FDA mulls banning hair straighteners with formaldehyde over cancer-causing chemicals

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed banning certain hair straightening products containing formaldehyde, saying that they are linked to hormone-related cancers and can cause “long-term adverse health effects,” Fox Business reported Tuesday.

The US drug regulator said in a release, the agency is considering a ban on formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like methylene glycol in straightening products. The chemical hair straighteners release human carcinogens and can cause “long-term adverse health effects.”

The report said frequent breathing in formaldehyde can lead to several health issues. In short-terms, it can cause irritation of the eyes and throat to coughing, wheezing, or chest pain, and in long-terms it can cause chronic problems such as frequent headaches, asthma, and risk of developing cancer of the uterus, which is also called endometrial cancer. 

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A study by the National Institutes of Health involving 33,500 women in the US, suggested that women who use straightening products often face more than twice the risk of developing uterine cancer than those who do not, and they also have a harder time conceiving a baby.

The study also noted that roughly 60% of the participants who reported using straighteners in the previous year were self-identified Black women. While rates of uterine cancer have been rising among all women in recent years, but the increase has been steepest among women of colour, including Asian and Hispanic women.

In the letter sent to the FDA, two US representatives–Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio–asked the agency to investigate the products since Black women “could be disproportionately impacted.”

Dangers of Formaldehyde

“Chemical hair straighteners and relaxers are primarily marketed to Black women to alter the appearance of hair…” Fox Business quoted the representatives as saying.

“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,” the representatives added.

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,” representative Pressley was quoted as saying. “Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk,” she added.

It is to be noted that the FDA always 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 guidelines read. “If a product doesn’t include a list of ingredients, do not buy that product.” the FDA added.

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Updated: 18 Oct 2023, 07:01 PM IST

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