FDA relaxer, Cancer, Africa, International, Global

Sales Of Chemical Hair Relaxers On The Rise In Africa, Despite Ingredients Linked To Cancer

As sales of chemical hair relaxers are decreasing in the U.S., Canada and Europe, companies are shifting their focus to Africa

Many chemical hair straighteners contain ingredients such as formaldehyde, Bisphenol A, and parabens, all of which have been linked to cancer. 

In a 2023 report published by the National Institutes of Health, researchers found that women who use chemical relaxers at least four times a year are twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who don’t. Both Brazil and Canada have placed restrictions on formaldehyde in relaxers. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed to ban the chemical last year. 

Several Black women have filed lawsuits against companies claiming that their haircare products have caused cancer. One class action lawsuit claims that companies sold relaxers that “posed an increased risk of uterine and ovarian cancer but also lacked sufficient warning about this potential risk.” 

With increased awareness about the dangers of hair relaxers, the use of these products has declined in the United States, Canada, and Europe. However, according to the market research firm Euromonitor, sales of chemical relaxers in some African countries have increased significantly. Sales in Tunisia and Kenya increased by 10% from 2017 to 2023.

Seyi Faladun-Liburd is the co-director of Level Up UK, a feminist organization that campaigns for gender justice in the UK. Faladun-Liburd says that companies expanding into Africa are problematic because they are able to evade some of the regulations that are present in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

“It means that most consumers, most likely, are actually unaware of the effects of these hair relaxers. We don’t expect that they will expose us to harm for profit,” Faladun-Liburd told NBC News. 

L’Oreal and Godrej Consumer Products, the company that owns TCB Naturals, have both expanded into Africa after being hit with lawsuits in the United States. 

In a statement to NBC News, L’Oreal claimed that these lawsuits had no “legal or scientific” merit and had no impact on the company’s presence in Africa. 

According to Sokolove Law, more than 8,000 hair relaxer lawsuits have been filed against L’Oreal USA and other companies.