FDA Plans to Propose Ban on Chemical Hair Straighteners: Here’s Why?

FDA Plans to Propose Ban on Chemical Hair Straighteners: Here’s Why?
Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

In a significant move towards enhancing consumer safety, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on certain chemical hair straighteners. This proposal comes in response to mounting evidence linking these products to serious health risks. Some of these health concerns include cancer, hormonal disruptions, and reproductive issues.

The FDA’s initiative reflects a broader trend of regulatory scrutiny to ensure the safety of personal care products. In this post, we explore the reasons behind the FDA’s decision.

The Popularity of Chemical Hair Straighteners

Chemical hair straighteners have surged in popularity due to their ability to provide long-lasting, sleek, and manageable hair. Many seek these treatments to achieve a smooth, polished look that aligns with contemporary beauty standards. The convenience of reduced daily styling time and the desire for a frizz-free appearance drive the demand.

Additionally, cultural influences and media portrayals of straight hair as fashionable contribute to their widespread use. In fact, many popular celebrities straighten their hair for movies, shows, and media, which also makes it popular among users.

Celebrities like Khloé Kardashian, Beyoncé, Zendaya, Selena Gomez, and Salma Hayek use hair straighteners. The natural hairstyle of most of these celebrities is curls, but they usually appear before people with straight hair.

Another common reason behind the increasing use of these products is society’s perspective on curls, especially among black women. A CNBC article states that 25% of black women were denied job interviews because of their natural curls. This was found through a research study of around 1,000 self-identified black women.

Despite potential health risks, the appeal of effortlessly straight hair continues to attract diverse people. Some individuals seek to simplify their hair care routines and enhance their overall aesthetic, while others don’t have a choice.

Health Risks and Scientific Evidence

The use of hair straighteners has been a popular cosmetic practice, but growing scientific evidence indicates that these products may pose health risks.

Chemical hair straighteners typically contain potent ingredients such as formaldehyde, sodium hydroxide, and various other harsh chemicals. These chemicals are designed to break down the hair’s structure to achieve a straightened appearance.

The primary concern revolves around the potential carcinogenic properties of these substances, particularly formaldehyde. It has been classified as a human carcinogen by various health agencies, including the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Repeated exposure to formaldehyde and similar chemicals can lead to an increased risk of developing certain types of cancers.

For instance, a ScienceDirect study shows that respiratory exposure to more than two ppm formaldehyde can cause nasopharyngeal cancer. It has also been associated with leukemia, although there is no clear evidence for the same.

However, when it comes to hair straighteners, the major concern has been around uterine cancer, primarily among black women. A recent study found that women who have never used these products are only at a 1.64% risk of developing uterine cancer. However, the risk rate increases to 4.05% among frequent users, meaning they are close to 2.5 times more vulnerable.

Due to this growing concern, many women have filed hair straightener cancer lawsuits. These lawsuits allege that manufacturers neglected consumer health and prioritized their revenue. Therefore, the plaintiffs seek compensation for the damages they have suffered because of the chemical hair straightener manufacturer’s negligence.

According to TorHoerman Law, these hair straightener cancer cases have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation (MDL) 3060 for smooth proceedings. These lawsuits from MDL 3060 will be handled by the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois. As of June 3, 2024, the number of pending cases in the MDL reduced from 8,468 to 8,170. It is believed that this reduction can be because of plaintiffs with non-cancerous allegations opting out to allow the focus on cancerous lawsuits.

Regulatory Context and Precedents

The FDA is banning certain chemical hair straighteners due to this growing concern around their association with cancer. The agency’s plan for proposing the ban came out in October 2023. Before the ban becomes official, the FDA will receive and review public sentiments around it to avoid making a wrong decision.

Based on those sentiments and responses from the public, the proposal was supposed to be finalized in April 2024. However, the agency missed its own deadline for proposing the ban. It is unclear what caused the delay or why the agency has not taken action yet. It also didn’t respond to any questions about the delay made by NBC News.

The proposed ban on chemical hair straighteners is part of a broader regulatory trend toward stricter oversight of cosmetic products. Historically, the FDA has had limited authority over the cosmetics industry compared to other sectors, such as pharmaceuticals and food. However, things have changed with the introduction of the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which gives more authority to the agency.

Internationally, several countries have already taken steps to regulate or ban hazardous chemicals in cosmetics. The European Union, for example, has stringent regulations prohibiting the use of over 1,300 substances in cosmetic products. Moreover, it restricts another 250 ingredients based on concentration levels. Comparatively, the US has banned only 11 chemicals that can potentially cause health problems in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all hair straighteners have formaldehyde?

Not all hair straighteners contain formaldehyde, which highlights the importance of reading the labels before buying and using any products. You should also know that some formaldehyde-free products may release that substance upon heating. For example, some keratin straighteners might have aldehydes that can turn into formaldehyde upon heating.

How do keratin and chemical hair straightening differ?

Both these straightening procedures use chemicals to remove the curls. However, keratin straightening is believed to be a more natural and risk-free alternative, as it is not directly associated with major health problems. On the contrary, some chemical hair straighteners are strongly linked to cancers.

Are salon workers at the risk of occupational formaldehyde exposure?

OSHA has discovered that certain hair smoothing products may release formaldehyde during usage at levels exceeding its allowable limits. This might put salon employees’ health at risk due to occupational formaldehyde exposure from chemical hair relaxers and straighteners.

To summarize, the FDA’s proposal to ban chemical hair straighteners highlights a pivotal moment in regulating personal care products. With growing evidence of the health risks posed by these chemicals, the move underscores the need for more stringent safety standards to protect consumers. 

While the path to implementation may be challenging, the goal is to ensure that beauty does not come at the expense of health. As the regulatory landscape evolves, it will be important for all stakeholders to collaborate to create a safer future for personal care.

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