Black women have been abandoning chemical hair straighteners, also known as “relaxers,” for many reasons. Some do it to give their natural hair a chance, and others do it because the possible side effects of relaxers — burned scalps and hair loss — are too painful.
Now, with recently emerged research suggesting an association between relaxers and uterine cancer, Black women are debating on throwing the products out all together and exploring other methods of hair care.
Kimberly Foster, the founder of For Harriet — an online community for Black women — says now is not the time for neutrality when it comes to relaxers.
“I don’t care if Black women wear straight hair, but we should be actively discouraging Black women from getting relaxers. Not neutral,” she tweeted. “The messaging should be as overtly negative for relaxers as it is for cigarettes.”
Smoking cigarettes and using chemical hair straighteners are vastly different activities, but research shows both could raise a person’s risk for cancer.
A study by the National Institutes of Health published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute on Oct. 17 found that women who used straightening products were more likely to have uterine cancer than women who didn’t. There was an even greater association for women who used the products more than four times in a year.
About 60% of the participants who reported using chemical hair straighteners in the past year were Black women. According to the National Institutes of Health, studies are also showing a rise of uterine cancer among this group.
The study found no association between uterine cancer and other hair products, such as dyes and permanents or body waves.