A survey conducted by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and in partnership with WE ACT for Environmental Justice set out to determine whether beauty norms are motivating the use of chemical straighteners and skin lighteners.
Through the WE ACT Beauty Inside Out campaign, researchers surveyed a small sample of 297 women of color and femme-identifying people of color to understand what influences beauty perceptions beyond personal choice. Product use varied by race/ethnicity, background, and influence from friends and family. Forty-four percent of female respondents reported ever using chemical straighteners and 34 percent of femme-identifying respondents reported ever using them. Half of all respondents said they think others believe straight hair makes women more beautiful, while only 36 percent of respondents said they personally felt this way.1
According to the research, other studies have linked chemical straighteners to an increased risk of uterine fibroids, breast cancer, and uterine cancer due to harmful chemicals like phthalates, parabens, and formaldehyde often found in relaxers.2 While not all chemical straighteners contain these toxic ingredients, personal care products are largely unregulated.
The Safer Beauty Bill package introduced in 2021 includes four bills introduced in Congress to make beauty and personal care products safer for everyone. Of these bills, Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022 (MOCRA) was passed. This act will require the cosmetics industry to align its practices with other FDA-regulated consumer products to address widely used chemicals that slowly break down over time, create standardized tests for asbestos and talc, and require companies to register their facilities and maintain safety records.
1. Lariah Edwards, et al., “Beauty Inside Out: Examining Beauty Product Use Among Diverse Women and Femme-Identifying Individuals in Northern Manhattan and South Bronx Through an Environmental Justice Framework,” Environmental Justice (2022): https://doi.org/10.1089/env.2022.0053.
2. Edwards, et al., “Beauty Inside Out: Examining Beauty Product Use Among Diverse Women and Femme-Identifying Individuals in Northern Manhattan and South Bronx Through an Environmental Justice Framework.”