Hair relaxers and health disparities is an area that is finally receiving attention in mainstream media. Since the early 1900s, hair relaxers have been used by Black women to chemically straighten their hair. For many Black women, hair is a key factor related to body image (Hall, 1995). Unfortunately, these products have been linked to several health risks leading to disparities in the Black community.
One Beauty Standard
Historically, Black women have been subject to social and cultural pressures to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards that value straight and/or silky hair over natural hair textures. This pressure can lead to low self-esteem and internalized racism, which can further exacerbate health disparities. Over time the valuing of beauty standards different from one’s natural phenotype has caused many to knowingly continue harmful practices. This is a global issue.
Colonialism and modern-day westernization have long since promoted foreign standards of beauty to indigenous populations. The Middle East and Africa account for the largest share of the global market for hair relaxers and straighteners (ltd, n.d.). The continued use of these products has created an industry worth billions (Global Hair Relaxer Market by Distribution Channel and Geography – Growth, Trends and Forecast (2018-2023) – ResearchAndMarkets.com, 2018). It is important to note that the harmful chemicals used in these products to be ignored by both producers and consumers.
Negative Health Effects
It is no secret that hair relaxers contain harsh chemicals. The most common are lye-based (sodium hydroxide) which can lead to scalp burns, hair breakage, and hair loss. Long-term use of these products has also been linked to both higher rates of breast cancer and an increased risk of uterine fibroids, which disproportionately affect Black women. Studies have shown Black women who used hair relaxers were 1.5 times more likely to develop uterine fibroids than those who did not use these products.
The larger awareness of womb health issues has resulted in lawsuits brought against companies that produce and sell these products. Since 2022, a string of lawsuits claiming that the use of hair relaxer caused uterine cancer among other womb issues have emerged, and many more may be coming. Currently there numerous law firms targeting Black women who have suffered adverse health effects as a result of using them. However, legal action against these companies is not a new phenomenon. Given the track record, these products should not have been allowed to remain available for consumption.
The correlation between hair relaxers and health disparities for Black women highlights the need for greater community and self-awareness, and education about the potential risks associated with these products. It also underscores the need for more diverse beauty standards and greater acceptance of natural hair textures which can help promote healthier choices.
ltd, R. and M. (n.d.). Hair Relaxer Market – Growth, Trends, COVID-19 Impact, and Forecasts (2022 – 2027). Www.researchandmarkets.com. Retrieved March 27, 2023, from https://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/wj9ppb/global_hair?w=4
Hall, C. C. I. (1995). Beauty is in the soul of the beholder: Psychological implications of beauty and African American women. Cultural Diversity and Mental Health, 1(2), 125–137. https://doi.org/10.1037/1099-9809.1.2.125
Global Hair Relaxer Market by Distribution Channel and Geography – Growth, Trends and Forecast (2018-2023) – ResearchAndMarkets.com. (2018, November 22). Www.businesswire.com. https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20181122005199/en/Global-Hair-Relaxer-Market-by-Distribution-Channel-and-Geography—Growth-Trends-and-Forecast-2018-2023—ResearchAndMarkets.com