Hair Relaxers Tied to Uterine Tumors

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A number of black women in America are turning away from the chemicals that relax and straighten their hair, which the New York Times referred to as a movement “characterized by self-discovery and health.” Now, more black women are embracing their natural hair as a part of who they are, a movement that may have a bigger impact on their health than many realize.

Studies suggest that the chemicals in hair relaxers may possibly be “endocrine disruptors,” or chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system, which regulates our hormones. The Slone Epidemiology Center of Boston University published research in the American Journal of Epidemiology, indicating a possible link between the use of hair relaxers and uterine leiomyomata, or benign tumors in the uterus.

The skin is the human body’s largest organ and is capable of absorbing chemicals into the body, which is why many turn to natural cosmetic options. It is possible that the chemicals in hair relaxers are absorbed into the scalp, or introduced into the body via scalp lesions or chemical burns. An increased incidence of uterine leiomyomata was observed in women that were either exposed to the chemicals for longer periods of time or in women who had more burns. The scientists also observed that the frequent use of hair relaxers increased the risk of uterine leiomyomata.

It is possible that hormonal disruption may be due to a woman’s weight, her percentage of fat tissue, and/or the use of other products. Though this study is limited and does not confirm that hair relaxers cause uterine leiomyomata, it is important to be aware of health implications associated with hair relaxers, just as we should be aware of how other cosmetic products can affect our health. Embracing our natural beauty is the first step towards improving our overall well-being and health.

Elena Perez obtained a B.A. in American Literature at UCLA, but a growing interest in environmental issues led her to enroll in science classes and gain lab experience at UCSD and SIO. The close link between our ocean’s health and our own well-being has spurred Elena to explore the role environmental toxins play in our growth and development.

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