Black women’s hair products are killing us. Why isn’t more being done?

Black women who use lye-based hair relaxers at least seven times a year for 15 or more years have a 30% increased risk of breast cancer.

A new study reveals what some scientists and researchers have suspected for years – that frequent and long-term use of lye-based hair relaxers may have serious health effects, including breast cancer. Published in Oxford University’s Carcinogenesis Journal, the study found that Black women who used these products at least seven times a year for 15 or more years had a roughly 30% increased risk of developing breast cancer compared with more infrequent users.

The research team also analyzed survey data from Boston University’s Black Women’s Health Study, which followed more than 50,000 African American women for more than 25 years and observed their medical diagnoses and any factors that could influence their health. The results? Of the women followed from 1997 to 2017, 95% reported using lye-based relaxers, and ultimately 2,311 developed breast cancers.

This additional risk factor is just one part of a wide race gap in breast cancer rates among American women. We already know that Black women have the highest occurrence of breast cancer before reaching the age of 40, are more likely than white women to develop highly aggressive breast cancers, and are more likely to die from it at any age – 40% more likely, to be precise.

And when it comes to the role of haircare products in that imbalance, none of this is new. In 2019, research published in the International Journal of Cancer found that ​​permanent dye use was associated with a 45% higher breast cancer risk in Black women, compared with a roughly 7% higher risk among white women who used these products.

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