Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Our kids' hair is beautiful! Yet another reason to steer clear of relaxers and straighteners.
Did you know hair straightening and relaxing products have been found to be associated with developing cancer such as ovarian cancer and breast cancer?
A new study recently released by researchers from three credible institutions shares their findings that these products are also associated with the development of uterine cancer! The team examined data from the Sister Study, which includes over 50,000 women from 2003 to 2009 and follows the same individuals over time. (It is called the Sister Study as it enrolls the sisters of individuals with a breast cancer diagnosis who do not have any cancer diagnosis at enrollment).
The researchers found that individuals that reported using hair straighteners, pressing products, or relaxers, had a higher rate of new uterine cancers (which included endometrial cancer, uterine sarcoma, or other types of cancer in the uterus) than those who did not use these products. When individuals reported that they use these products over four times in the past year there was an even higher association with developing uterine cancer.
Many people that use relaxers have experienced the burning and scabbing that can happen to the scalp. This makes the situation worse as the cancer-causing chemicals have an even more direct route into the body!
What should you take away from this study?
Findings suggest that hair straighteners, pressing products, and relaxers cause uterine cancer. There are another million reasons why using these products on our kid’s hair is unhealthy (mentally & emotionally). Ditch these products and embrace the natural beauty of our kids’ hair. There are so many resources to care for curly hair (just search naturally curly hair care and you will soon be overwhelmed!), so let’s be sure our kids know how beautiful they are in both our words and our actions.
Should you trust this information?
I do. But all research comes with limitations. The biggest strength of this study is the sample size and its study type where it follows the same people over time. The more people in the study and the longer you follow them, the more likely the research can identify real differences in the study population by the topics of interest.
One issue with this study is that most of the individuals that reported use of using straighteners, relaxers, or pressing products self-identified as African American or Black, yet they only were 7.4% of the study population. The study uses statistical methods to account for self-identified race (so that the impact of these products can be looked at apart from race). But this issue actually emphasizes that the products pushed toward People of Color to conform to White beauty standards likely play a role in increased cancer rates!
The second potential issue to consider is the enrollment approach. Since all participants have a sibling with a breast cancer diagnosis, it calls into question if the population may be more likely to develop cancer based on their genetics. This isn’t a big enough issue to dismiss the findings, but certainly something to think about.
Thank you to the researchers and study participants to allow us to better understand yet another reason that hair straighteners and relaxers should be avoided for ourselves and our children.
Citation: Chang, C. J., O’Brien, K. M., Keil, A. P., Gaston, S. A., Jackson, C. L., Sandler, D. P., & White, A. J. (2022). Use of straighteners and other hair products and incident uterine cancer. JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute.