You wouldn’t typically associate your seemingly innocuous hair care products with harmful and potentially fatal consequences such as cancer. Nevertheless, the findings of a recent study may prompt you to examine your beauty routine more closely.
An alarming link has been discovered between the use of chemical straighteners and incidents of uterine cancer. These chemical straightening products are often marketed toward Black women, as they tend to use these products at a higher rate. Because of this, Black women may be disproportionately at risk.
A study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences examined the hair care habits of more than 33,000 women aged 35 to 74. Among these women, 60% who reported using straighteners were Black.
According to the study, women who straighten their hair chemically at least four times a year are more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer as those who don’t use chemical straighteners. Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is the most commonly-diagnosed malignancy of the female reproductive system.
Alexandra White, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group, reported to TODAY that, “we see a doubling of risk for frequent users, and that’s a very alarming figure. For non-users, the absolute risk is about 1.64%, and then when you look at frequent users, the risk goes up to 4.05%. It’s a notable increase in risk.”
It’s estimated that there have been a startling 65,950 new cases of uterine cancer in the U.S. this year, representing 3% of all new cases of cancer in the country. These numbers are on the rise, warranting a closer look at what may be causing it and what can be done.
Long, straight hair has long been upheld as a societal beauty “ideal” associated with whiteness, while textured hair has often been demonized and discriminated against. Many Black women use chemical relaxers, often laden with asthma-inducing and endocrine-disrupting chemicals, when giving up their natural hair. These societal pressures have now been proven to have toxic consequences—literally.
The good news is that more and more Black women are choosing to embrace their hair the way it is, societal pressures be darned. Here’s to hoping we can build a world that allows women to feel comfortable with their natural beauty without feeling they have to resort to potentially harmful procedures.