Hair Straightening Chemicals Linked to Uterine Cancer Risk

A new study suggests that the use of hair straighteners is linked to a higher risk of uterine cancer.

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute included 33,947 participants aged 35-74 years who had a uterus at enrollment. Participants self-reported their use of hair straightening products in the prior 12 months.

The women were followed for almost 11 years. During this period, 378 participants were diagnosed with uterine cancer.

“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, PhD, 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.”

About 60% of the participants who reported using straighteners in the previous year were self-identified Black women. They tend to use hair straightening products more frequently and start at earlier ages.

In the study, straightening product use included the use of pressing products. Because the latter requires less harsh products than chemical straighteners and relaxers, researchers say that “the estimated associations might underestimate the true relationship between the use of chemical straighteners and relaxers and uterine cancer.”

Researchers did not collect brands or ingredients of hair products; however, chemicals found in straighteners such as parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde could contribute to the increased uterine cancer risk observed.

The American Cancer Society estimates that about 65,950 new cases of uterus cancer will be diagnosed in 2022, and about 12,550 women will die from the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), uterine cancer may cause vaginal discharge or bleeding that is not normal for you, as well as pain or pressure in the pelvis.

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