FDA plans to propose ban on hair-straightening chemical products linked to health risks

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By Jacqueline Howard and Amanda Musa, CNN

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. 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. If such a rule is issued, the FDA will receive public comments on it, and after reviewing those comments, the agency will decide whether further action is needed.

Scientists have long identified an association between the use of hair-straightening chemical products with an increased risk of certain hormone-related cancers, including ovarian and breast cancers, and uterine cancer, 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. 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, two lawmakers, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, wrote a letter 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. Both Pressley and Brown have applauded the FDA’s action and called for the agency to implement such a ban.

A 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, the study found a higher incident uterine cancer rate for those who reported using hair-straightening chemical products in the previous 12 months 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 risk of developing uterine cancer by age 70 was about 1.6%.

L’Oreal has stated that its highest priority is the health, wellness, and safety of all its consumers. The company is confident in the safety of its products and believes the recent lawsuits filed against them have no legal merit.