While we’re celebrating and championing natural hair more than ever right now, many of us still feel the need to turn to chemical straightening to get our locks straighter and smoother — but at what risk? According to a new study carried out by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), frequent use of chemical hair-straightening products may double the risk of womb cancer.
The worrying results saw scientists look at 33,947 racially diverse women, ages 35 to 74, across the US for more than a decade. During that time, 378 women developed uterine cancer. They found that the rate of uterine cancer was 4.05 percent in women who used straightening products four or more times a year, compared to 1.64 percent in those who did not.
“We estimated that 1.64 percent 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 percent,” the study leader, Alexandra White of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Safety (NIEHS) said in a statement. “However, it is important to put this information into context. Uterine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer,” she added.
While it may be rare, uterine cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States, with around 66,000 new cases every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and rates are rising, particularly among Black women.
Earlier studies have shown that chemical hair straighteners contain so-called endocrine-disrupting chemicals. These products have previously been associated with higher risks of breast and ovarian cancer. Scientists believe that these are entering the bloodstream via the scalp, in turn traveling to the uterus, raising the risk of cancer.
“These findings are the first epidemiologic evidence of association between use of straightening products and uterine cancer,” White and colleagues wrote in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. ‘More research is warranted to… identify specific chemicals driving this observed association.”
But ‘because Black women use hair straightening or relaxer products more frequently and tend to initiate use at earlier ages than other races and ethnicities, these findings may be even more relevant for them,” Che-Jung Chang of NIEHS said in a statement.