The chemicals that go into making hair products work have had a long history of causing side-effect problems with long-term exposure, and hair straightening products, often used by African-American consumers, are no exception. Now, with a very modern study published in the medical peer-reviewed pages of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a research project applied by the National Institutes of Health is finding a correlation between straightener usage and uterine cancer.
It’s important to step back for a moment and understand how research works in this regard. Correlations happen all the time; that doesn’t mean there is an automatic connection. So, for the National Institutes of Health to publish that they have concluded a noted risk between hair straightener product use and uterine cancer means that, not only is the correlation strong, its strong enough to issue a warning in published research.
The common denominators in the research were found to be hair products specific for relaxing hair or straightening hair that is naturally curly, frequent use of the product, and more than topical usage of it. Ergo, the study intentionally focused on users that were confirmed users of the given hair products at least more than four times annually.
Medical research has long tracked the fact that African-American women develop uterine or ovarian cancer at higher rates. However, the causation hasn’t been clearly identified to date. There isn’t a genetic marker that attributes the trend to gene inheritance passed down from earlier relatives. So, the contributor was clearly something else. Then came the current study on hair straightener products.
Culturally, black women have regularly used hair straighteners to change their natural, tight curly hair. The result produces a hair behavior that can be shaped or sculpted for a sleeker look, especially for African-American women with longer hair. Without hair products, black women are relegated to having to braid their hair or let it grow out curly, which produces the Afro look of the 1970s. No surprise, hair straightenerproducts became commonplace and necessary for other looks and styles.
The specific culprit is the hair product chemical mix itself. The chemicals are suspected to act as a disruptor to a woman’s endocrine system, which in turn then increases the risk for cancer to begin. Cancer itself is a mutation of natural cellular reproduction, creating mutated cells versus normal ones. These continue to grow instead of following their normal genetic rules, which then eventually becomes a tumor mass. The effects of uterine or ovarian cancer can be life-changing or even fatal. Caught early, it can result in a hysterectomy. If caught late, the cancer can spread to other critical organs.
Today, the legalities of hair straightener and uterine cancer are already starting to make their way through the courts and related litigation. Early cases have already been filed, which in turn has triggered additional research to confirm the assertions, as well as how widespread the damage risk might be from related hair products. Those who are likely to have been affected, however, are hit and miss in notification; it depends on how well they stay connected to the news and common communication channels online. The sad truth is, a good number of women may not know at all what they may have been exposed to, and may find out too late until their own cancer diagnosis is confirmed.