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Ban on Hair Relaxers Under Consideration

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Youdle) - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is gearing up to propose a ban on certain hair-straightening products. This includes chemical relaxers and pressing products associated with health risks, as indicated in the Unified Agenda, a catalog of forthcoming actions from administrative agencies.

The proposed rule aims to ban the use of formaldehyde (FA) and related chemicals, such as methylene glycol, in hair smoothing and straightening products within the United States. These chemicals, used in cosmetic hair treatments involving chemical and heating tools, are associated with immediate health issues like skin reactions and respiratory problems, as well as long-term health risks, including certain cancers. The rule is under the Department of Health and Human Services and is currently in the Proposed Rule Stage, with no specific legal deadline mentioned. Once this rule is proposed next April, the FDA will invite public comments. After reviewing these inputs, the agency will determine if further actions are necessary, according to the federal calendar. 

These hair-straightening chemical products have been under scrutiny for their potential health hazards. Scientists have long recognized a link between the use of these products and an increased risk of hormone-related cancers. These include ovarian, breast, and uterine cancer, with a higher prevalence among Black and Latina women. According to research from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, roughly 50% of products targeted at Black women contain these chemicals, compared to about 7% of those aimed at White women.

The FDA is expected to propose language highlighting that these products are also associated with short-term adverse health effects, including sensitization reactions and breathing problems. These chemicals are often present in cosmetic products intended for smoothing or straightening human hair through a combination of chemicals and heating tools.

In March, Representatives Ayanna Pressley from Massachusetts and Shontel Brown from Ohio penned a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf. They called for a comprehensive and transparent investigation into the presence of carcinogens in hair-straightening products on the market, specifically in relation to uterine cancer risk. Both lawmakers have commended the FDA's action and urged the agency to implement the ban.

Pressley expressed, "The FDA's proposal to ban these harmful chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers is a win for public health, especially for African American women who are disproportionately at risk due to systemic racism and anti-Black hair sentiment. Regardless of our hairstyle choices, we should be allowed to show up in the world without jeopardizing our health. I applaud the FDA for being responsive to our calls, and I urge the Administration to finalize this rule without delay."

A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute last year revealed a connection between hair-straightening products and uterine cancer. Among nearly 34,000 women in the United States aged 35 to 74, the study found a higher incidence of uterine cancer among those who reported using these products in the previous 12 months compared to those who did not.

The study indicated that women who frequently used hair-straightening chemical products had about a 4% risk of developing uterine cancer by age 70. In contrast, women who did not use these products in the previous 12 months had a risk of about 1.6% of developing uterine cancer by age 70. 

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