From beauty salons to family dinners, there’s never been a shortage of conversations and anecdotal evidence about women in the black community experiencing uterine fibroids, cancers, and other life altering ailments at an unsettling rate. Although we have suspected that prolonged exposure to chemical relaxers, referred to in the black community as “perms”, may be the culprit, we now have scientific evidence to support the fact that women who continue to perm their hair in the name of “beauty” are indeed risking their health.
The American Cancer Society has officially recommended against using hair relaxers due to their link to uterine cancer found in a new study from researchers at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) that were published on October 17, 2022, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. In this blog post we are going to dive into the findings of the study and its implications for the black community.
What Are The Facts?
The researchers used data from more than 33,000 women. They asked the women about their use of different kinds of hair products over the previous year, including hair dyes, straighteners and relaxers, and permanents or body waves. The study found that, “After an average of nearly 11 years of follow-up, women who had reported using hair straightening products were almost twice as likely to have developed uterine cancer than those who did not.” Did you hear that? TWICE AS LIKELY.
The study also goes on to note that, “In the current study, about 60% of the women who reported using straighteners in the previous year self-identified as being Black. While the study didn’t find that the link between straightener use and uterine cancer risk was different by race, the effects may be greater for Black women because they’re more likely to use these products.” It is clear that this is a problem for the black community. A problem that we can no longer ignore.
So Why Are We Still Perming Our Hair?
Although this study is recent, the idea of relaxers being harmful is not new. For years members of the natural hair community have been warning against the dangers of chemical straighteners, but despite their warnings, many of us still choose to remain on the “creamy crack.”
The reasons many women choose to continue perming their hair vary, but most of them come down to the idea of manageability and social acceptance. Many black women feel their natural tresses are too thick or curly for comfort. They don’t know how to take care of their hair in its natural state because they were never taught how. Their mothers or grandmothers had always relaxed their hair, so it was something they felt familiar with growing up.
When it comes to societal expectations and beauty standards, some women worry about how their natural hair will be perceived by others.They fear that forgoing straightening their curls may lead to them appearing less professional or unkempt. Unfortunately, there is merit to these concerns. Despite tremendous efforts, these archaic and eurocentric beauty standards are still a part of the fabric of our society.
What Can Be Done?
We have to spread the word to the women in our lives that continuing to chemically straighten their hair just isn’t worth the risk to their lives. We recommend taking an empathetic and supportive approach to the conversation. Let them know that you understand why they choose to perm their hair, but reassure them that there are safer and healthier ways to address their hair concerns.
Help your loved ones find an alternative that works well for them, offer them suggestions of natural products and stylists who use those products. You might also offer to go with them on their first visit to a natural salon, or teach them the styles and techniques that you use on your own hair. Gift them their first PuffCuff to kick off their natural hair journey. Once friends and family do begin to transition away from chemical relaxers, they may need your reassurance so be sure to tell them how beautiful they look with their natural curls!
We cannot continue to ignore the links between relaxers and poor health outcomes. It’s our responsibility to help the black women in our lives who are still perming their hair to see that the risk is just not worth it. Do you know someone who is still choosing to use chemical relaxers? Share this blog post with them today.
Meta Title: Is Perming Your Hair Worth It?
Meta Description: The American Cancer Society has officially linked the use of chemical relaxers to uterine cancer.