For some women, “going natural” may not just be a stylistic choice; it may be best for their health. A new national study has found a link between the frequent use of hair straighteners and uterine cancer.
Published on Oct. 17 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the study followed nearly 34,000 American women between the ages of 35-74 from different racial and ethnic groups for over a decade.
Some participants frequently used hair products, including “hair dyes; straighteners, relaxers, or pressing products; and permanents or body waves.”
Researchers defined frequent use as applying chemical hair products more than four times per year. During the study, women with hair straighteners had higher incidents of developing uterine cancer.
Findings determined that 4.05 percent of women who used the chemical hair products risked developing uterine cancer by age 70 compared to 1.64 percent of those who did not.
According to a New York Times report, uterine cancer is on the rise in recent years, particularly among Black women — 66 percent of whom reported using hair straighteners.
“We don’t want to panic people,” Dr. Alexandra White, the study’s lead author and head of the environment and cancer epidemiology group of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, told the Times. “One could make a decision to reduce this chemical exposure, but we also want to acknowledge that there is a lot of pressure on women, especially Black women, to have straight hair. It’s not an easy decision to not do this.”
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Discussions about whether the use of relaxers – culturally dubbed “creamy crack” in the Black community – is healthy has increased with the rise of the natural hair movement.
“We’ve seen this association between hair straighteners and breast, ovarian and now uterine cancer. It’s been a consistent finding among hormonally driven female reproductive cancers,” Dr. White added.
Dr. Uche Blackstock is a health equity activist, educator, start-up founder, former professor and emergency room physician. She weighed in on the study’s findings on Twitter.
“Although I’ve worn my hair natural for most of my life, many Black women know very well the societal pressure to straighten and chemically alter our hair,” Dr. Blackstock said. “We are bombarded with Eurocentric standards of beauty. We are told our own Afro-textured hair is unprofessional and unkempt.”
“We are even discriminated against because of our hair, hence the reason for the Crown Act in California,” Dr. Blackstock continued. “But this study is particularly upsetting, because we might be actually risking our lives to look socially acceptable or to keep our jobs.”
U.S. Treasury Department reporter Fatima Hussein wondered if the study’s findings would help get the CROWN Act – which bars hair discrimination – passed at the federal level.
“Black women for decades have been pressured to straighten their hair to conform to workplace standards — will be interesting to see how this impacts passage of the federal CROWN Act (which bars employment discrimination on basis of hair texture, etc.),” Hussein tweeted.
Aside from color additives, cosmetics companies do not need FDA approval to sell products. This fact, coupled with the recent revelation that some young Black girls featured in commercials for relaxers in the 1990s and 2000s were always natural, had one user calling for a lawsuit against companies selling relaxers.
“Connecting this with the relaxer box scandal from the other week. There should be a class action lawsuit,” @GiantSpaceAss tweeted.
Black women had varied opinions about it. Some said the study confirms that wearing one’s hair naturally is the way to go, while others said they would continue to straighten their hair.
Here are some more reactions from Twitter:
PHOTO: Credit: Amfer75, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/Amfer75?mediatype=photography