What Black women should know about hair relaxers and their health

The damage chemical hair relaxers can have on Black women is coming under intense scrutiny. 

Several landmark studies have been published in the last year highlighting the link between chemical hair relaxers — which break down proteins in hair to straighten it — and increased rates of uterine cancer. And last week, after pressure from Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Shontel Brown of Ohio, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on hair-smoothing and hair-straightening products containing formaldehyde, an ingredient known to cause cancer. 

As more research continues to reveal potential dangers, hundreds of Black people have filed lawsuits against big-name beauty and cosmetic retailers like L’Oreal and Revlon, blaming their chemical hair straighteners as causes of uterine cancer, fibroid tumors and infertility. 

The latest research on the effects of hair relaxers was published Oct. 10 by Boston University. According to the Black Women’s Health Study, or BWHS, postmenopausal Black women who have used chemical hair relaxers more than twice a year or for more than five years have an increased risk of developing uterine cancer.