Hair relaxers, also known as hair straighteners, have a complex history tied to issues of race and beauty standards. Garrett A. Morgan, an African American, created the first hair relaxer in the early 20th century to straighten his curly hair. He called it the “G.A. Morgan Hair Refiner.” It used chemicals to make hair straight. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that hair relaxers became popular in the African-American community. It was a way to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards.

A restriction on the use of formaldehyde in hair relaxers.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is proposing a restriction on the use of formaldehyde in hair relaxers. A step aimed at raising awareness about potential risks associated with these products, particularly for the many Black women who commonly use them. The proposed regulation would prohibit the inclusion of this chemical in hair-smoothing or hair-straightening products, also known as relaxers. Currently, the FDA advises consumers against using hair-straightening products containing formaldehyde and similar substances, as stated in information from the agency.

Used in various household products, including medicines and cosmetics.

Formaldehyde, a colorless and flammable gas, is used in various household products, including medicines and cosmetics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is highly toxic, and repeated exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, lungs, and throat. Additionally, it has been associated with certain types of cancer. This includes myeloid leukemia, a cancer affecting the blood and bone marrow, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Even products that do not primarily contain formaldehyde may include other elements that can transform into formaldehyde when heated, like methylene glycol, found in some hair-straightening products. Some soaps, shampoos, lotions, and cleaning products contain formalin, which is a solution of formaldehyde in water.

Currently, the law does not mandate FDA approval of cosmetic products and ingredients before they enter the market. However, there is an exception for color additives, as stated on the agency’s website. Companies and individuals selling products have a legal responsibility to ensure the safety of their items. However, federal laws and regulations do not compel these companies to share their safety data with the FDA.

Greater awareness of potential risks.

In recent years, research has contributed to greater awareness of potential risks associated with using chemical hair relaxers. A study published last year by the National Institutes of Health found that women who used hair-straightening chemicals more than four times a year were over twice as likely to develop uterine cancer as non-users. While the study did not collect specific brand or ingredient information from participants, it did note that formaldehyde, parabens, and other elements in chemical hair straighteners might contribute to the elevated risk of uterine cancer.

The FDA’s proposed ban follows an open letter written by Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Shontel Brown of Ohio in March. They urged the federal agency to investigate whether chemical hair straighteners contain carcinogens that elevate the risk of uterine cancer. The letter highlighted that many Black women use these hair-straightening products to conform to societal norms influenced by anti-Black hair bias.

In the last year, a number of lawsuits have been filed by Black women against cosmetic manufacturers. This includes Revlon and L’Oréal. These women accused these companies of being responsible for their various health issues due to their hair-straightening products. These include uterine cancer, and breast cancer. Additionally, in some instances, these women have said that these products led to infertility.

Unlock Natural Hair Confidence with 8 Celebrity Insights

Lots of things contribute to who we are as people, and our culture is definitely one of them. Our upbringing, whether it’s filled with self-love and confidence or not, has a big impact on who we turn out to be. For many African Americans, hair has always been a major part of their identity.

Hair within the African-American community is always a prominent topic. All Things Hair conducted a survey targeting women in the United States aged 16 and older from various ethnic backgrounds to examine disparities in hair care. The findings showed that African American women spend four times more on hair care compared to Caucasian women. Specifically, 21% of African-American women allocate more than 25% of their monthly budget to hair care, whereas only 5% of Caucasian women do the same. This highlights the substantial importance of hair care in Black culture.

Other influencing factors

Another factor influencing these statistics is the occasional politicization of natural hair textures. Terms like “untidy,” “unprofessional,” and “distracting” are often employed in discussions about natural Black hair, providing additional context for these figures.

While The CROWN Act has been adopted in 20 U.S. states, which prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles, many African Americans still experience microaggressions and discrimination. Based on the Dove CROWN study, it was discovered that 86% of Black teenagers who face discrimination have encountered it related to their hair by the age of 12. Additionally, the study revealed that although 90% of Black girls hold the belief that their hair is beautiful, the microaggressions and discrimination they encounter do influence their self-perception.

Embracing your natural hair

Wearing your natural hair can pose challenges for some people. Embracing and accepting your curls is a journey that demands ongoing commitment and a sincere effort to become acquainted with and appreciate your hair.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to help you embrace your natural hair, check out these five celebrity quotes and affirmations.

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