Study uncovers link between hair straighteners and uterine cancer

When you get the hair straightener out, the last thing you are likely to be asking yourself is, “Will using this increase my risk of uterine cancer?” But, proving once again that science fact is often stranger than science fiction, it is a question worth asking, based on new research.

A link between the use of chemical hair straighteners and uterine cancer has been revealed in a study a from the National Institutes of Health in the US.

Researchers tracked 33,947 women of diverse ethnicities, aged 35 to 74, for an average of nearly 11 years. During that tracking period, 378 women developed uterine cancer.

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The study’s lead author, Dr Alexandra White, head of the NIEHS Environment and Cancer Epidemiology group, said those who used chemical hair straightening products more than doubled their risk of developing the cancer.

“We estimated that 1.64 per cent of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05 per cent,” she said.

The term ‘frequent use’ is defined as more than four times in the previous year.

Those using hair straighteners less frequently showed a slightly elevated risk, but by an amount so small as to be statistically insignificant and possibly due to chance.

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While flagging the risk as one to be taken seriously, Dr White did point out that the incidence of uterine cancer was still very low: “This doubling rate is concerning. However, it is important to put this information into context – uterine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer.”

How are hair straighteners increasing the risk?

While this study did not collect information on brands or ingredients in the hair products the women used, the paper notes that several chemicals found in straighteners (such as parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde) could be contributing to the increased uterine cancer risk observed.

The authors added that burns and lesions caused by straighteners could lead to increased absorption of hair product chemicals through the scalp, creating a greater risk than is caused by other personal care products.

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A previous study conducted by the same research team previously found that permanent hair dye and straighteners may increase breast and ovarian cancer risk.

One of the concerns raised by the US study was a potentially higher risk among African American women.

Uterine cancer accounts for about 3 per cent of all new cancer cases but is the most common cancer of the female reproductive system. And separate studies show that incidence rates of uterine cancer have been rising in the US, particularly among  women of colour.

Do you use chemical hair straighteners? How often do you use them? Why not share your experience and thoughts in the comments section below?

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.
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