Hair Relaxers And The Irony Of Their Long-Term Health Effects

For those with textured hair or tight curls, hair relaxers appear to be the immediate solution to achieving sleek and straight hair. Whether due to personal choice or societal pressure, hair relaxers are used to, as the name suggests, “relax your hair.”

The irony in the name “hair relaxers” is that they damage the scalp while they relax the hair from its natural curl pattern. They break down protein bonds, specifically the disulfide ones. These bonds give the hair a natural shape and texture, allowing for easier straightening and styling.

The chemicals used in relaxers, such as sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide, can cause chemical burns, scalp irritation, hair breakage, and, in severe cases, permanent hair loss and cancer.

So, while using a hair relaxer is intended to achieve a certain aesthetic result, the process can lead to significant damage, which is contrary to the idea of relaxation and hair care.

In this blog, we will examine the actual impact that hair relaxers have on your body. Let’s establish the difference between what consumers would expect and what they eventually experience in the form of long-term health effects. 

Long-Term Effects of Hair Relaxers

Apart from the immediate health concerns that hair relaxers cause, like scalp irritation and hair loss, there is cause for concern about their devastating long-term effects.

Law firms are dealing with hair relaxer lawsuits filed by numerous victims who are diagnosed with illnesses like uterine cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, and uterine fibroids.

Uterine Cancer Risks

Extensive studies show that hair relaxers contain carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals, like formaldehyde, parabens, heavy metals, and phthalates.

There is groundbreaking research that shows a National Institute of Health study of about 34,000 women aged between 35-74, which found that the women using chemical straighteners had double the risk of uterine cancer than those who didn’t use these products.

The study prompted a hair relaxer cancer lawsuit by Jenny Mitchell, a 32-year-old woman, against major hair relaxer manufacturers like L’Oréal and SoftSheen Carson. 

Mitchell, a uterine cancer survivor, attributes her illness to years of relaxer use, starting at age eight. Facing infertility due to a hysterectomy, Mitchell mourns the loss of her dream of motherhood.

Cut to this day, she opts for a natural hairstyle — closely cropped hair.

As of May 2024, the FDA has yet to propose a ban on formaldehyde in hair-straightening products despite concerns about its link to cancer. There is no explanation for the delay.

Dermatitis & Cicatricial Alopecia

This condition refers to permanent hair loss due to the destruction of the hair follicles.

A review associates the usage of hair relaxers with pain, eczema, burns, inflammation, and hair loss. These are linked to dermatitis and cicatricial alopecia.

Once again, despite the intention to enhance appearance, these products undermine the very goal they aim to achieve. So, pursuing beauty through hair relaxers can result in damaging effects, highlighting a stark paradox in their use.

Breast Cancer

Although relatively recent studies have shown the link between uterine cancer and hair relaxers, the effect of breast cancer has been long established.  

In 2019, epidemiologist Alexandra White from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in North Carolina published a study indicating a connection between breast cancer and frequent relaxer use. The study took into account, data spanning ten years from the Sister Study, a US survey involving around 50,000 sisters of women diagnosed with breast cancer.

Several women who suffered from breast and uterine cancer joined lawsuits against major beauty product manufacturers, including L’Oreal and Revlon. Previously, Revlon told Reuters that the company “does not believe the science supports a link between chemical hair straighteners or relaxers and cancer.”

Respiratory Issues: Asthma, Chronic Bronchitis

Fumes containing harmful compounds like formaldehyde and phthalates are released during application. 

These fumes are potent in poorly ventilated spaces. Improper ventilation in salons poses risks to both professionals and clients. Prolonged inhalation irritates the respiratory system. 

For instance, formaldehyde exposure is linked to asthma exacerbations and an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis. 

Additionally, individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions may experience heightened sensitivity and worsened symptoms upon exposure to these fumes, further exacerbating their respiratory health.

According to the US FDA, exposure to formaldehyde levels exceeding 0.1 ppm may cause watery eyes, coughing, and skin irritation. 

Handling The Long-Term Effects of Hair Relaxers

It’s clear that hair relaxers’ effects on health aren’t to be taken lightly. Due to these potential health risks, individuals must reconsider their use. 

Consulting with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance based on individual health factors is a step in the right direction.

With the growing awareness amongst consumers, companies are now attempting transparency about possible ill effects on their product leaflets, websites, and other information portals. There is a growing trend in the number of people finally holding manufacturing companies accountable.

TorHoerman Law notes that the defendants being held responsible are cosmetic companies that have knowingly released cancerous chemicals in their products.

Hair relaxer manufacturers saw their first lawsuit in 2022. The following year, all open cases were consolidated into an MDL (Multidistrict Litigation). Here, plaintiffs share pre-trial activities such as discovery, but each case receives its own verdict. Within the same MDL, it’s possible for some plaintiffs to win their case and others to lose.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does A Relaxer Do To Your Hair?

Hair relaxers straighten curly hair. They penetrate the cuticle and cortex layers to loosen the hairs’ natural curl. This makes your hair brittle and weakens it.

Is Any Hair Relaxer Safe?

Chemical relaxers marketed as safe for use, including no-lye relaxers, are still risky. Studies show that women who reported using them were just as likely to report discomfort as those who used lye relaxers.

What To Use Instead Of A Relaxer?

Try less invasive methods like oiling your hair, blow-drying, or, better yet, embracing your naturally curly hair.

 How many hair relaxer lawsuits are there?

There are more than 8,000 lawsuits, marking a crucial milestone in this ongoing legal battle. Plaintiffs continue to allege that the use of chemical hair relaxers has led to severe health issues, including an increased risk of uterine cancer.

In the pursuit of beauty, we establish the irony of hair relaxers to serve as a reminder of the delicate balance needed between aesthetic goals and health considerations. Despite their promise of sleekness and style, these products have long-term health risks that often go unnoticed until it’s too late. 

From the unsettling correlation between uterine cancer and relaxer use to the respiratory issues caused by inhaling their fumes, the toll on one’s well-being cannot be overstated. 

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