CLEVELAND — After the National Institutes of Health released a study in October 2022 associating hair straightening chemicals with a higher risk for uterine cancer, women are questioning if the beauty products are worth the potential dangers.
“I think it’s (the research is) very important,” says Brittney Church, of Warrensville Heights. “I think we should be able to make the decision around if we want to use those products.”
Church says she got a chemical relaxer to permanently straighten her hair when she was around seven years old. She stopped getting them in her early twenties.
“My hairdresser at the time said it wasn't super healthy and it wasn't needed,” she said.
Although the 35-year-old believes her stylist was referring to relaxers thinning her hair, the recently released NIH research is consistent with prior studies showing straighteners have the potential to increase the risk of hormone-related cancers in women. Black women may be more at risk because of the frequent use of these products.
A decade after ditching relaxers, Church, who is Black, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer at 32 years old.
"After my journey began, I kind of started researching personal care products ... particularly my hair, because as an African-American woman, I feel like we have to do way more things with our hair," Church says.
She began running hair care products through the apps Think Dirty and Yuka. They're designed to alert users of hazardous materials within beauty products. Yuka even provides recommendations for selecting healthier alternatives when the app gives a low rating.
“All these things that I’ve been used to using, they’re not good,” Church explains. “So I started trying to figure out what products are good and what could be used for our hair.”
Church says she landed on Shea Moisture products for herself and her daughter due to favorable app ratings.
FOLLOW YOUR GUT
Ladosha Wright, of the Reverence Design Team Hair Salon in Cleveland Heights, does not believe the research justifies the media hype about relaxers, but says professional stylists are available to help those who are concerned.
“Follow your gut,” Wright says. “If your gut is that you don't feel this service, then you just don't do it.”
Wright and her team continue to offer chemical hair services while also helping clients style their natural hair in press and curl styles, afro bobs, two strand twists, braids and locs.
Although Church’s go-to styles are braids and custom-made wigs, she has advice for those who are not ready to give up chemical-hair straightening products.
“You have to do what’s best for you ... I would definitely say do things in moderation,” Church said.
MODERATION IS KEY
Dr. Alexandria White, the lead researcher for the most recent study, says less frequent use of chemical hair-straightening products was not as strongly associated with risk.
“This study is the first to show a possible link between frequent use of hair-straightening products and uterine cancer.” Dr. White writes in an email to 3News. “The study did not prove that hair-straightening products caused uterine cancer.”
Even though uterine cancer is rare, the study shows women who reported using chemical hair-straightening products at least four times the previous year, were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer compared to those who did not.
"The strongest evidence is for formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, and has been found to be released during the heating process for straighteners/relaxers," Dr. White shares.
The study’s findings suggest that decreasing use may be an option to reduce the potential for harmful exposure.
Editor's Note: The following video is from a previous, unrelated report.