For many African American women, it’s been a decades-long ritual to use hair relaxer creams as part of their style routine. But while the process heavily relies on strong chemical ingredients like lye, have you ever wondered if using hair relaxers could potentially put your health at risk?
Recent studies suggest that there might be a link between these products and cancer in Black women specifically. Some of these styling products are indeed laden with ingredients that could trigger or increase the user’s risk of certain types of cancer, including uterine and breast cancers.
This piece seeks to shed more light on whether or not there’s a connection between the use of hair relaxer creams and their probability of causing cancer in black women.
Read on to learn more about why it is important to put your health first when choosing what type of product you use, the alternatives, and what you can do if you so much as suspect that such a product hurt you or someone you love.
Hair Relaxer Creams & Their Use in the African American Community
It’s no secret that hair relaxers and other chemical-based products have become an integral part of styling within the African American community. Many women of color use these products occasionally to help straighten their hair for a more put-together look, but at what cost?
Unfortunately, a growing number of these creams may contain harsh chemicals that could be linked to some forms of cancer. According to Georgetown University’s assistant professor of oncology, Traci Bethea, hair relaxers have been around for quite a long time, but not much attention has been paid to studying their safety over the years, perhaps until recently.
This makes it essential to be mindful when using such products, which could help ensure your beauty regime doesn’t come at a price you weren’t planning on paying. So to speak, not all relaxers are created equal, so it pays to get educated on the potential risks of some of these products.
The Growing Number of Lawsuits on Hair Relaxer Producers
Due to mounting concerns about the safety of hair relaxers and their potential risks, a rising number of lawsuits have been filed against producers in recent years. The personal injury attorneys from Louthian Law Firm noted that a majority of hair relaxer cancer suits were filed from November 2022 onwards.
In most of these cases, the plaintiffs sought compensation for medical bills, emotional distress, pain, financial ruin, and other kinds of suffering or damages due to illnesses caused by regular use.
Some manufacturers have responded by introducing new product lines that limit chemical usage or using plant-based ingredients instead, but as anyone would expect, not all might be following suit. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been affected or hurt by the prolonged use of a certain hair treatment product, it is within your rights to seek justice.
Common Potentially Carcinogenic Agents in Black Hair Relaxer Creams
Typically, relaxers contain some combination of alkalis (such as sodium hydroxide) that help break down and straighten hair fibers. Some of these constituent chemicals have been linked to skin irritation, scalp burns, and even cancer.
Additionally, they can also strip natural oils from the scalp, resulting in dryness, itchiness, or dandruff, all of which may be red flags indicating a potential risk factor to your health.
This is not to mention the harsh fragrances contained in some hair relaxers, often capable of triggering allergic reactions among users. Besides sodium hydroxide, some potentially carcinogenic chemical ingredients commonly found in modern hair relaxer creams include:
- Formaldehyde: Usually used as a preservative in hair products, formaldehyde is known to cause allergic reactions, and skin irritation, and may increase the risk of cancer.
- Coal tar: Commonly found in hair dyes and other cosmetic products, coal tar, a byproduct of coal processing contains several chemicals known to possess carcinogenic effects on humans.
- Parabens: Including straighteners, some hair products contain Parabens, a group of preservatives that have been linked to breast cancer and other health concerns.
- Phthalates: These chemicals are commonly found in modern cosmetics and hair products. Besides their potential to trigger cancer, they’ve been linked to hormone disruption and reproductive problems in women.
- Resorcinol: Resorcinol is a chemical used in hair dyes and relaxers. It has been linked to cancer, thyroid problems, and skin irritation.
Are African American Women More at Risk for Cancer?
For many decades, research has been conducted to ascertain whether black women are disproportionately more likely to contract cancer from the use of hair relaxer creams. The results have been largely inconclusive. However, some studies suggest a correlation between regular usage of chemical straighteners and increased risk among black women.
It is said that environmental factors such as air pollutants or toxins may also play a role in increasing this risk further. So while there is no definitive proof that relaxers cause cancer, it would be wise to consider any potential risks before deciding whether or not they are the right choice for your particular hairstyle needs.
Some Safer Ways to Straighten or Style Black Hair
As you can tell from above, not all hair relaxer creams may have the potential to cause cancer. But you can’t always be sure a product is safe by simply reading the ingredients on the label. The good part is, there are various alternatives that African American women can use to straighten their hair without having to deal with the uncertainties of chemical relaxers.
For example, heat-induced styling tools with ceramic plates, such as flat irons and blow dryers can be a safer option to achieve straightened hair. Also, oil treatments can help lock in moisture and impart shine, while regular haircuts prevent split ends.
Keratin treatments and hair texturizers could also be great alternatives to straighten hair while sparing it from the effects of harsh chemicals. And for what it’s worth, why not rock your natural hair from time to time?
Ultimately, whatever method you choose, it’s important to keep your scalp healthy by using natural ingredients whenever possible.
In conclusion, there might not be enough concrete evidence to definitively state that hair relaxers actually cause cancer in Black women. But many studies have established that they might indeed increase the user’s risk of uterine, ovarian, lung, and breast cancers, just to name a few.
It is thus wise to choose your hair styling products very carefully, use chemical relaxers sparingly, and consider other methods of styling when it comes to managing tightly-curled hair. It’s also important to note that what may work well for one person may not always work for another.