Straightening Your Hair Can Cause Cancer?

By Kari Apted | Published

hair straightening cancer

Users of chemical hair straighteners used to worry most about the products causing hair breakage and loss. Now, there is a far more serious concern. A recent National Institutes of Health (NIH) study discovered that women who frequently use hair straightening products are more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who do not use these hair care products.

NBC News interviewed four Black women who have filed federal lawsuits against companies that produce the hair straightening kits. “If I had known all those years ago, if they had a warning on the box to say this could cause cancer, I wouldn’t have used it,” said Rhonda Terrell of Guin, Alabama. The 55-year-old was diagnosed three years ago with an aggressive form of uterine cancer.

Doctors performed a radical hysterectomy, removing Terrell’s uterus, cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes in hopes of saving her life. She was in remission for over two years, but the cancer returned to her abdomen and liver. She recently lost her hair due to chemotherapy treatments and now wears a wig.

Terrell said she began relaxing her hair at the tender age of 8 and continued until she was in her late 30s or early 40s. She said that one reason she wants to hold manufacturers accountable is to spare her granddaughters from a similar fate. All of the women NBC interviewed said they were unaware that the use of hair straightening kits could put them at a higher risk of cancer because the packages do not include a warning.

According to the study, products used for hair straightening may contain hazardous chemicals with carcinogenic properties. These chemicals disrupt the endocrine, or hormone, system and are therefore associated with hormone-sensitive cancers. This includes breast and ovarian cancer, but the link to uterine cancer was only recently investigated.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in hair straightening products include formaldehyde phthalates, parabens, cyclosiloxanes and metals. Permanent hair coloring also contains EDCs. Around 50% of women report using permanent hair dyes as part of their hair care routine.

Uterine cancer is a common gynecologic cancer, with nearly 66,000 new cases and around 12,550 deaths expected in 2022. Hysterectomy is often recommended and of the women interviewed by NBC, three had undergone the operation. One of the women had her uterus removed at just 28 years old.

“This study is the first to show a possible link between frequent use of hair straightening products and uterine cancer,” said Alexandra White, head of the environment and cancer epidemiology group at the NIH and lead author of the study. She cautioned that the study did not prove that the hair straightening products caused uterine cancer. The women involved in the lawsuit and their attorneys disagree.

Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann, one of the lawyers representing the women, said “the science is out there that supports our position.” Zimmerman also said that the complaints include a number of other studies that point toward hair straightening products causing cancer. She called the chemicals “substantial contributing causes” of uterine and other serious conditions.

L’Oreal is one of the hair straightening manufacturers named in the lawsuit. The company did not return NBC’s request for comment as to whether their products included the potentially harmful ingredients. However, they did issue a statement saying the company is “confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”

The Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association representing the beauty industry, stated that the study did not prove the hair straightening products directly caused uterine cancer. All cosmetic products, including hair dye and hair straightening solutions, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The women hope to receive compensatory damages and payment for their medical bills, attorney fees and other lawsuit-related expenses.