Unrelaxed Deadline: FDA Misses Target for Formaldehyde Ban in Hair Relaxers

FDA Misses Deadline for Formaldehyde Ban in Hair Relaxers

FDA Misses Its Own Deadline for Formaldehyde Restriction in Hair Relaxers

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has missed its self-imposed deadline to propose a ban on formaldehyde in hair relaxers, a chemical linked to an increased risk of uterine cancer. This delay raises concerns about the safety of these products, particularly for Black women who are the primary users.

In October 2023, the FDA announced its intention to ban formaldehyde in hair relaxers, citing research connecting the chemical to health risks. This decision was met with praise from public health advocates and many Black women who have long questioned the safety of these products.

However, the proposed ban, initially scheduled for release in April 2024, has yet to be released. The FDA has remained tight-lipped about the reason for the delay, only stating they are "still developing the proposed rule."

Growing wave of legal action

The FDA's delay coincides with a growing wave of class action lawsuits targeting hair relaxer manufacturers like L’Oreal and Revlon. Thousands of women have filed suit, alleging that the products caused them to develop uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids, and other health problems. These lawsuits center on the manufacturers' alleged failure to adequately warn consumers about the potential risks associated with these products.

This surge in legal action follows a concerning 2022 study by the National Institutes of Health. The decades-long research involving over 33,000 Black women revealed a significant increase in uterine cancer rates among those who regularly used hair relaxers. The study's findings fueled public health concerns, particularly since formaldehyde, a known carcinogen according to the National Cancer Institute, is commonly found in hair relaxers. 

While not all chemical straighteners contain formaldehyde directly, many include components that release formaldehyde when heated. This raises particular concerns for Black women, as studies show that roughly 50% of hair relaxer products marketed to them contain formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals, compared to just 7% of products marketed to white women. This highlights a long-standing disparity in the safety considerations given to Black hair care products.

Health risks persist amid FDA inaction

While the FDA deliberates, Black women continue to use hair relaxers, often unaware of the potential health risks. The delay in the proposed ban raises concerns about the agency's commitment to protecting public health, particularly for communities already facing significant health disparities.

Lawmakers like Congresswomen Ayanna Pressley and Shontel Brown have urged the FDA to finalize the ban, emphasizing the importance of protecting Black women's health. Consumer advocacy groups like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have also petitioned the FDA for stricter regulations on hair relaxers.

Uncertain future of the proposed ban

The future of the proposed ban on formaldehyde in hair relaxers remains unclear. The ongoing litigation against chemical hair relaxer manufacturers and the growing public pressure may compel the FDA to act. However, the delay highlights the complex and often slow-moving process of regulating cosmetics in the United States.

If you or someone close to you has used chemical-based hair treatments for straightening or relaxing and later faced cancer or another grave health issue, there might be a path to financial relief. Your health and safety should always come first, and when they're compromised, seeking the compensation you deserve is a step toward justice. 



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