The findings of an October 2022 study highlight an issue that may affect many women who regularly use hair straighteners or hair relaxers and who also are of menopausal age. Take a few minutes to examine the role of these products in increasing the risk of developing uterine cancer and what you can do about it.
What is uterine cancer?
Uterine cancer, which is also known as endometrial cancer because the vast majority of this form of cancer begins in the endometrium of the uterus, usually occurs postmenopause (between the ages of 60 and 70), although it also can appear when menopause begins. Its symptoms generally include abnormal vaginal bleeding that starts watery but gets increasingly bloody, white or clear vaginal discharge after menopause, painful urination and/or intercourse, and pelvic pain. In most cases, these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but you should see your doctor immediately if you experience any of them.
- Age older than 50
- Starting menopause after 50
- Starting menstruation before 12
- Obesity, type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure
- Using estrogen without progesterone
- Infertility or never being pregnant
- History of endometrial polyps or other benign growths on the lining of the uterus
Based on recent research, we might add the use of hair straighteners or hair relaxers to the list.
What the study says
The study's authors looked at the use of hair straighteners or relaxers among more than 33,000 women ages 35 to 74 who were followed for about 11 years. During that time, 387 cases of uterine cancer were diagnosed.
The study’s lead author, Alexandra White, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group, noted that they “estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%.” About 60 percent of the participants were black, and it’s possible the cancer risk is greater for black women because they tend to begin using straightening products at a younger age than women of other races and ethnicities and to use them more frequently.
What makes hair straighteners and relaxers so dangerous?
Although the researchers did not identify the product names and ingredients the women used in the study, they noted that such products typically contain bisphenol A, formaldehyde, and parabens. Here’s a quick rundown of their effects on your health.
- Bisphenol A: This chemical has been identified as a “typical xenoestrogen” and is involved in the development of breast cancer and prostate cancer. A recent animal study also indicated it might play a role in uterine cancer as well.
- Formaldehyde: Even at low levels for short periods of time, formaldehyde can irritate your eyes, throat, and nose. Longer exposure can cause choking and coughing, while severe exposure can cause your throat to swell and death.
- Parabens: These chemicals are found in about 90 percent of personal care products, including hair straighteners, so it can be a challenge to avoid them. Parabens are added to products to prevent the growth of bacteria, mold, and yeasts. However, they can enter the body through the skin and disrupt hormonal balance, especially by enhancing the actions of estradiol. Exposure to parabens are often associated with breast cancer risk, but uterine cancer is another possibility.
Natural alternatives to chemical hair straighteners
You can use a variety of natural ingredients to help straighten your hair and avoid use of chemical straighteners and relaxers and even hair-damaging heated straighteners. You can find many natural ideas here, including recipes that involve milk, honey, bananas, aloe vera, coconut oil, or lemon juice. All of these ingredients also provide healthy benefits for your hair as well, making it shiny, providing more texture and nourishment, and managing split ends.
Women in their menopause and postmenopause years are among those most likely to develop uterine cancer. Recent research indicates that routine exposure to hair straighteners may significantly increase the risk of uterine cancer, especially among black women. If you must straighten your hair, consider a natural alternative.