Chemical Hair Straighteners Bring Increased Breast Cancer Risk, Particularly for African American Women

The billion-dollar beauty industry heavily markets chemical hair straighteners as the answer to controlling frizz and unruly flyaway strands. Unfortunately, what those striving for polished on-point hair may not know is that the straightening process causes breast cancer, according to a major study.

The National Institute of Health reports that The Sister Study found a 30% increase in developing breast cancer among women who use chemical hair straighteners every five to eight weeks. Many women who look to maintain consistently straight hair will apply the chemical straighteners every six to twelve weeks – placing them in the high-risk category.

One of the dangerous compounds commonly found in the hair product is formaldehyde, which is released in highly concentrated levels due to the thermal effect of the chemical hair straightening process. 

The American Cancer Society has long warned of the dangers of formaldehyde, and classify it as a known carcinogen. The close quarters and poor air circulation found at a typical salon only serves to compound the health risks of inhaling the highly concentrated levels of formaldehyde vapors in the air. 

Millions of American women regularly opt for keratin treatments known as Brazilian Blowouts. This temporary straightening process binds a fibrous protein and formaldehyde to hair by sealing the two together with high heat. The technique is an expensive and time-consuming salon favorite that aims to impress even the most fashion-forward clients. 

The finished result leaves clients with the kind of silky strands promoted by runway models and seen on the covers of fashion magazines. Women love the look and salons love the profits, but this smoothing treatment is very chemical-heavy – the solution commonly contains over 11% formaldehyde. 

African American women are at an even higher risk of breast cancer, primarily due to the increased levels of hormonally-active compounds found in the chemical hair straighteners they favor. They also receive more frequent treatments, raising their exposure to the known carcinogens in the beauty product. states that close to 75% of African American women regularly use chemical straighteners on their hair. By affecting how estrogen acts in the body, the chemicals in the commonly used beauty treatment can lead to hormonal imbalance. 

Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer is of significant concern for African American women who are already more likely to die when diagnosed with breast cancer. When the tumor is estrogen receptor-positive, they are twice as likely to die within the first three years of diagnosis compared to white women. 

African American women are at increased risk for an estrogen receptor-positive form of cancer, often referred to as triple-negative breast cancer. Notoriously difficult to treat, this cancer usually involves large tumors, which leads to a high mortality rate.

Although chemical hair straightening is wildly popular and widely available throughout America, many other countries see this endocrine-disrupting beauty treatment for what it is – a serious cancer risk. 

Given these products have so many compounds believed to be cancerous, the European Union has banned many of them. America has yet to act accordingly, but studies back the many safety concerns of chemical hair straighteners currently offered at salons around the country.