The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced plans to propose a ban on certain hair-straightening products. This includes products like chemical relaxers and pressing products that have been linked to serious health risks that are specifically marketed to and impact women of color. The news was reported on Friday in an entry in the Unified Agenda by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is part of the Office of Management and Budget as well as the Executive Office of the President.
According to the entry, the agency plans to “specifically ban hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like methylene or glycol,” which scientists have linked to an increased risk of ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer, especially among Black and Latina women.
“Based on the comments, we might decide to end the rulemaking process, to issue a new proposed rule, or to issue a final rule. If we decide to issue a final rule, we publish the final rule in the Federal Register,” the FDA explained on its website.
This new proposal comes after Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, initially encouraged the agency to conduct a “thorough and transparent investigation” into hair straightening products and their links to uterine cancer. After hearing the news of the potential rule, Pressley expressed her satisfaction with the proposal, calling the proposal a “win for public health” and especially a win for “the health of Black women” who are most often put at risk by these products as a result of “systemic racism and anti-Black hair sentiment.”
She continued by explaining that [Black women] should be allowed to show up without “putting our health at risk,” while applauding the FDA for responding to her calls for awareness.
Although the proposed rule was announced on Friday, the potential ban won’t be immediate as the FDA’s rulemaking process can take a couple of years to finalize. However, regardless of the lengthy process, many believe that the proposal is a step in the right direction in the prevention of cancer-causing products being marketed to Black and Latina women in the name of beauty.
Last year, lawsuits were filed against L’Oreal USA Inc. and other makers of hair straightening products after a study released by the U.S. government linked the use of their products to uterine cancer.
In the study, which was released on Oct. 17, 2022, researchers found that women who reported frequent use of hair straightening products, defined as more than four times in the previous year, were more than twice as likely to go on to develop uterine cancer compared to those who did not use the products.
“We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%,” said Alexandra White, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group and lead author on the new study. “This doubling rate is concerning. However, it is important to put this information into context – uterine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer.”
Although rare, other studies have found that rates of uterine cancer have been rising in the United States, particularly among Black women.
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