Color of Change is calling on retailers to pull and audit their Black hair product assortments following an October study by The National Institutes of Health that found the use of chemical hair straighteners — or relaxers, which is most prevalent among Black women — is associated with an increased risk of uterine cancer.
The study, which included data from 33,497 U.S. women ages 34 to 74, found that women who reported frequent use of hair-straightening products (defined as over four times in the previous year), were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than their counterparts.
The study notes that while uterine cancer only accounts for roughly 3 percent of all cancer cases and is thus considered “relatively rare,” its incidence rate has been rising in the U.S., particularly among Black women.
Color of Change, which has previously launched campaigns for the protection of abortion rights and urged corporations to address discriminatory hair policies, has launched a petition calling on major retailers including Target, Giant, Food Lion and ShopRite to remove and audit any potentially toxic hair products in their assortment.
“We’re going to the retailers because they have a responsibility for the products they’re selling to people,” said Jade Magnus Ogunnaike. ““Especially corporations like Target, who do huge Black History Month and HBCU activations — this is a space where they can really put their money where their mouth is. It’s not about marketing to Black people, it’s about selling products that are safe to Black people.”
Ogunnaike also cited a 2019 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences study that used data from 47,000 women and found those who regularly used chemical hair straighteners and permanent hair dyes were 9 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than participants who did not.
“If you’re working in a place where you’re unable to wear your hair the way it grows out of your head, and use relaxers as a cost-effective way to keep your hair ‘presentable’ so that you don’t get fired, you’re putting yourself at an increased risk of developing uterine cancer,” said Ogunnaike. “That’s another complicated intersection in this conversation, is that Black women are not able to win either way.”
In 2022, Missouri resident Jennifer Mitchell filed a lawsuit against beauty giant L’Oréal and several other companies, claiming her uterine cancer was “directly and proximately” caused by her regular use of their hair care products.
At a news conference, Mitchell, who is Black, said: “As most young African American girls, chemical relaxers, chemical straighteners were introduced to us at a young age. Society has made it a norm to look a certain way, in order to feel a certain way. And I am the first voice of many voices to come that will stand up to these companies, and say, ‘No more.’”