Hair Relaxers and Cancer Risk: Do perms and relaxers cause cancer?

Carl Saiontz

By Carl Saiontz
Posted November 7, 2022


UPDATE 10/18/2023: This post has been updated to add information regarding a rule proposed by the FDA that would ban hair relaxer products from containing or emitting formaldehyde due to cancer risks.

Have you ever worried about the safety of hair relaxers and perms? Specifically, if there is a link between perms and cancer or hair relaxers and cancer?

No one wants to think that their beauty routine could be putting them at risk of cancer. But that’s exactly what many researchers now believe has been happening for decades to women who regularly use hair relaxers like:

  • Dark & Lovely
  • ORS Olive Oil
  • TCB Naturals
  • Just for Me
  • Motions
  • Optimum Salon
  • African Pride Dream Kids
  • and other Chemical Straighteners

In fact, recent studies have shown that these hair straightening products contain hundreds of toxic chemicals, many of which are already known to cause cancer.

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In this post we’ll take a closer look at the science behind how hair relaxers cause cancer, and which types of cancer they can cause.

List of Which Hair Relaxers are Linked to Cancer

Hair relaxer lawsuits are currently being investigated by our law firm for women who have been diagnosed with uterine cancer or breast cancer after regular use of hair relaxer products.

If you have questions or want to review the specifics of a potential hair relaxer cancer claim with our lawyers and find out whether you may be eligible for a settlement, request a free consultation and claim evaluation.

Cancer Causing Chemicals Used In Hair Relaxers

Hair straighteners work by breaking down the protein bonds found in the hair shaft. Once the protein bonds are broken down by the chemical reaction, the hair will become loose and can be reformed into a flatter shape. The chemicals in hair straightening products are extremely potent, like lye and formaldehyde.

If you have ever used a hair relaxer before, you have probably noticed the strong odor and irritation caused by the gas, you may have even suffered burns on your scalp. This is a result of the use of these potent chemicals.

So why do hair relaxer manufacturers use such toxic chemicals in their products? The answer is simple: because they can. The chemicals used are very effective at straightening hair, and marketing has led women to believe hair straighteners are safe. However, new evidence about the link between hair relaxers or perms and cancer is too severe to ignore.

The FDA prohibits the marketing or sale of cosmetic products from containing poisonous or harmful substances that could cause injury to a consumer. However, most hair relaxers do not need to be tested or approved by the FDA before they are sold.

L’Oreal, Namaste, Revlon Strength of Nature and other hair relaxer manufacturers have withheld or omitted toxic ingredients from their ingredient labels and failed to warn about the link between their hair relaxers and cancer.

Some of the biggest offenders found in hair straightening products include:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Parabens
  • Phalatates
  • Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP)

Formaldehyde in Hair Relaxer

Many chemical hair straighteners contain formaldehyde or release formaldehyde gas as part of the chemical reaction process. Formaldehyde gas has a strong chemical odor and inhalation can cause severe irritation, respiratory issues, headaches and burns.

It can appear as formaldehyde, formalin, or methylene glycol on an ingredient label (or sometimes it is omitted altogether, and there is no indication that your hair relaxer contains formaldehyde).

Formaldehyde is an extremely toxic chemical and is known to cause cancer. You might recognize it as the chemical used in embalming fluid.

OSHA Formaldehyde Cancer Warning Sign

OSHA requires businesses that work with formaldehyde (ex: science labs, funeral homes, chemical storage warehouses) to place warning signs, however these cancer warning signs are noticeably absent from beauty salons.

Parabens in Hair Relaxer

Parabens are a type of preservative that is often used in cosmetics and hair smoothing products. Parabens are considered an endocrine disruptor (EDC). Several studies show that parabens may mimic estrogen and, as a result, increase risk of breast cancer cell growth.

Phalatates and EDCs in Hair Relaxer

Phthalates are another type of chemical that can be found in hair relaxers. They are a type of plasticizer, and they are used to make products more flexible and durable. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors (EDCs) that can affect natural hormone production.

Many of the permanent straightening products also included a particularly dangerous phthalate called Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP). DEHP is considered a carcinogen and it is known to cause severe problems including: endometriosis, reproductive issues, and infertility, and various cancers.

FDA Hair Relaxer Chemical Ban

Following the discovery of these undisclosed cancer causing chemicals in many hair relaxer products, the FDA proposed a hair relaxer chemical ban in October 2023, which seeks to prohibit the use of formaldehyde in hair relaxer products marketed in the United States by April 2024.

Outlined in the reasoning for the proposed rule, officials warned that formaldehyde exposure from hair relaxer can cause sensitization reactions, breathing problems and increase the risk of certain cancers.

Do Hair Relaxers cause cancer?

Manufacturers continue to deny that at-home hair relaxers cause cancer. However, many of the chemicals that are used in relaxers are known to be cancerous (including formaldehyde, parabens and phthalates) and several studies show that there is an increased risk of uterine cancer and ovarian cancer from frequent hair straightening use.

The basis of the hair relaxer lawsuit is to show that the manufacturers knew about the potential hair relaxer cancer risk, but failed to warn about them. Popular hair relaxers like Dark & Lovely were promoted as safe, when they were anything but. Some products like Just for Me hair relaxer were even marketed towards children as young as 5 years old..

Do Perms cause cancer?

Getting a straight perm at the salon carries a similar cancer risk as using at-home hair straightener products. Many of the same cancer-causing chemicals are used during hair smoothing treatments at the salon. This includes keratin treatments, Brazilian blowouts and Japanese hair smoothing treatments.

Using a trained beauty technician may reduce the risk of chemical burns and a well ventilated salon may reduce the risk of inhaling toxic gas vs. doing a hair relaxer treatment at home.

Perms linked to cancer is a concern for many women who have regularly received chemical hair straightening services. If you are concerned about the risk of perms and cancer, the only way to completely avoid it would be to discontinue getting hair relaxer treatments or perms of any kind.

What Types Of Cancer Do Hair Relaxers Cause?

Over the years there have been multiple studies that identified two types of cancer associated with the use of hair relaxer treatments, uterine cancer and breast cancer.

The Sister study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that women who frequently used hair relaxer treatments had a;

  • 156% increased Uterine Cancer risk
  • 30% increased Breast Cancer risk

Hair Relaxer Cancer Risk Study

How Do Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?

We already have established that perms and hair relaxer products contain known cancer causing chemicals and endocrine disruptors (EDCs), but how exactly do hair relaxers and perms cause cancer?

The chemicals found in hair relaxers can be absorbed by the body in two ways:

  • Inhalation from the toxic fumes
  • Direct absorption from the skin

Hair straightener chemicals absorbed through the skin

The skin acts as a protective barrier, but some chemicals are still able to be absorbed by the skin and into the bloodstream. Unfortunately there are two factors that cause hair relaxer chemicals to be more readily absorbed.

1. The blood vessels in the scalp are much closer to the surface of the skin compared to the rest of the body. It also carries more blood than the rest of your skin, making it much easier for chemicals to be absorbed. Have you ever wondered why head wounds bleed so much?…This is the reason.

2. Scalp burns increase the amount of chemicals absorbed into the bloodstream. Scalp burns happen all the time whether you are using an at-home hair relaxer or getting a perm at the salon. When you get a scalp burn from a hair relaxer, the protective skin barrier is destroyed and gives the chemicals a direct line to be absorbed into your blood vessels.

Scalp Burn from hair relaxer increases cancer risk diagram

How do the chemicals in hair relaxer actually cause cancer?

It is widely known that chemicals like formaldehyde, phthalates and parabens are linked to cancer, but the exact mechanism of how they cause cancer is still being researched.

All of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors (EDCs). This means they can disrupt the natural production of hormones which are responsible for a number of critical functions in the body including:

  • Signaling cell growth
  • Reproduction
  • Controlling the immune and nervous systems

The prevailing theory is that endocrine disrupting chemicals can cause cancer cells to grow more rapidly, especially within organs that are part of the female reproductive system or heavily affected by hormone imbalances. This would certainly explain why there is much a higher risk in both uterine cancer and breast cancer for people that use hair relaxer.

Hair Relaxer and Perm Cancer Settlements May Be Available

As a result of the manufacturers’ failure to warn about the link between hair relaxers and cancer, settlements may be available for women diagnosed with uterine cancer or breast cancer.

Hair relaxer settlements are also being pursued for women who developed uterine fibroids from chemical relaxers, resulting in surgical removal or a hysterectomy.

Manufacturers had a duty to research the side effects of hair relaxers, and warn about any potential cancer risks, so that women could make an informed decision about whether to expose themselves to cancer-causing chemicals in hair relaxers and perms.

Hair relaxers have been aggressively marketed toward Black consumers for decades, generating billions in annual revenue. These products have been promoted as safe, since no woman would knowingly expose themselves to an increased risk of cancer from a hair relaxer or straightener.

If you or a loved one developed uterine cancer or breast cancer or had a hysterectomy after using hair relaxer or chemical straightener, you may be eligible for a settlement.

Even if you just have questions about the hair relaxer lawsuit, we are here to help. You can give us a call at 1-800-522-0102 or schedule a free consultation below.


21 Comments • Add Your Comments

  • Stephanie says:

    Does this lawsuit entail all of Soft Sheen Carsons hair relaxers or just some of them?

    Posted on November 8, 2022 at 10:23 pm

  • Kim says:

    I have been using relaxers since around age 10 to adult age. Had a hysterectomy because of fibroids

    Posted on November 23, 2022 at 8:38 pm

  • Debra says:

    Is Mazani No-lye for sensitive scalp included amongst these that cause cancer?

    Posted on December 9, 2022 at 4:50 am

  • Peraleen says:

    Are there any hair relaxers/perms safe to use that contains no cancer causing chemicals?…

    Posted on December 9, 2022 at 5:03 pm

  • Pamela says:

    Does this only affect black consumers or does it also affect all other consumers that done home perms or use hair treatments as well. I had a hysterectomy due to fibroid tumors and also precancerous sales that turned into cancer treatment and full hysterectomy. I also had endometriosis and suffered several miscarriages. Please let me know

    Posted on December 21, 2022 at 11:13 pm

  • Regina says:

    I have also used several relaxers and straighteners of the kind that you have mentioned in 20 17th I develop breast cancer I’m still in remission I also still take medicine whether or not this product has calls that I don’t know that’s your job to find out by having breast cancer it put me in a dark space depression and I also see a therapist as well I hope you guys can help us

    Posted on January 6, 2023 at 5:08 am

  • Brenda says:

    I have used hair relaxers for years. I have also used herbicides chemicals on my lawns. Currently have brain issues memory loss. I have memory loss an on SSI Disability. Brain is issues.

    Posted on January 12, 2023 at 11:43 pm

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’ve been using this products for over 30yrs and never thought it would give me breast cancer I can’t believe it

    Posted on January 17, 2023 at 1:56 pm

  • Tina says:

    I used home and salon perms for over 15 years and was diagnosed with uterine cancer requiring total hysterectomy oopherectomy and cervix in 2014.

    Posted on January 19, 2023 at 6:31 pm

  • Vivian says:

    VA did total hysterectomy for fibroids tumors which were larger than grapefruit. First episode I thought I had a miscarriage but it was larger than a watermelon and blood was everywhere. Have records.

    Posted on January 22, 2023 at 11:21 pm

  • Eponda says:

    What are the perm can I use for breast cancer

    Posted on January 24, 2023 at 4:47 am

  • Felecia says:

    Are there any safe perms out there.?

    Posted on February 8, 2023 at 2:28 pm

  • Cathryn says:

    I had a total hysterectomy and removal of cervix in 2010 due to uterine fibroids that were the size of a 6 month pregnant uterus.

    Posted on March 1, 2023 at 9:03 am

  • Belinda says:

    I had a hysterectomy in 2000 due to uterine fibroids. The largest one was 8 lbs.

    Posted on April 25, 2023 at 12:05 pm

  • Wilda says:

    I been trying to eat healthy , supermarkets, hair products etc are the results of many cancer in our human body . Why? Do companies are allow to put chemical that most of us cant even pronoun. For this reason i know that chemical in hair product etc , is the cause of cancer , in other counties they have band some items that c9me from america . We are the country of the free , so why are we dying at early rate. . God help us.

    Posted on April 29, 2023 at 6:55 pm

  • Chally says:

    Got Breast Cancer and Ovarian

    Posted on May 17, 2023 at 9:29 am

  • Cathy says:

    are perms included these products were geared toward females Caucasians with thin straight hair.I used my whole life and had cancer

    Posted on July 7, 2023 at 7:40 pm

  • Tammy says:

    I also used hair colour for a few years.

    Posted on July 17, 2023 at 6:17 am

  • Benita says:

    I started using hair relaxers probably at the age of 12:13 I turned one and had to have emergency surgery because there was a cyst on my ovary which it grew a stem around my fallopian tube and endometriosis that point on I have never had children due to a total hysterectomy at 21

    Posted on October 30, 2023 at 3:44 am

  • Victoria says:

    My perm of choice for 10 years or more was optimum regular and optimum super when regular wasn’t available waiting for my surgery date now

    Posted on October 31, 2023 at 9:17 am

  • Brenda says:

    I had an hysterectomy

    Posted on November 4, 2023 at 6:44 am

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