Which Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer: Understanding the Risks and Alternatives


Hair relaxers are a popular solution for people seeking straight hair. This hair treatment involves using strong chemicals that break down the bonds in hair, resulting in smooth, manageable, and straight hair. However, some hair relaxers contain hazardous chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer. In this article, we will explore which hair relaxers cause cancer, the risks related to them, and alternatives to minimize the risks.

What are Hair Relaxers?

Hair relaxers are treatments used to straighten curly hair. They contain chemicals that break down the hair bonds responsible for curling, which allows hair to become straight and more manageable. There are two types of hair relaxers: lye and no-lye. Lye relaxers are made from sodium hydroxide and have strong alkaline properties. No-lye relaxers are milder, containing guanidine hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, and potassium hydroxide. Both types of hair relaxers can cause irreversible damage to hair, scalp, and overall health.

Chemicals in Hair Relaxers that Cause Cancer

Sadly, many hair relaxers contain dangerous chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer. Formaldehyde is a common chemical found in hair straightening products. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen and may cause leukemia and other cancers. The chemical is especially linked to nasal and sinus cancer. Moreover, many hair relaxers’ formulas undergo formaldehyde production, which increases the formaldehyde dose. Several studies suggest a significant link between hair relaxers’ use and cancer risk.

Personal Story

Many people have experienced personal stories of how hair relaxers can harm one’s overall health. For example, one woman who used hair relaxers for years was diagnosed with breast cancer. This woman, who is now a cancer survivor, states that her use of hair relaxers added fuel to the fire, and her exposure to formaldehyde over time increased her cancer risk. She advises anyone considering hair straightening treatments to think twice and seek alternatives that would not cause health risks.

Expert Opinion

According to Dr. Adjoa A. Aiyetoro, Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School and the director of Legal Studies for the Interdisciplinary Program in African and African Diaspora Studies, hair salon employees and customers may face risks due to exposure to harmful chemicals found in hair relaxers. She suggests that hair salon employees should wear protective gear such as gloves and masks to minimize the risk of chemical exposure. Dr. Aiyetoro encourages salons to use alternatives such as hair straightening systems that do not contain dangerous chemicals.

Cancer Prevention

Hairstylists can take several precautionary steps to minimize their and their clients’ risk of exposure to harmful chemicals during hair relaxing treatments. One of the essential things is to use protective gear such as masks, goggles, and gloves. Furthermore, it is essential to perform hair relaxing treatments in well-ventilated areas. Washing the hair several times after applying the relaxer will significantly reduce the risk of chemical exposure. It’s best to avoid the scalp when applying hair relaxers. Using a thin protective film, such as petroleum jelly or a protective base cream, to cover the scalp will help minimize chemical exposure.

International Comparison

Several countries regulate the use of chemicals in hair relaxers differently. For example, the European Union has stricter regulations than the United States regarding the use of formaldehyde in hair relaxers. Some African countries, such as South Africa, have banned the use of dangerous chemicals and require hair straightening treatment products to be registered. While in other African countries such as Ghana and Nigeria, there are no regulations on formaldehyde. Understanding various countries’ laws regarding formaldehyde can help consumers make informed decisions about the products they buy and use.

Informing Customers

It’s essential to educate hair salon customers about the dangers of hair relaxers. Many people do not realize that hair relaxers contain harmful chemicals and can increase the risk of cancer. Salons should always choose to educate their clients on the dangers of chemical relaxers before offering the treatment. The hairdressers should also inform clients of alternatives such as keratin treatments, hair blowout treatments, and hot pressing. Moreover, consumers should always read labels and look for formaldehyde-free hair relaxers to minimize their risk of exposure to harmful chemicals.

Alternatives to Hair Relaxers

Several hair straightening alternatives do not pose such health risks as hair relaxers. Hair straightening treatments such as keratin treatments bond proteins to hair without using harmful chemicals. A hot comb is also a safer hair-straightening alternative that uses heated metal combs to straighten hair while minimizing chemical exposure. Other alternatives may include hair blowout treatments, wet sets, and hair pressing, which do not require the use of harmful chemicals.


Hair relaxers may have been a popular hair straightening treatment for many years, but there is mounting evidence regarding the risks associated with using them. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen commonly found in hair relaxers, and its exposure over time may increase cancer risk. Whenever possible, and instead of using relaxers, people should instead opt for safer hair straightening alternatives. Consumers should be informed of the hazards of hair relaxers and hair salon stylists should practice caution while providing the service. By following safety measures and alternatives, the risks of using hair relaxers can be minimized, keeping everyone safer and healthier in the long run.

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