FDA misses own deadline to propose ban on cancer-linked formaldehyde from hair relaxers


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By Michelle Garcia, Berkeley Lovelace Jr. and Janelle Griffith, NBC

Chemicals used to straighten hair can increase the risk of uterine cancer (Tomas Anderson/Alamy Stock Photos)

A proposal to ban formaldehyde in hair-straightening products that was scheduled to take place in April has not been released by the Food and Drug Administration, disregarding the agency’s own deadline. 

The proposal had come after wide-ranging studies found an association between some of the ingredients in hair-smoothing and hair-straightening products, which are used mostly by Black women, and cancer. 

It is unclear why the FDA has not released its proposed ban. The agency has not responded to requests for comment by NBC News.


Formaldehyde is used in many household products, including some topical medicines and cosmetics such as some nail polishes, hair gels, baby shampoos and others. Not all chemical hair-straighteners include it, but many do include components that, once heated, can release formaldehyde. It is highly toxic and linked to certain cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute.

“About 50% of products advertised to Black women contain these types of chemicals, compared to maybe only 7% that are advertised to white women,” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Tamarra James-Todd said in a radio interview in 2020

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