What Cancers Are Related To Hair Relaxers?

People who often use hair relaxers in Chicago, Illinois, might ask, “what cancers are related to hair relaxers?” Well, some hair straighteners and dye-like relaxers have endocrine disruptors that interfere with hormones. Hormone disruption in women is likely to cause hormone-driven cancers like ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers. Hair relaxers contain bisphenol A, phthalates, and formaldehyde, which are carcinogenic.

Though most of these harmful chemicals are currently banned in Europe, cosmetics manufacturers still use them in the U.S. to make beauty products. A product liability lawyer can discuss your legal options if you or someone else has developed a medical condition, such as cancer, skin irritation, or respiratory problems, due to exposure to chemicals in relaxers, blowouts, and straighteners.

Carcinogenic Chemicals Found in Hair Relaxers

Hair relaxers contain dozens of harmful chemicals like phthalates, bisphenol A, and formaldehyde, which have a high likelihood of causing cancer. These chemicals can disrupt the production of hormones in the endocrine gland. As such, various studies link them to hormone-dependent cancers like ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer.

Phthalates act as solvents in beauty products like hair relaxers. If you get exposed to this type of chemical for a long time, you might suffer liver or kidney damage. Long-term exposure to phthalates can also damage the reproductive system and lungs and cause ovarian and uterine cancer in young women.

Other chemicals used to make hair relaxers that can disrupt the endocrine system and cause cancer include guanidine carbonate, ammonium thioglycolate, parabens, diethanolamine, cyclosiloxanes, and dimethyl sulfoxide.

Exposure to some toxic chemicals discussed above doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer. It can, however, increase the risk of developing malignant tumors due to the endocrine-disrupting properties of these chemicals. When there are disruptions in the endocrine system, estrogen levels in the body may increase and put you at risk of ovarian and uterine cancer.

Risks and Health Concerns From Chemical Straighteners

Hosts of studies show that hair straighteners cause cancer and fibroids in the uterus and premature menstruation in younger women. These health consequences affect both hairdressers and their clients who receive the relaxers. As such, there’s an increased need for research on the overall impact of hair relaxers on the human body.

When a hair relaxer is applied to your hair, the product will melt on the scalp using your body temperature. If it sits in the hair for long, it’ll start to burn through the hair follicles and cause inflammation. Afterward, it will seep into the bloodstream and move to the lymphatic system.

You may develop dermatitis when your scalp is inflamed after applying a hair relaxer. The hair relaxer may also lead to hair thinning and breaks. The product can interfere with the natural texture of your hair, causing it to become brittle and break if you continue applying the relaxer.

The chemicals from the hair relaxer will come out of your body through the reproductive system when you urinate. Once they come into contact with the reproductive system, they may cause cysts and fibroids.

Current Regulations Regarding Hair Relaxers

The Food and Drug Administration proposed a strict ban on the use of formaldehyde, which is a chemical used to make hair relaxers. Following the ban, there have been efforts to raise awareness of the possible consequences of products that contain formaldehyde as an active ingredient. These efforts have focused on the increased cancer risk linked to formaldehyde.

The proposed rule seeks to discourage users of hair straightening and smoothing products from using products made with formaldehyde. It also aims to prevent people from buying products with similar carcinogenic ingredients. The FDA released a fact sheet alongside the ban announcement that consumers can use as a reference when purchasing beauty products.

Though the current law does not mandate the FDA to approve chemical ingredients and beauty products for consumption, it allows this agency to approve color additives. As such, the agency prohibits usage of certain color additives in the production of consumer products like hair straighteners and hair relaxers. Individuals and companies that sell beauty products have a legal duty to ensure these chemicals are safe for use.

Long-Term Health Effects of Hair Relaxer Use for Illinois Residents

Chemicals used to make hair relaxers can affect your body differently, depending on how harmful they are, the length of exposure, and the amount of toxic chemicals in the unreasonably dangerous product. Every person is unique. As such, the severity of the health effects will vary from person to person. That said, the long-term health effects of hair relaxer use for Chicago, Illinois residents include increased cancer risk, skin irritation, and respiratory problems.

Increased Risk of Cancer

Recent scientific studies link long-term use of hair relaxers made with carcinogenic chemicals to a higher risk of different types of cancers. The cancer risk is prevalent in women with or without a prior history of cancer. Among postmenopausal women, incidences of uterine cancer are relatively higher for those who frequently use hair relaxers.

These findings suggest more studies on the possible long-term health effects of hair relaxer use are necessary. The studies need to focus on the effects of the constituents of chemical hair relaxers. They can help increase awareness on the safe use of hair relaxers and the type of hair straighteners to avoid.

Respiratory Problems

When you inhale fumes from chemicals used to straighten hair, you might develop respiratory problems. Symptoms of respiratory problems may vary with the level of exposure, amount of chemicals in the product, and point of contact. They may include severe burning or pain in the lips, tongue, or nose and severe pain in the throat.

Harmful ingredients in hair relaxers and straighteners include ammonium thioglycolate, guanidine hydroxide, and mineral oil. Other constituents of these products that are considered toxic are sodium hydroxide and polyethylene glycol. You may experience breathing difficulty or swelling in the throat if you accidentally inhale fumes produced by these toxic chemicals.

Skin Irritation and Allergies

Chemical hair relaxers can cause skin irritation and allergies in some people. They may also burn the skin or leave holes in the tissues under the skin. So, it’s advisable to stay away from these products if you have sensitive skin.

Bisphenol A, phthalates, and formaldehyde are known to harm the skin. They can also be absorbed into the bloodstream through the skin, putting you at risk of certain cancers. You may experience irritation when you accidentally touch your eyes with traces of these chemicals on your hands or splash these chemicals into your eyes.

Cancers Associated With Hair Relaxer Use

Besides interfering with hormones, endocrine disruptors in hair relaxers might cause certain cancers. These cancers include ovarian, breast, and uterine cancers.

Breast Cancer

A breast consists of connective tissue, ducts, and lobules. The connective tissue – comprising fatty and fibrous tissue – holds everything in place while the ducts transport milk to the nipple. Lobules are the special glands that produce breast milk.

These parts can be targeted by breast cancer, depending on the cells that grow to become cancerous. When you develop breast cancer, cells in your breast grow more than expected. The cancer can start growing in the lobules or ducts and spread outwards through the lymph vessels and blood vessels.

Consumers and experts have expressed concerns about a potential link between breast cancer and hair products. Leave-in conditioners and hair relaxers may contain estrogen-disrupting compounds. As such, they may increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

Uterine Cancer

Cancer that grows in the uterus is referred to as uterine cancer. It can take the form of uterine sarcoma or endometrial cancer. Uterine sarcoma develops in the muscle wall of the uterus, while endometrial cancer develops in the innermost lining of the uterus.

Studies suggest that women who use chemical hair straighteners are at greater risk of uterine cancer compared to those who do not use these products. Hair straighteners are reported to have carcinogenic chemicals that increase the risk of cancer. The same does not apply to perms, highlights, and bleach, which fall in the same category as hair relaxers.

Ovarian Cancer

The female reproductive system comprises two ovaries on each side of the uterus. Each ovary, almost the size of an almond, makes eggs and reproductive hormones (progesterone and estrogen). Ovarian cancer is a type of cancer that targets the ovaries.

Like many types of cancer, it may not cause any noticeable symptoms after it develops. Its causes can also be genetic or environmental. Among the known environmental causes of ovarian cancer are carcinogenic chemicals found in hair relaxers.

There’s some evidence that chemicals used to make hair straighteners and hair relaxers can disrupt the production of hormones in the female reproductive system. These chemicals include bisphenol A, phthalates, and formaldehyde. As such, they are likely to put users of these products at risk of hormone-related cancers like ovarian cancer. 

Chicago personal injury and workers’ compensation attorney Howard Ankin has a passion for justice and a relentless commitment to defending injured victims throughout the Chicagoland area. With decades of experience achieving justice on behalf of the people of Chicago, Howard has earned a reputation as a proven leader in and out of the courtroom. Respected by peers and clients alike, Howard’s multifaceted approach to the law and empathetic nature have secured him a spot as an influential figure in the Illinois legal system.

Years of Experience: More than 30 years
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Bar & Court Admissions: Illinois State Bar Association, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, U.S. District Court, Central District of Illinois
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