Confident black women, who rejected the notion that chemical straighteners would smooth out kinky hair and enhance their beauty, may have done much more than boosted their self-esteem – they may have saved their lives.

News emerged this week that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is considering banning certain chemicals used in hair straightening products that have been linked to cancer. Specifically, the FDA is proposing to ban the use of formaldehyde gas, a known carcinogen and formaldehyde-releasing chemical, on the back of studies which suggest they could have adverse health effects on persons who use them.

Social-cultural perception of what is attractive, and fashion dictates, resulted in young black girls being subject to chemical straightening from an early age and, many of them, throughout their lives. Workplaces and schools were reluctant to accept natural hairstyles for many decades. But studies have shown that scalp burns were not the worst thing about this hair-straightening process.

Chemical hair straighteners, popularly called relaxers, have been under scrutiny for decades. Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed in the United States against popular beauty and cosmetic manufacturers, for failure to warn that their products could increase the risk of uterine, endometrial and ovarian cancer, fibroid tumours, and cause infertility.


One significant study published in Boston, US, in 2022 showed that repeated use of hair straightening products could more than double the risk of uterine cancer.

And later research on the effects of hair relaxers by Black Women’s Health, says post-menopausal black women who have used chemical hair relaxers more than twice a year or for more than five years, have an increased risk of developing uterine cancer.

This was determined after following more than 44,798 black women for up to 22 years. The researchers found a higher rate of uterine cancer among post-menopausal black women who had used chemical hair relaxers for at least 10 years.

Though the focus here is not on the policies that govern wearing of natural hairstyles, we must acknowledge that this has been a very contentious issue here in Jamaica, particularly in schools and mainly in respect of Rastafarians, whose religion forbids them to cut their hair. There is a new kind of national consciousness, however, that disregards the concept of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ hair, and people are becoming more tolerant of locks, braids and all versions of natural hairstyles. For example, many in professions such as law, medicine, and administration have adopted natural hairstyles. This applies to men and women.

Like the hair perming, there is also the face-bleaching phenomenon adopted by persons who believe they could get along better in life if they could just alter their colour. There are also those who think they can benefit from a darker hue, and they take regular tans. For skin bleaching, they employ various creams, soaps, lotions and pills to help them achieve their objective.

One of the active ingredients in skin-bleaching products is mercury, and bleaching one’s skin could lead to mercury poisoning, with devastating impact on one’s health. Mercury is a toxic agent, and health experts say it could lead to psychiatric, neurological and kidney issues.

When all the risks associated with altering one’s appearance are considered, it seems that the better choice for anyone is to prioritise health over beauty, as there are compelling reasons to embrace the natural you.

This post was originally published on this site