Can hair relaxers cause cancer?

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Rachel Murphy
Published: Updated:

At Lou Lou Malbranche’s Fort Myers salon, a lot of clients come to straighten out.

Stylists use a creamy chemical concoction to relax hair, giving women the sleek look they desire.

“I have clients have told me they relax every four weeks. To me that’s a little too soon because you don’t have really a lot of new growth to relax you’re putting the relaxing your scalp so that’s dangerous,” Lou Lou Malbranche explained.

Dangerous because strong chemicals in the products are linked to hormone-related cancers.
Oncologist Dr. Janine Harewood is intimately familiar.

It’s the long-term repeated use of relaxers now under scrutiny. The risk growing in women who have at least four straightenings a year. Their chances of getting female cancer, which is otherwise at 1 percent, spikes significantly.

“That increased to 4.4%. If you look at the statistics, that looks like almost 80% fold increase in the risk of cancer,” Harewood said.

These studies only looked at hair relaxers and cancer, ignoring other factors that are also known to contribute to disease.

Harewood said, “We don’t have enough data in itself to say that on its own is a causative factor, they’re probably more important things that you need to control like smoking and your weight, which will probably have a bigger effect on reducing your risk of cancer.”

Malbranche encourages clients to wait longer between chemical straightening.

“I cannot go against science, what they find out, but I know everything has a risk. Hair color relaxer nail polish, the food we eat now, there’s a risk. You just have to do it in moderation,” said Malbranche.

Best advice? Use your head to make good decisions.

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