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The Hidden Dangers of Hair Relaxers: Unveiling a Silent Health Crisis

Black woman cancer survivor

A research that spanned over 20 years, and included nearly 70 scientific investigations, led by Professor Tamarra James-Todd has established the link between hair relaxers, mostly used by black women, and reproductive health issues.

Why Are Hair Relaxers Dangerous?

The research has shown that hair straighteners and similar products contain hormone-disrupting chemicals. These substances are found to be linked to early menstruation, uterine fibroids, preterm birth, infertility, and various cancers, including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer. Formaldehyde, a common ingredient in these products, is associated with cancer and other long-term harmful health effects. Studies have also found that many toxic ingredients are not listed on the packaging, leading to widespread unawareness of the risks.

Why This Particularly Concerns Black Women

Black women are disproportionately affected by the dangers of hair relaxers. A study conducted in 2020 found that 89 percent of Black women in the United States have used hair relaxers at least once, often starting in childhood. This extensive use, driven by societal pressures to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards, has led to serious health risks. Many of these health issues are more common in Black women, including an aggressive form of breast cancer with a death rate 28% higher than that of white women.

Legal and Legislative Actions

In response to these health risks, California became the first state to pass the CROWN Act in 2019, making hair discrimination illegal. Since then, 23 other states, 50 cities, and the House of Representatives have passed similar legislation. In October 2022, following the publication of the Sister Study research, the first lawsuit was filed against companies accused of knowing their products increased cancer risk but not warning consumers. By February 2023, these cases were combined into a class-action lawsuit to speed up the legal process.

Moving Forward

Professor James-Todd's research is crucial in advocating for stricter regulations and raising awareness about the health risks associated with hair relaxers. While the FDA's proposal to ban formaldehyde is a step in the right direction, more comprehensive actions are needed to protect Black women from these dangerous products.


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