Citing Cancer Risk, FDA May Limit Hair Straightener Ingredients

2 min read

Oct. 16, 2023 – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering banning chemicals that have been linked to cancer from use in hair straightening products.

The proposal specifies that formaldehyde would be banned, as well as other chemicals that release formaldehyde, such as methylene glycol. Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling but colorless gas that is also found in building materials, glues and permanent-press fabrics. It is also present in cigarette smoke and gas stove emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Using hair smoothing products containing formaldehyde and formaldehyde-releasing chemicals “is linked to short-term adverse health effects, such as sensitization reactions and breathing problems, and long-term adverse health effects, including an increased risk of certain cancers,” the proposal states.

One study published last year showed that repeated use of hair straightening products, which are sometimes called relaxers, could more than double the risk of uterine cancer. And although that study didn’t find that the uterine cancer risk varied based on a person’s race, the researchers noted that women who are Black are among the most likely to use the products and tend to start using them at younger ages, compared to people of other races and ethnicities.

Hair straightening products have also been linked to elevated risks of cancers that use hormones to grow, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) applauded the proposed rule.

“The FDA’s proposal to ban these harmful chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers is a win for public health – especially the health of Black women who are disproportionately put at risk by these products as a result of systemic racism and anti-Black hair sentiment,” Pressley said in a statement issued jointly with Brown. The two congresswomen wrote a letter to the FDA earlier this year requesting the topic be investigated.

“Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk. I applaud the FDA for being responsive to our calls and advancing a rule that will help prevent manufacturers from making a profit at the expense of our health,” Pressley said in the statement. “The administration should finalize this rule without delay.”

If the proposed rule moves forward, the FDA will initiate a public comment period, a spokesperson told CNN. No timeline is currently published for next steps.

More than 250 cases have been filed in court recently against makers of hair straightening agents, in which people allege they experienced health problems including cancer after using the products, the news agency Reuters reported in July.