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As research into the harmful effects of formaldehyde continues to grow, the FDA is actively trying to ban products that contain or emit the chemical, such as hair straighteners and keratin treatments. “[Formaldehyde] is carcinogenic,” says cosmetic chemist Ginger King, noting that since hair straightening treatments are typically done in salons, it can be difficult to find products containing the ingredient. Cosmetic chemist Alexandra Arriaga warns that household labels should also look for formaldehyde and methylene glycol, as these are other, less suspect names for formaldehyde.
The proposed ban, expected to be implemented by April 2024, would change the landscape for chemical hair straightening and smoothing, making many preferred products and services in the home and professional categories unavailable. However, according to Dr. Benjamin Knight Fuchs, a cosmetic chemist and founder of Truth Treatment Systems, this ban will not eliminate straightening methods. “With formaldehyde-free product options available, hair care professionals and consumers can still customize their curls without being exposed to potentially harmful chemicals,” he tells us exclusively. “Some of these alternatives use argan oil, botanical extracts and tannin oils, while others use glyoxylic acid (or its derivatives) to straighten hair. The treatments, also known as Japanese straightening (also known as thermal restoration), use amino acid-based hair solutions. achieve the same results.”
Questions about the safety of formaldehyde in chemical hair straighteners made headlines in December 2022 after a study found that women who regularly used formaldehyde-containing products doubled their risk of developing endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer. It is worth noting that hair straightening and softening treatments are most often marketed and used by black women. Although uterine cancer rates have increased across the board in recent years, the largest increases have occurred among women of color, including Asian and Hispanic women.
Given this, uterine cancer is very rare. “The overall risk of uterine cancer is fairly low, so it’s important to keep this in mind,” Crystal Agu, MD, a hair specialist and assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, previously tweeted. The frequency of hair straightening is every 12 weeks or more often, as this may reduce the risk. “
Meanwhile, other studies have shown a link between hair straighteners and breast and ovarian cancer. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, “exposure to formaldehyde can cause irritation to the skin, throat, lungs, and eyes,” and “repeated exposure to formaldehyde can cause cancer.”
A potential ban is long overdue. In 2016, the FDA began developing updated regulations but ultimately put the plan on hold. “The Food and Drug Administration has known for decades that these products are dangerous,” Melanie Benes, vice president of government relations for the advocacy group Environmental Working Group, told The New York Times earlier this week. “There’s no reason why they shouldn’t act soon.”
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Sophia Wilensky is a freelance beauty columnist for Marie Claire, writing about the latest and greatest in Cardi B’s skincare, hair color, and nails. Her work can also be found on Byrdie, Bravo, and Us Weekly. You can find her on Instagram @sophiavilensky.
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Post time: Jan-19-2024