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Can hair relaxer cause uterine cancer? Hairstylists and oncologists weigh in

Can hair relaxer cause uterine cancer? Hairstylists and oncologists weigh in
Can hair relaxer cause uterine cancer? Hairstylists and oncologists weigh in 03:37

BALTIMORE — Deborah Wiggs Gaddy has been styling hair for 45 years, and says she loves being able to transform women.

"People coming in wanting certain styles, showing you certain pictures," she told WJZ. "And then them turning around and actually having what they asked for; that's the best part."

The owner of "Xscape Hair Studio" in Owings Mills said she has noticed a generational divide when it comes to hairstyles. Her younger clients prefer to stay natural, and her older clients get their hair relaxed.

"We just need to be sure that what we're using is professional, and what's in the jar is going to be the best for the hair," she said.

An October study from the National Institutes of Health found hair straightening chemicals are associated with a higher risk for uterine cancer. The research showed Black women may be more affected, because they use hair straightening or relaxer products more frequently, and tend to start at earlier ages.

Dr. Elizabeth Nichols is a radiation oncologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center. She said uterine cancer is the fourth most common cancer affecting women in the United States.

"When we actually look at the rates of uterine cancer in Black women compared to White women, Black patients are often diagnosed at a later stage of uterine cancer compared to White patients," she said. "And when we look at patients and compare them stage by stage, what we find is Black patients have decreased survival rates or lower cure rates compared to their White counterparts."

In regard to the NIH study, Nichols said there is not just one risk factor that causes uterine cancer, there are several risk factors.

"Even though the study showed an increased incidence, the overall numbers are still quite low," she said. "Other risk factors for the patient include being overweight, or having a low rate of physical activity. And when you combine all of these risk factors together, they really are what can cause a patient to have a higher risk or lower risk of uterine cancers overall."

Since the NIH study was released, dozens of lawsuits have been filed against cosmetic companies. One Harford County woman is suing L'Oreal, and said regularly using their hair care products directly caused her uterine cancer. In response to the lawsuits, L'Oreal previously released a statement saying, "L'Oréal upholds the highest standards of safety for all its products. Our products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that we follow strictly all regulations in every market in which we operate."

The NIH research showed several chemicals found in straighteners—such as parabens, metals, and formaldehyde—could contribute to the increased risk. Gaddy makes sure she uses relaxers that are formaldehyde-free, and she hopes there will be more research into the matter.

"Our job is to make you look good, and believe it or not, help you stay healthy also," she said. 

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