Posted by : Ed Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Cancer is the second leading killer of Americans, after heart disease. There are relatively few substances that we can say with certainty cause a person’s cancer. But medical studies can show connections and probabilities. That’s the case with hair straighteners and the claim there’s a connection to uterine and ovarian cancers.
What is a Chemical Hair Straightener or Relaxer?
Chemical hair straightening breaks up the natural chemical bonds that originate in keratin (a protein found in the body) that holds curls in hair. As the bond breaks, the curly hair straightens.
According to California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), they may contain the following chemicals:
- Sodium hydroxide
The DTSC states some of these compounds are associated with “…human health and environmental hazards including respiratory effects, endocrine disruption, developmental and reproductive toxicity, dermal effects, environmental persistence, and bioaccumulation.”
Who Uses Chemical Hair Straighteners?
They could be used by anyone but are particularly popular among Black women.
What Studies Show a Connection to Uterine Cancer?
In October, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced their findings after studying the health outcomes of 33,497 women who used hair care products. They were aged 35 to 74 and were followed for nearly 11 years. There were 378 cases of uterine cancer in the group.
NIH stated that women who used chemical hair straightening products had a higher risk for uterine cancer than women who didn’t report using them. NIH claims this is the first epidemiologic study of the relationship between straightener use and uterine cancer. Researchers found no connection between using hair dyes, bleach, highlights, or perms to uterine cancer.
The findings, according to NIH, are consistent with earlier research that shows straighteners can increase the chances of women developing hormone-related cancers. Those behind this study previously found hair straighteners may increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
Women who stated they used chemical straighteners frequently (more than four times during the prior year) were nearly three times as likely to develop uterine cancer compared to those not using the products. While 1.64% of those never using this product developed uterine cancer, 4.05% of frequent users developed the disease.
Uterine cancer cases, according to NIH, make up about 3% of all new cancer cases, but it’s the most common female reproductive system cancer. It’s estimated there were about 65,950 new cases last year. Incidence rates are increasing in the US, especially among Black women.
Researchers didn’t find race made a difference in the risk of developing the disease, but the adverse health effects may be greater for Black women because they’re more likely to use the product. Researchers didn’t track which brands the women used.
They stated several chemicals in straighteners (such as parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde) could increase uterine cancer risk. Chemicals may be absorbed into the body through the scalp through burns and lesions caused by the straighteners.
What Studies Show a Connection to Ovarian Cancer?
Chemical hair straightener use also increases the chance of a woman developing ovarian cancer, according to a study in the Carcinogenesis journal in September 2021. This study involved 40,559 women ages 35 to 74 who were followed for ten years. They found 241 were diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Those who used the product frequently (more than four times during the previous year) had a greater chance of developing the disease.
About 21,000 women in the US were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2020. It’s the deadliest reproductive cancer. It’s believed hormones impact cancer’s start. The study states, “Widely used chemical hair products are another possibly important source of exposure to carcinogens and endocrine (hormone) disruptors.”
The study states, “Notably, frequent use…of straighteners was strongly associated with ovarian cancer, compared to never use.”
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ZeroRisk Cases® is dedicated to helping those injured by defective drugs, medical devices, consumer products, and harmful chemicals.
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Ed Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A.
President and Managing Partner
Call 833-ZERORISK (833-937-6747) ext 5
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