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New study finds women using hair relaxers at high risk for uterine cancer

The study found that Black women may be more at risk of the rare cancer due to their statistically higher use of chemical straightening products.

WASHINGTON — The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH) released a study that shows women are at a higher risk for uterine cancer in association with the use of chemical hair straightening products such as relaxers.

The study found that Black women may be more affected due to their statistically higher use of straightening chemical products.

According to a news release from the NIEHS, researchers did not find any additional links to uterine cancer from other hair products such as bleach, hair dyes, highlights or perms.

The study that was conducted by the NIEHS involved over 33,000 women ages 35-74 and found that over the course of 11 years, nearly 400 women were diagnosed with Uterine Cancer. According to the release, researchers discovered that women who frequently reported using hair straightening products more than four times than in the previous year were over twice as likely to develop uterine cancer compared to women who did not use hair straightening products.

Uterine cancer is the most common cancer for the female reproductive system despite it making up just 3% of all new cancer cases, according to the release. Even though the percentage is 3%, that means nearly 66,000 new cases are expected in 2022, the release further explains.

Black women are impacted more by this risk due to their higher usage of hair straightening chemicals. According to the release, about 60% of the woman that reported using hair straightening chemicals in the study were Black.

“We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%,” said Alexandra White, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group and lead author on the new study stated via press release. 

“This doubling rate is concerning. However, it is important to put this information into context - uterine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer.”

Although the specific brands associated with the hair straightening chemicals were not investigated, researchers found that frequent ingredients in these products were parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde. Researchers believe that these chemicals could contribute to the increased risk of uterine cancer.

The FDA requires companies to disclose the constituents that are in their products, according to White. However, White explains that companies are obligated to show that their products aren’t causing damage but are not undertaking longer-term health effects studies.

“To our knowledge, this is the first epidemiologic study that examined the relationship between straightener use and uterine cancer,” White said. “More research is needed to confirm these findings in different populations, to determine if hair products contribute to health disparities in uterine cancer, and to identify the specific chemicals that may be increasing the risk of cancers in women.”

The reasoning behind the concern for hair straightening chemicals particularly is because of the product’s “increased absorption through the scalp which may be exacerbated by burns and lesions caused by straighteners,” according to officials.

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