FDA Investigates Hair Straightening Products Amid Health Concerns and Lawsuits

Posted on Monday, October 23rd, 2023 at 4:51 pm    

Janita “Gigi” Hayes, like many women, began using hair straighteners at a young age to feel prettier. Over time, she continued to use them, believing that her straightened hair made her appear more professional to employers. However, Hayes, who is Black, is now one of thousands of women suing the manufacturers of these products, alleging that they have damaged their reproductive health. She believes that long-term use of hair straighteners led to her developing uterine fibroids, ultimately requiring a hysterectomy. This week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced its intention to investigate these products, which have been linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer.

Danielle Ward Mason, Hayes’ lawyer, views the FDA’s decision to investigate these products as a significant development. She states that it is high time for a regulatory body to examine the potential dangers posed by these hair straighteners.

The FDA has proposed a rule that would ban formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from being used in hair-smoothing and straightening products sold in the United States, with these products having been used most extensively by Black women. These chemicals are known to show up as formaldehyde, formalin, or methylene glycol on ingredient lists and are present in some hair relaxers and keratin treatment products. Their use has been associated with long-term health concerns, including an increased risk of cancer, as well as short-term risks like breathing problems.

The FDA is currently seeking public comments on this proposal, and it may be months before a decision is reached. If the FDA issues a final rule, it could lead to the removal of these products from store shelves within days, although the timeline depends on the rule’s aggressiveness.

Studies have previously linked hair dye and chemical straighteners to an increased risk of breast cancer, and in 2022, the National Institutes of Health published a study that found women who used hair-straightening chemicals faced a higher risk of developing uterine cancer. Black women, in particular, may be more affected by these products due to their higher usage rates.

U.S. Representatives Ayanna Pressley and Shontel Brown had previously written to FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, urging the agency to investigate the potential health risks posed by chemical hair straightening products. They emphasized the need for consumers to have reassurance that cosmetic products they use do not threaten their health.

The FDA’s proposed rule comes at a time when some Black women are choosing to give up hair relaxers and straightening products due to concerns about hair breakage and societal acceptance of natural Black hair. Some have turned to alternative methods like electronic flat irons or hot combs to achieve similar looks. This shift also aligns with efforts to pass federal legislation like the CROWN Act, which seeks to prohibit discrimination based on race or national origin related to a person’s hair or hairstyle.

In conclusion, the FDA’s decision to investigate hair straightening products is a significant development in response to mounting health concerns and legal actions. Women like Janita Hayes hope that such investigations will lead to greater awareness and regulation of these products. Additionally, the ongoing debate surrounding natural hair acceptance and legislative efforts like the CROWN Act underscores the broader issues of societal pressure and discrimination faced by Black women regarding their hair choices.

If you or a loved one has been impacted by the use of these hair straightening products and suspect that you have faced health challenges as a result, it is imperative to seek legal counsel and support. We understand the significance of your situation, and our team at Bullock Ward Mason, LLC is here to assist you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us at (833) 296-5291. Your experience and perspective may contribute to the ongoing efforts to address the health risks associated with these products and hold manufacturers accountable for their potential harm. Your voice matters, and we are here to help you navigate this challenging situation.