Are Hair Straightening Chemicals Giving You Cancer?

Why you probably don’t need to worry about hair straighteners and uterine cancer

Gideon M-K; Health Nerd


Pictured: Hair. Potentially chemically straightened, although it’s hard to tell from this photo. Photo by Alexander Grey on Unsplash

As a bald man, it is hard to wax lyrical about the wonders of chemical hair straighteners. While I once had a ponytail, in the days before male-pattern baldness made my dome shiny, I have long since lapsed into a general disinterest in hair products generally.

That being said, a lot of people use chemical hair straighteners, because it’s far less effort than ironing your head every day or two. Perhaps more expensive, but you save a lot of time — I did straighten my hair using an iron back when I had it, and it was a very tedious process.

All I can say is that I’m very jealous of this person. If only :’( Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Which makes the news, reported around the world, that hair straighteners may cause uterine cancer really quite worrying. Given that these products are commonly used, and mostly by women, it’s something of an issue that they might be doubling people’s risk of getting quite a nasty disease.

Of course, since I’m writing about the topic you probably already know: it’s far more complicated than you’ve heard. Is it possible that chemical straighteners are causing large amounts of cancer? Sure. Is it likely? That’s much harder to say.

Let’s look at the evidence.

Hair Science

The paper that is being reported everywhere is a large epidemiological study looking at hair straightening products as part of a larger project called the Sister Study. The broader project involved recruiting a large number of women between 2003–9 in the US whose had a sister with breast cancer, asking them questions about their health, and then following them up over time. The basic idea is that this would allow researchers to look for patterns in their future health which might reveal potential risks and benefits in terms of cancer.

For example, hair — friend or foe? Photo by Vinicius "amnx" Amano on Unsplash