The Food and Drug Administration is considering a ban on certain hair straightening products, saying that they are linked to hormone-related cancers and can cause “long-term adverse health effects.”
According to a FDA release, the agency is considering a ban on formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like methylene glycol in straightening products. The agency said that the chemical hair straighteners release human carcinogens and can cause “long-term adverse health effects.”
Breathing in formaldehyde gas can lead to short-term and long-term health issues, ranging from irritation of the eyes and throat to coughing, wheezing, or chest pain to chronic problems such as frequent headaches, asthma, and certain cancers.
A study conducted last year by the National Institutes of Health, which involved nearly 33,500 U.S. women, suggested that women who use chemical hair straightening products have a higher risk of developing uterine cancer, as well as a harder time conceiving a baby.
The study noted that roughly 60% of the participants who reported using straighteners in the previous year were self-identified Black women, leading two federal lawmakers to call on the FDA to investigate the health risks of formaldehyde.
In the letter sent to the FDA, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, asked the agency to investigate the products since Black women “could be disproportionately impacted.”
“Chemical hair straighteners and relaxers are primarily marketed to Black women to alter the appearance of hair…” the representatives wrote. “As a result of anti-Black hair sentiment, Black women have been unfairly subjected to scrutiny and forced to navigate the extreme politicization of hair. Hence, generations of Black women have adapted by straightening hair in an attempt to achieve social and economic advancement. Manufactures of chemical straighteners have gained enormous profits, but recent findings unveil potentially significant negative health consequences associated with these products.”
Pressley applauded the FDA for advancing the proposed rule to ban the product by April 2024.
“The FDA’s proposal to ban these harmful chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers is a win for public health — especially the health of Black women who are disproportionately put at risk by these products as a result of systemic racism and anti-Black hair sentiment,” said Rep. Pressley. “Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk.
Currently, the FDA encourages consumers to read the labels of hair products before buying and using those that contain formaldehyde or related ingredients, including formalin or methylene glycol.
“If you are buying a hair smoothing product at a store or online, the product is required by law to have a list of the ingredients,” FDA guidance states. “If a product doesn’t include a list of ingredients, the FDA recommends that you do not buy the product.”
The agency advises asking the salon professional if the product has formaldehyde and reporting any bad reactions to the FDA.