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Chemical hair straighteners are making a comeback among Black women, just as a new study links relaxers to uterine cancer

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#TeamRelaxer or #TeamNaturalHair? It’s an argument that black women have had since the dawn of time. While relaxers, a chemical treatment that loosens frizz patterns and straightens hair, were once popular for numerous reasons, including discrimination against Black hair, the latest natural hair move revived in the 2010s is the Dark & ​​amp; Beautiful boxes for weekly deep conditioners.

But now studies warn that the use of straighteners, relaxers, and other hair products is linked to uterine cancer. The study, published earlier this week, comes at a time when some Black women who previously used their hair naturally were either turning to relaxers or considering doing so.

“Frequent and particularly long-term use of certain hair straightening products can affect long-term health. A family physician living in Washington DC, who was not involved in the study, Dr. “As the natural-relax movement gains momentum, it’s particularly important for Black women to know this,” says LaTasha Perkins.

The hashtag #RelaxersAreBack has been viewed 5.3 million times on TikTok to date and shows black women relaxing in the lounge or doing it themselves at home. To combat new growth, it’s common to relax every six to eight weeks, or about six times a year.

Hair products may contain dangerous chemicals that “have endocrine disrupting and carcinogenic properties,” according to researchers. Previous research has shown that certain hair products have a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, but this is the first to show an association with uterine cancer.

The study, called the Sibling Study, included nearly 34,000 participants aged 35-74 who did not have breast cancer but had at least one sister diagnosed with the disease. Researchers evaluated self-reported use of hair products such as hair dyes, straighteners, relaxers, and body waves over the past 12 months.

Most of the participants were white and did not include a sufficient sample of Black participants to determine association with the group, although the authors acknowledged that “adverse effects are more likely in this group, given the higher prevalence of use, younger age onset, and more toxic formulations.”

“People who use relaxers frequently have a 4.05% risk of developing uterine cancer compared to 1.64% for women who never use hair straightening products—a number worth considering,” says Perkins. “Beware, uterine cancer is generally rare, but according to research it is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system.”

During an average follow-up of 10.9 years, 378 cases of uterine cancer were identified in the study. It is believed that endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in hair products may contribute to the risk of uterine cancer “due to their ability to alter hormonal actions.” The researchers also observed an 80% higher risk of uterine cancer among participants who used hair straightening products, and more than double the risk in women who used the products more than four times in the previous year.

“Broadly speaking, cancer is the abnormal replication of cells that has spread to other parts of the body. Hormone-disrupting chemicals such as parabens, formaldehyde, and metals commonly found in hair straightening products are linked to all forms of cancer,” explains Perkins. “When we put chemicals like this on our scalp, which is a highly porous part of our body, these chemicals get absorbed and enter our bloodstream. This can accelerate the growth of abnormal cells and eventually result in, for example, a case of uterine cancer. Chemicals that disrupt the hormone disrupt the natural course of cell development.”

As the natural-relax movement grows, Perkins urges caution to those considering returning to relaxers.

“Before you decide to return to the relaxer, please educate yourself about what you are wearing to your body. “Take time to understand the composition of your preferred relaxant and consider options that are free of formaldehyde or caustic, for example,” she says. “Your scalp is a reservoir for absorption, so be mindful of how certain chemicals can affect your long-term health. And remember, there are ways to achieve the same look with alternative hairstyling methods.”

Some loosening alternatives that achieve the same straight hair look are extensions such as blow dryers, silk presses, wigs, and sewn weaves. “The important thing is to be mindful of the potentially toxic chemicals used to achieve these styles,” Perkins warns.

Perkins encourages people to call their family doctor if you’re unsure of which ingredients might be harmful.

“I want black women to feel empowered to choose safer options,” says Perkins, who stopped loosening her hair more than 20 years ago and now wears her hair indoors. “There wasn’t a lot of research on the health effects of relaxants at the time, but the more I learned about how the chemicals were absorbed into my scalp, the less comfortable I was using relaxers… I want to encourage more Black women to consider alternatives to relaxers. along the way what beauty means to them.

This story was originally published on Fortune.com

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