Skip to Main

March 15, 2023

Pressley, Brown Urge FDA to Investigate Chemical Hair Straighteners’ Health Risks

Study shows frequent chemical hair straightening doubled risk of developing uterine cancer

Black women disproportionately at risk

 Text of Letter (PDF)

BOSTON – Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Shontel Brown (OH-11) urged the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to investigate whether chemical hair straightening products contain carcinogens and pose a public health threat. Due to anti-Black hair sentiment, Black women use these products at a higher rate to relax their hair, likely putting them at a higher risk of developing uterine cancer and other negative health consequences.

“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “Manufacturers of chemical straighteners have gained enormous profits, but recent findings unveil potentially significant negative health consequences associated with these products.”

The National Institutes of Health recently published research on the link between chemical hair straightening products and a person’s risk of uterine cancer. Harmful chemicals have also been found in many products advertised to Black women, contributing to national racial health disparities.

“The increased risk disproportionately impacts Black women and contributes to national racial health disparities. The FDA has a mandate to review the latest research and reevaluate the safety of these products,” the lawmakers continued. “Consumers need to be reassured that the cosmetic products they use do not threaten their health.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Congresswoman Pressley has been steadfast in her advocacy for Black women’s health, ending race-based hair discrimination, and introducing policies that affirm the right of Black women to show up in the world as their full, authentic selves.

Rep. Pressley is a lead co-sponsor of the Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair (CROWN) Act, legislation with Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), Gwen Moore (WI-04), Barbara Lee (CA-13) and Ilhan Omar (MN-05) that would ban discrimination based on hair textures and hairstyles that are commonly associated with a particular race or national origin.

In 2021, Rep. Pressley and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) led their colleagues in re-introducing the Wigs as Durable Medical Equipment Act, legislation to help individuals affected by Alopecia Areata and patients with cancer who are undergoing chemotherapy by allowing medical wigs and other head coverings to be covered under the Medicare program.

In September 2020, Rep. Pressley introduced the Anti-Racism in Public Health Act, a bicameral bill to declare structural racism a public health crisis and confront its public health impacts through two bold new programs within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She reintroduced the bill in 2021.

In 2020, the House passed an amendment introduced by Congresswoman Pressley to provide $5 million dollars for the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases to fund research on the causes, impacts, and possible treatments of Alopecia areata.

In December 2019, Rep. Pressley and her colleagues sent a letter to Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO Alex Gorsky seeking information on the targeted marketing and sale of the company’s talc-based baby powder and its potential to cause harm, particularly to women, teenage girls, and people of color, due to asbestos contamination.