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October 6, 2023

After Pressley, Brown Inquiry, FDA Proposes Ban on Harmful Chemicals in Hair Relaxers

In March, Reps. Pressley & Brown Urged FDA to Investigate Health Risks to Black Women Consumers

WASHINGTON — Today, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley (MA-07) and Congresswoman Shontel Brown (OH-11) applauded the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposed rule to ban certain harmful chemicals in hair smoothing or hair straightening products.

The FDA’s proposal, which follows a March letter from Reps. Pressley and Brown calling for an investigation by the agency into the health risks posed by chemical hair straighteners, would ban formaldehyde and other formaldehyde-releasing chemicals as an ingredient in these products.

“The FDA’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,” said Rep. Pressley. “Regardless of how we wear our hair, we should be allowed to show up in the world without putting our health at risk. I applaud the FDA 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.”

“On behalf of women, especially Black women across the country, I applaud the FDA’s new proposed rule banning formaldehyde and other harmful chemicals from hair straighteners,” said Rep. Brown. “Thank you to Administrator Califf, the entire team at the FDA, and the Biden-Harris Administration for hearing our voices and taking this necessary next step. We must ensure the products American consumers buy and use are safe, and I look forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to implement this proposed rule.”  

In their letter, Pressley and Brown noted that 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 outcomes.

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 June, 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 May, Rep. Pressley, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), and Rep. Jennifer McClellan (VA-04) introduced the Recognition of Traction Alopecia in Service Women Act of 2023 to support servicemembers with traction alopecia.

In April, Rep. Pressley reintroduced 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). Rep. Pressley originally introduced the bill in September 2020.

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.