The US Food and Drug Administration is planning to propose a ban on certain hair-straightening products, such as chemical relaxers and pressing products, that have been linked to health risks, according to an entry in the Unified Agenda, which lists actions that administrative agencies plan to issue.
The agency plans a proposed rule that would specifically ban hair-straightening products that contain formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals like methylene or glycol.
If such a proposed rule is issued, the FDA will receive public comments on it, and after reviewing those comments, the agency will decide whether further action is needed, spokesperson Courtney Rhodes said Friday.
“Based on the comments, we might decide to end the rulemaking process, to issue a new proposed rule, or to issue a final rule. If we decide to issue a final rule, we publish the final rule in the Federal Register,” the FDA says on its website.
Scientists have long identified an association between the use of hair-straightening chemical products with an increased risk of certain hormone-related cancers, including ovarian and breast cancers, and uterine cancer, particularly among Black and Latina women. Research suggests that about 50% of products advertised to Black women contain these types of chemicals, compared with about 7% that are advertised to White women, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The FDA is expected to propose language noting that these types of hair-straightening chemical products are also “linked to short-term adverse health effects, such as sensitization reactions and breathing problems” and that “these chemicals are used in certain cosmetic products that are applied to human hair as part of a combination of chemical and heating tool treatment intended to smooth or straighten the hair.”
In March, two lawmakers – Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Massachusetts, and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio – wrote a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf urging the agency to conduct a “thorough and transparent investigation” to determine whether hair-straightening chemical products on the market contain carcinogens that lead to an increased risk of uterine cancer.
Both Pressley and Brown have applauded the FDA’s action and called for the agency to implement such a ban.
“The FDA’s proposal to ban these harmful chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers is a win for public health – especially the health of Black women who are disproportionately put at risk by these products as a result of systemic racism and anti-Black hair sentiment,” Pressley said in a news release.
“Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk. I applaud the FDA for being responsive to our calls and advancing a rule that will help prevent manufacturers from making a profit at the expense of our health,” she said. “The Administration should finalize this rule without delay.”