ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer.
If this rule is issued, the FDA will spend time collecting comments from the public. After the public has shared their comments with the FDA, “the agency will decide whether further action is needed,” spokesperson Courtney Rhodes shared on October 13. “If we decide to issue a final rule, we publish the final rule in the Federal Register.”
Before the proposed or finalized rule has been approved and implemented, other parts of the federal government may be invited to comment. If the proposed rule is significant, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) will review the rule and work with relevant agencies. It is important to share your feedback with the FDA and seek legal advice if you have health conditions associated with chemical hair straighteners.
Health Effects of Chemical Hair Straighteners
Released in October last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Health (NIH), a study highlighted the association between uterine cancer and hair straighteners.
For years, many women have used chemical straightening and hair relaxer products to change the style and texture of their hair. Because the scalp is porous, it easily absorbs products applied to hair. Many of these products contain harmful chemicals, like formaldehyde, coal tar, and other chemicals that can interfere with hormones produced by the body. These chemicals interact with hormones, resulting in biological and developmental health effects. Some chemicals are known carcinogenic agents by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Coal tar and formaldehyde are just two such chemicals that are carcinogenic and used in hair straightening products.
While women of all ethnicities and ages use treatments and products to change their hair, Black and Latina women begin using chemical hair straighteners at an earlier age than others. This can lead to extensive exposure throughout their lives.
In March, Congress members Ayanna Pressley and Shontel Brown wrote to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf about chemical hair straightening products. Their letter urged the FDA to conduct ”a thorough and transparent investigation to determine whether publicly available chemical hair straightening products contain carcinogens that lead to a higher risk of uterine cancer. Black women use these products at a higher rate than others and could be disproportionately impacted. In order to protect public health, we urge the FDA to reevaluate the safety of these products.”
This letter conveys that harmful chemicals were found in “about 50 percent of products advertised to Black women, as opposed to just seven percent in those marketed to others.” Chemical hair straightening products are manufactured and advertised to Black and Latina women so they can convey Western beauty standards of straight, thin hair. Each time women chemically straighten or smooth their hair, they put their health at risk.
Mounting Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
Upon the release of the NIH study in October 2022, hair relaxer lawsuits have been filed by women across the country who used chemical hair straightening products and developed cancer or other health issues. Lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers, claiming they failed to warn consumers about the potential health risks of using these products. Some cases allege that the manufacturers misrepresented their chemical hair straightening and smoothing products as safe to use while they contributed to the adverse health effects.
There are legal channels to explore if you have used hair straighteners and been diagnosed with cancer or other reproductive issues. Consulting an attorney with expertise in hair straightening cases is a good place to start. Let an experienced hair straightener cancer attorney determine the next steps for your claim.