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May 28, 2024  |  
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Gabrielle M. Etzel, Healthcare Reporter


NextImg:FDA proposes ban on formaldehyde in hair products

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a ban on the use of formaldehyde as an ingredient in hair relaxers, citing its links to various forms of cancer and other long-term health complications.

The proposed rule would be set as soon as April 2024, banning the toxic substance from hair straightening and smoothing products typically marketed toward black women.

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Data from the National Institutes of Health published last year found that long-term use of formaldehyde increases the risks of hormone-related cancers in women, including breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers.

The FDA's action would target formaldehyde directly, as well as chemicals that release formaldehyde when heated, including methylene glycol.

Harvard public health professor Tamarra James-Todd found in 2020 that chemicals known to disrupt endocrine system function are found in about 50% of the haircare products marketed toward black women, compared to the 7% of those targeted towards white women.

Thousands of women with reproductive health problems, ranging from cancer to uterine fibroids, are suing manufacturers of hair straightening products they see as the primary culprit for their conditions.

“I never realized that long term use would affect me like this," Janita 'Gigi' Hayes, 41, told USA Today, recounting how she required a hysterectomy due to severe uterine fibroids. "I no longer have the parts that I was born with. The confidence that I had as a woman is no longer there.”

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According to the NIH, up to one in four reproductive-age women have fibroids. By age 50, nearly 80% of black women and 70% of white women have fibroids.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 42,000 women die annually from breast cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that over 13,000 women will die each year from ovarian and uterine cancers, respectively.