The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to propose a ban on certain hair-straightening products, such as chemical relaxers and pressing products, that have been linked to health risks, according to an entry in the Unified Agenda, which lists actions that administrative agencies plan to issue.
The agency plans a proposed rule that would specifically ban hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like methylene or glycol.
Scientists have long identified an association between the use of hair-straightening chemical products with an increased risk of certain hormone-related cancers, such as of the ovaries, breast and uterus, particularly among Black and Latina women.
Research suggests that about 50% of products advertised to black women contain these types of chemicals, compared with about 7% that are advertised to white women, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. and study published last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found evidence of an association between the use of straightening products and uterine cancer.
Among nearly 34,000 women in the United States ages 35 to 74, a higher incident uterine cancer rate for those who reported using hair-straightening chemical products in the previous 12 months was found relative to those who did not.
The study found that among women who frequently used hair-straightening chemical products, the risk of developing uterine cancer by age 70 was around 4%. In women who did not use hair-straightening chemical products in the previous 12 months, the study found the risk of developing uterine cancer by age 70 to be about 1.6%.
The FDA is expected to propose language noting that these types of hair-straightening chemical products are also “linked to short-term adverse health effects, such as sensitization reactions and breathing problems” and that “these chemicals are used in certain cosmetic products that are applied to human hair as part of a combination of chemical and heating tool treatment intended to smooth or straighten the hair.”
In March 2023, congressional representatives Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio wrote to FDA commissioner Dr. Robert Califf urging the agency to conduct a “thorough and transparent investigation” to determine whether hair-straightening chemical products on the market contain carcinogens that lead to an increased risk of uterine cancer.
“Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk,” Pressley said in a news release. “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.”
If the proposed rule is issued, the FDA will receive public comments on it. After reviewing the comments, the agency will decide whether further action is needed.