The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on hair-straightening products that contain or emit formaldehyde, more than ten years after the cosmetic industry’s own experts declared these products unsafe. The proposal comes in response to studies that have linked frequent use of chemical hair straighteners to an increased risk of developing endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer. Women who use these products regularly face more than double the risk compared to those who do not.
Furthermore, other studies have associated hair straighteners and dyes with breast and ovarian cancer. The FDA’s scientists classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen seven years ago, prompting their lawyers to begin drafting a proposed ban at that time.
It is worth noting that hair-straightening products are primarily marketed to Black women. While uterine cancer rates have been rising among all women in recent years, the increase has been most significant among women of color, including Asian and Hispanic women.
The FDA’s proposed rule aims to ban formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals from hair-straightening and hair-smoothing products sold in the United States. The target date for implementing the ban is set for April 2024.
While the FDA has always had the authority to ban specific ingredients like formaldehyde, it was not until last year that Congress granted the FDA oversight authority over the cosmetic industry. However, the FDA clarified that the proposed ban on formaldehyde in hair straighteners was not related to this new authority. The FDA can also issue a mandatory recall of a cosmetic product if a serious health concern arises or if there is a reported death related to its use.
Controversy surrounding formaldehyde in hair straighteners has persisted for years, with advocacy organizations like the Environmental Working Group petitioning the FDA to ban such products. The FDA began drafting rules for a proposed ban in 2016 but abruptly halted the process a few months later without explanation.
Melanie Benesh, Vice President for Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group, expressed frustration, stating that the FDA has been aware of the dangers of these products for decades and should have acted sooner. Benesh emphasized that hair stylists regularly exposed to formaldehyde vapor during treatments, as well as customers receiving the treatments, face real risks of harm.
Currently, the FDA encourages consumers to read product labels carefully before purchasing hair products and to avoid those that contain formaldehyde, formalin, or methylene glycol. The agency also advises consumers to inquire about the products used by hairdressers and to report any adverse reactions they experience.