A new medical study has found that women who use chemical hair straighteners and relaxers may have a higher risk of uterine cancer — but for many Black women who have turned to these treatments throughout their lives, the results are not a surprise.
“I’m glad it finally came out. It’s something that we’ve been told a lot, you know, in the last 30, even 40, years. But we never really had a study that really got deep into it,” said hairdresser Angelina Ebegbuzie who owns Entice Salon in Windsor.
“A lot of people have always relaxed their hair, that was something that they’ve always known, and with the natural hair movement they started moving out of that.”
The study, from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, is based on a sample of nearly 33,500 women who were studied over almost 11 years.
“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,” Alexandra White, the study’s lead author, said in a media release.
“This doubling rate is concerning. However, it is important to put this information into context — uterine cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer.”
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The study, which points out Black women might be more affected due to higher use of the treatments — came as no surprise to Entice Salon client Ruby Foster.
“We knew, but … we did it anyway,” she said.
“I wonder about the effect of it from when I was a child to now, you know? Am I going to possibly suffer from the effect of it?”
Foster chemically relaxed her hair until her late 30s before learning to care for and embrace her natural hair.
Ebegbuzie explained that many in the Black community had accepted the risks posed by relaxers due to societal pressures to conform to Eurocentric ideals.
When Ebegbuzie first opened her salon 12 years ago, she used to do 20 to 30 chemical hair straightening treatments a week, but now does only two or three a month.
When clients request chemical straightening, Ebegbuzie said she’ll often have a conversation to understand why and help them be fully informed. If it’s a young child, she might suggest alternative styles like braiding or twisting, for example.
For adults who’ve considered natural hair but still want to relax their hair, Ebegbuzie said she talks them through the pros and cons and explains the dangers as well.
Overall, Ebegbuzie said it’s been wonderful to see more and more people in the Black community embracing their natural hair, and to see more representation of it both in society and on screens.
“For any of us who are Black women, Black people, it is a liberating experience to be able to walk someplace and not be judged on your hair.”
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.