Which Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?

If a product you use regularly could cause cancer, you’d want to know, right? Well, here it is.

Certain relaxers may cause cancer. And their manufacturers don’t want you to know it. 

Below, we’ll reveal why some hair-relaxing products aren’t safe. Also, we’ll provide a list of hair relaxer brands that are or have been involved in lawsuits because of their potential to cause cancer. 

Young woman fighting cancer.

Are Hair Relaxers Safe?

Some hair relaxers are safe. But particular products containing certain chemicals are not.

The chemicals in question are:

  • Formaldehyde
  • Formaldehyde-releasing compounds
  • Endocrine disruptors 

Can Formaldehyde in Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, has classified formaldehyde as a Group 1 carcinogen. This means it can cause cancer in humans. Read more about it here.

How do formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing compounds help straighten hair? They break down the disulfide bonds in the hair’s keratin. But they can release formaldehyde gas when heated. This can be dangerous when the user and/or hairstylists inhale too much of it.  

When it’s in the air at levels higher than 0.1 parts per million (ppm), it can cause these health effects:

  • Skin irritation
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Burning sensation in eyes, nose, and throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Nausea 

Prolonged or repeated exposure to formaldehyde gas can increase the risk of cancer. It can also be absorbed through the skin. 

Woman faces uterine cancer diagnosis.

Endocrine Disruptors in Hair Relaxers Can Cause Cancer

Some hair relaxers contain endocrine disruptors. These are chemicals that keep the endocrine system from functioning properly. One study that looked at the chemical content of Black hair products found that all of them “elicited hormonal activity”. This means they have the potential to cause hormonally mediated health conditions, like breast cancer and uterine cancer. 

Chemicals known to disrupt endocrine function include:

Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) aren’t technically recognized as endocrine disruptors in the same way as these, but they’re also worth mentioning. There have been numerous concerns raised about their potential health effects, particularly when they react with other chemicals to form harmful compounds.

Do Hair Relaxers Really Cause Cancer?

A groundbreaking NIH study published in 2022 found that women who used hair relaxers were twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who didn’t. That’s surprising in itself. But even more surprising is the fact that they only had to use the products 4 times a year or more to make their risk go up. 

It’s no secret that hair relaxer products target black women. And studies show that more women in the United States are developing uterine cancer—especially black women. The more studies that are published, the clearer it becomes that certain relaxers cause cancer. 

Which Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?

If you use hair relaxers on occasion, you probably want to know which are safe, and which aren’t. 

Companies named in hair relaxer lawsuits include:

  • Action Beauty Supply
  • Godrej Consumer Products
  • L’Oréal
  • Dabur International
  • Namaste Laboratories
  • SoftSheen Carson
  • Strength of Nature

These hair relaxer brands have been sued over toxic ingredients:

  • African Pride
  • TCB Naturals Relaxer
  • Optimum Care
  • Dark & Lovely
  • Just for Me
  • Organic Root Stimulator Olive Oil Relaxer
  • Crème of Nature
  • Soft & Beautiful
  • Motions
  • Action Exclusives

As of February 2024, 8,217 lawsuits are pending in the MDL, highlighting the scale of legal challenges faced by manufacturers​.*

Wondering if a certain relaxer causes cancer? Before you use it, we suggest doing a quick search asking “Which hair relaxers cause cancer?” Or, you might search for lawsuits involving that product. Since research is ongoing, the products listed above may not be the only ones that contain toxic chemicals. 

The New York State Department of Health says that there are over 150 hair relaxers containing formaldehyde on the market. Many more are listed as “formaldehyde-free”. But are hair relaxers safe when they say they don’t contain formaldehyde? Not necessarily. 

Many companies are not forthcoming about what they contain. In fact, the NYSDH tested some products that said “formaldehyde-free” and found that they did contain that harmful chemical. Their manufacturers had been lying to consumers for years. 
But here’s some good news: as of October 2023, the Food and Drug Administration is considering placing a ban on formaldehyde in hair relaxers.

Notice of lawsuit.

Filing a Hair Relaxer Cancer Claim

Right now, you can file a claim against a hair relaxer manufacturer if you meet the following criteria:

  • You have uterine cancer (endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma) or ovarian cancer (serous and non-serous tumors)
  • You have used hair relaxers (and have evidence of doing so) 

If you believe your particular hair relaxer causes cancer, contact Hampton & King to find out what legal steps you can take. We offer initial consultations at no cost to you. In addition, we work on a contingency fee basis. This means you aren’t responsible for any fees unless we obtain compensation for you.