Chemical relaxers are a staple in the Black community, though the safety of their formulas has come into question in the last few years. Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, brought the issue to the Food and Drug Administration in March and pushed them to answer questions about the safety of chemical relaxers. Months after their pleas, the FDA is finally stepping up and addressing the issue.
According to The Root, the congresswomen said the FDA is proposing a new ban on dangerous chemicals found in chemical straighteners, including formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals.
“The F.D.A.’s proposal to ban these harmful chemicals in hair straighteners and relaxers is a win for public health – especially the health of Black women who are disproportionately put at risk by these products as a result of systemic racism and anti-Black hair sentiment,” Pressley said in a statement obtained by The Root.
Brown is just as elated about the update.
“On behalf of women, especially Black women across the country, I applaud the F.D.A.’s new proposed rule banning formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals from hair straighteners,” Brown wrote.
In Pressley and Brown’s original letter, they explained the cultural history of chemical relaxers in the Black community, and how many Black women have felt pressure to use these products to straighter their hair as a means of adhering to Eurocentric beauty standards.
“As a result of anti-Black hair sentiment, Black women have been unfairly subjected to scrutiny and forced to navigate the extreme politicization of hair,” they wrote, The Root reported. “Hence, generations of Black women have adapted by straightening hair in an attempt to achieve social and economic advancement. Manufacturers of chemical straighteners have gained enormous profits, but recent findings unveil potentially significant negative health consequences associated with these products.”
Though the proposal has yet to be enacted, it marks an important step forward in the fight for safe products for Black users. Right now, there may be negative health consequences for many users of these products health. A 2020 Harvard study discovered that harmful chemicals were included in the formulation of 50% of hair products marketed specifically to Black women, which is a far cry from the 7% of products containing harmful chemicals that are marketed to non-Black women.
Last year, an individual National Institute of Health study found that frequent users of chemical straighteners (the study deemed frequent users as those who use chemical straightening products at least four times a year) were twice as likely to develop uterine cancer as people who did not use chemical relaxers.
“Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk,” Pressley said. “I applaud the F.D.A. for being responsive to our calls and advancing a rule that will help prevent manufacturers from making a profit at the expense of our health. The Administration should finalize this rule without delay.”