HomeHealthAre Hair Relaxers Harmful to Your Health? Examining the Cancer Risk

Are Hair Relaxers Harmful to Your Health? Examining the Cancer Risk

For many people, changing up their hairstyle is an act of self-expression and empowerment. However, the chemicals used in permanent hair straighteners and dyes raise valid health concerns that can’t be ignored. Every time we alter our hair’s natural texture or color, we subject our scalps to an array of compounds whose long-term effects are still emerging.

In this article, we explore one of the most worrying potential impacts, the cancer risk from ingredients in popular relaxers and dyes.

What Are Hair Relaxers?

Hair relaxers are chemical hair straightening products that alter the structure of curly hair to make it straight. They work by breaking the chemical bonds in hair that cause it to curl.

Hair is made up of a protein called keratin. Keratin contains molecules called sulfides that naturally form disulfide bonds as they link together. These bonds cause hair to curl into its wavy or coiled shape.

Hair relaxers contain chemicals that dissolve the disulfide bonds in hair strands. This changes the shape of the keratin protein structure, essentially straightening out the curls. Common chemicals in relaxers break the sulfur-to-sulfur bonds using ingredients like sodium hydroxide or ammonium thioglycolate.

Once the bonds are broken, the hair lies flat instead of coiling. Relaxers can leave hair straight for several months, even after getting wet. Different relaxer formulations exist, such as liquid keratin treatments or thermal reconditioning products.

While hair relaxers are an easy way to straighten naturally curly hair, their chemical ingredients can potentially damage hair and skin with overuse or improper application. Some chemicals in relaxers are also possible human carcinogens if misused or absorbed through the skin. 

The Potential Cancer Risks of Hair Products

Several large epidemiological studies in recent years have investigated potential links between hair product use and cancer risk. While findings have been mixed, some studies have shown possible associations between frequent or long-term use of chemical hair straighteners and hair dyes with higher risks of certain cancers.

In particular, a few studies found that women who frequently used chemical hair relaxers, defined as more than 4-6 times per year, had up to twice the risk of developing breast, ovarian, or uterine cancers. This risk was compared to non-frequent users. The increased risks were attributed to chemicals like formaldehyde, which are common ingredients in hair straighteners.

A recent Black Women’s Health Study further examined hair relaxer use and cancer links. The study found that postmenopausal Black women who used hair relaxers more than twice yearly or for over 5 years faced over 50% increased odds of uterine cancer. As Black women commonly use hair relaxers and have higher uterine cancer rates and mortality, the potentially toxic effects warrant more research.

The researchers hope to raise awareness of possible health risks from certain hair products. Identifying safer alternatives and regulating cosmetic ingredients could help reduce disparities in cancer outcomes between racial groups. Continued epidemiological investigations are needed to better understand hair product exposures and cancer risks.

Legal Accountability

As research increasingly links hair relaxer use to uterine cancer, manufacturers are facing growing legal accountability. Numerous hair relaxer lawsuits have been filed against leading hair product brands, now consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) in federal court.

MDL streamlines pre-trial proceedings for complex litigation involving multiple plaintiffs suing separate defendants over common issues. Each case remains distinct, with compensation depending on individual circumstances.

The hair relaxer MDL targets companies accused of knowingly incorporating carcinogenic chemicals into straightening products while failing to warn consumers about the uterine cancer risk. Plaintiffs allege these chemicals directly caused their illnesses.

Named defendants span major hair care brands widely used in Black communities hardest hit by the disease. Suits have been filed against L’Oreal, Softsheen-Carson, Dark & Lovely, Just For Me, Motions, ORS, African Pride, and others for products like Optimum Relaxer.

Previous MDLs over similar widespread health hazards caused by consumer goods suggest significant potential damages if liability is established. TorHoerman Law states that while outcome predictions should be made cautiously, litigation experts forecast average individual settlements from $100,000 up to $1.5 million depending on the severity of each plaintiff’s case.

The consolidation aims to efficiently resolve common questions of science and law. As research implicates hair relaxers in exacerbating a deadly health disparity, these women seek justice and accountability through the courts.

While hair relaxers offer convenience, growing evidence shows potential risks to one’s health that can no longer be overlooked. 

As legal cases demonstrate the human toll of toxins within popular products, manufacturers must prioritize consumer safety over profits. Meanwhile, all communities deserve empowering choices that don’t threaten their lives. Continued research and reform can help reduce disparities so self-expression enhances instead of endangers well-being.

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