Study Links Chemical Hair Relaxers to Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

Study Links Chemical Hair Relaxers to Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

Hair relaxers are a very common cosmetic product utilized all over the country by those with render naturally curly or wavy hair straight. These chemical hair relaxers have been under suspicion of causing negative health effects and a new study has concluded that these products so indeed create a real risk of breast cancer development among consumers. 

The manufacturers, designers, and distributors of these products have played a role in the development of cancer among thousands of consumers. Those that have regularly used chemical hair straighteners or relaxers may be able to pursue compensation from these liable parties if they have developed cancers like uterine or breast cancer. 

Hair Relaxer Use in the United States

The earliest documented hair relaxers go back to 1909 and have since become a powerful segment of the hair cosmetic market with over 10.38 million Americans utilizing these products. Hair relaxers are commonly used to alter naturally curly or wavy hair so that is straight and not frizzy. Chemical hair relaxers and straighteners are applied in salons and at home, often repeatedly over time to keep the desired result. 

Chemical hair relaxers are used across many demographics although the largest partaking of these products is black women as often evidenced by the advertising used by major hair relaxer brands such as Softsheen and ORS. These chemical hair relaxers will usually come in a cream or lotion form that is applied to the hair and left to “cook” and break down the structure of the hair to render it straight. 

In order for them to achieve the desired effect, hair relaxers will consist of harsh chemicals that technically damage the hair to the point that it is straight. Chemical hair relaxers will typically be lye (sodium hydroxide) based with some opting for an alternative composition. The harshness of these alkaline chemicals can damage the scalp and cause hair thinning in many cases. 

Boston University Study Finds Connection Between Brest Cancer and Chemical Hair Relaxers

With side effects like this, it is no wonder that there has been suspicion of the negative long-term health effects of chemical hair relaxer use. A groundbreaking study from Boston University published in the Oxford medical journal Carcinogenesis in 2021 determined that there is a connection between chemical hair relaxer use and cancer. 

The Basis of the Breast Cancer Hair Relaxer Study

A team of researchers from Boston University analyzed data gathered over 25 years from participants that filled out health questionnaires in the Black Women’s Health Study in order to determine the relationship between cancer risk and chemical hair relaxer use. The study was initiated due to statistics showing that black women in America were disproportionately affected by aggressive breast cancer sub-types such as estrogen receptor negative tumors, they are diagnosed at younger ages, and they have a higher breast cancer mortality rate. 

The data collected from the Black Women’s Health Study was gathered from 59,000 self-identified black women from the ages of 21 to 69 across the United States since 1995. The participants in the study answered questionnaires that gathered info on topics such as health and lifestyle.

The Findings of the Boston University Hair Relaxer Study

By analyzing all of this data, the researchers from Boston University were able to uncover a clear relationship between the use of chemical hair relaxers and an increased risk of developing breast cancer. The study found that black women who used hair products that contained lye at least seven times a year for 15 or more years had a 30% increased risk of estrogen receptor positive breast cancer. 

Interestingly these elevated levels of breast cancer risk were mostly present among the segment of women that used lye-based hair relaxers heavily throughout the year while less frequent users of hair relaxers were found to not have a pronounced increased risk of breast cancer. Ultimately, the study is but one step towards getting the full picture of how these products can increase the risk of cancer. 

The study by Boston University was not able to determine exactly which brands of hair relaxer products were used by the participants. As a result, the study was not able to determine what ingredients could potentially be the culprits of increased cancer risk. Even if the brands were known, many of their proprietary companies would not disclose their full list of ingredients claiming they are a trade secret. The formulations of these various brands also could have changed throughout the years.

Learn more: Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Against L'oreal

Why Do Chemical Hair Relaxers Increase Breast Cancer Risk?

There is no conclusive answer as to why chemical hair relaxers increase breast cancer risk. What we know for sure is that hair relaxers contain harsh chemicals and potentially contain phthalates and parabens that are known endocrine disruptors. There is also a chance that they contain formaldehyde which is a known carcinogen. 

Endocrine disruptors are hormonally active agents that can affect someone’s endocrine system. This system is responsible for regulating the hormones in your body. Its disruption can lead to developmental problems, reproductive harm, immune system issues, and cancer. 

Lawsuits Filed Over Breast Cancer Caused by Chemical Hair Straighteners and Relaxers

Studies like the one carried out by Boston University have pulled back the curtain on the potential dangers posed by chemical hair relaxers. Many who have developed breast cancer, uterine cancer, and other health issues have taken legal action by filing product liability lawsuits against the makers of chemical hair relaxers. 

There are potentially thousands of people, primarily black women, who have developed breast cancer as a result of frequent hair relaxer use. The failure to disclose the full potential risk of cancer caused by use of their product can make the makers of chemical hair relaxers liable for damages suffered by those harmed by frequent hair relaxer use. 

Consider speaking to an experienced hair relaxer lawyer about how a product liability lawsuit can help you deal with the damages inflicted by breast cancer. A hair relaxer lawsuit can not only help you contend with medical bills and lost earning potential but also hold those who profited from these dangerous products responsible.


Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has represented over 11,000 injury victims and has served as lead counsel in over 1000 lawsuits. Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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