2 Investigates

WSB-TV Gets Real: FDA proposal would ban chemical in hair straighteners reportedly linked to cancer

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News is taking an in-depth look at some of the chemicals found in hair straighteners and relaxers.

The Food and Drug Administration plans to propose a ban on a chemical found in hair straighteners due to a reported link between chemical straighteners and certain cancers.

Channel 2′s Audrey Washington sat down with a doctor at Emory University who specialized in the study of chemicals and broke down why he believes certain hair straighteners and relaxers, are dangerous.

[DOWNLOAD: Free WSB-TV News app for alerts as news breaks]

Washington also spoke with a group of Black women who all chemically straighten their hair. They explained what relaxed-hair versus natural-hair means to them and how they feel about the proposed ban.

“When I say the word relaxer, tell me the first word that comes to your mind,” Washington asked the women.

“Creamy crack,” actress Adetinpo Thomas replied.

“Manageability,” retired law enforcement officer Marni Logan said.

“Versatility,” executive director Sarah-Elizabeth Langford said.

We all know what chemical relaxers can do to your hair. But do we all know what those same chemicals can possibly do to your body?

“The chemicals can have an effect on your body,” said Dr. Carmen Marsit, Emory University professor of environmental health.

This month, the FDA plans to propose a ban on chemical hair relaxer products that contain formaldehyde and other similar ingredients. The federal agency said it found a link between chemical straighteners and certain cancers.

“Studies have shown that hair straightening products which contain formaldehyde which are often marketed to Black women are used with heat, the risk of certain cancers, including certain respiratory track cancers and myeloid leukemias increases,” said FDA Chief Scientist Dr. Namandjé Bumpus.

“You have a chemical that’s causing mutations in the DNA mixing with a chemical that might make these sites of the body grow. So you’re going to drive the growth of those mutated cells,” Marsit told Washington.

Marsit broke down how formaldehyde which is oftentimes found in keratin treatments, effect the body.

“So, all within your cells this formaldehyde is able to get in and have these attacks.

Marsit says some relaxers often used by Black women, contain chemicals like phthalates, and other endocrine-disrupting compounds that mimic the body’s hormones.

“They may be driving growth in the body and helping those cancers to form,” Marsit said.

Toya Dickerson was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She used relaxers for decades before doctors diagnosed her with cancer.

“I was afraid to die and I just didn’t want to die.”

She underwent a full hysterectomy and is now cancer free. But just a few months ago, she along with at least two other Georgia women decided to sue several hair straightener and relaxer companies.

They believe the companies specifically marketed their products to black women and allegedly knew the chemicals in the relaxers caused cancer.

“They should be ashamed. My life is never going to be the same,” Dickerson said.


L’Oréal is one of the major companies named in the lawsuits. In a statement the company wrote, in part:

“…we are confident in the safety of SoftSheen-Carson’s products and believe the allegations made in these lawsuits have neither legal nor scientific merit.”

Ralph Ochoa is a tv and film hair department director. He previously worked for one of the companies named in the lawsuit.

“I don’t think we’re going to recover from this, and I think it’s unfortunate because not all women want to wear their natural hair,” Ochoa said.

To better understand exactly why women, particularly Black women chemically straighten or relax their hair, Washington sat down three women: one an actress, the other a retired law enforcement official and the third, a Fulton County executive.

“I made decisions about my hair from a place of what I thought made me feel beautiful,” Thomas said.

“Relaxers, I like,” Logan said.

Would scientific findings and lawsuits in anyway change their minds about relaxers?

“I think it’s such a case by case scenario,” said Langford.

“There’s is a concern to pay attention to,” Thomas said.

WSB-TV Gets Real

Audrey Washington, Karyn Greer and Tyisha Fernandes are sitting down to discuss chemicals found in hair straightening products and proposed FDA ban. Join the conversation and ask your questions below.

Posted by WSB-TV on Monday, April 1, 2024

While studies show that uterine cancer rates are rising among all women, the increase is highest among Black women and other women of color.

L’Oréal, one of the companies named it the suit, also said in its statement that all of its products undergo rigorous scientific evaluation.

The company added:

“L’Oréal’s highest priority is the health and wellbeing of all our consumers.”

The FDA will seek comments from the public when the proposed rule is issued.

[SIGN UP: WSB-TV Daily Headlines Newsletter]