Is It Safe to Use Hair-Straightening Products?   

Is It Safe to Use Hair-Straightening Products?

Young woman getting her hair done at a salon - chemical hair straightening.

November 28, 2022

Clinical Contributors to this story:
Ashley Haggerty, M.D.

A recent study revealed that the use of hair straightening chemical products was associated with a higher risk of uterine cancer. 

To break down the study, gynecologic oncologist, Ashley Haggerty, M.D., explains what this means and how to reduce your risk.

Are hair straightening products linked to uterine cancer? 

Following over 33,000 women for almost 11 years, a study by the National Institute of Health found that the women who noted frequent use (more than four times in a year) of chemical hair straightening products were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer, than those who did not use those products.

“This study is particularly impactful for Black women; 60% of the women who reported the straightener use in the study identified as Black,” shares Dr. Haggerty.

Uterine cancer is one of the most common cancers for women, and according to the National Cancer Institute, uterine cancer death rates are rising, particularly among Black women. 

“Uterine cancer is the umbrella term, endometrial cancer is cancer on the lining of the uterus, and it’s the most common type of uterine cancer,” explains Dr. Haggerty.

Chemical & Carcinogen Exposure

“Permanent” hair straightening, chemical hair straightening or hair relaxing products are used by putting chemical solution on your hair and letting it sit. The chemical will essentially restructure the hair – breaking the hydrogen bonds of the hair – allowing you to either permanently curl, or straighten the hair. 

The study did not identify the brands or products used specifically, however it noted that certain chemicals like parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde (a human carcinogen – a chemical known to cause cancer), could be the contributing factors towards the increased risk in uterine cancer. 

“Not only are you exposing yourself to the chemicals that are placed directly on and absorbed by your scalp, you’re also breathing in those chemicals,” adds Dr. Haggerty. “In general, we’re learning more and more about chemicals in the products that we use on a daily basis and potential dangers of them.”

The FDA recently flagged a variety of Unilever brand dry shampoos for having elevated levels of benzene, another carcinogen. 

Should we not use hair straightening products?

“If you wanted to do everything possible to reduce your risk of cancer, I would avoid these products. It’s an exposure, much like smoking, that could increase your risk of developing cancer,” says Dr. Haggerty. 

“The good news is, we are uncovering more and more information, and it’s bringing awareness to the public. There are many products we assume are safe, when they may not be,” she adds.

Tips to Decrease Your Risk of Uterine Cancer 

“In general, we know the biggest risk factor for uterine cancer is obesity,” explains Dr. Haggerty. “Many women struggle with this, and weight loss is not easy, but it’s important to know that obesity is a risk for cancer.”

Know the signs of uterine cancer: 

  • Pre menopause: abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding; heavy or irregular
  • Post menopause: any vaginal bleeding 

“Most endometrial cancers happen after menopause but we are seeing it more often in younger patients,” says Dr. Haggerty. “People have a misconception of bleeding. Some patients will have a little pink while wiping and that’s it, it’s not having their period, so they think it’s not a concern. Just know, it is not normal to have any bleeding after menopause, even if it’s light.

To reduce your risk of uterine cancer, keep physically active and maintain a healthy weight. Notify your doctor if you have any signs of bleeding or concerns. 

Next Steps & Resources:

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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