The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued an advisory suggesting it may consider a proposal to ban the use of formaldehyde in hair straightening and straightening products.
The FDA’s review of the proposal was included in the Unified Agenda, a government record of actions that administrative agencies plan to publish.
There is no specific timetable for when the agency may consider the proposal or when, if it moves forward, a ban will take effect.
Studies have shown that frequent use of hair straightening products containing chemicals like formaldehyde puts women at higher risk of uterine cancer.
A study published last year found that women who reported frequent use of hair straightening products were more than twice as likely to later develop uterine cancer as women who did not use the products. Scientists warn that it is not yet clear whether these products cause cancer. So far, research only suggests a likely link.
Uterine cancer, a type of cancer that starts in the uterus, is a risk factor for anyone with a uterus, but the risk increases with age, particularly during and after menopause, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last year’s study found that black women may be more affected by increased risk of uterine cancer, not because of their race, but because they use more straightening chemicals hair. Frequent use of these products was defined as more than four times in the previous year, according to the study which included more than 33,000 women aged 35 to 74.
Formaldehyde is described by the Environmental Protection Agency as a “colorless, flammable gas” that can cause “adverse health effects” if exposed. When used in hair straightening products, formaldehyde is released into the air as a gas when the products are heated.
The Department of Health and Human Services classifies formaldehyde as a “known carcinogen.”
Last year, the FDA issued a warning that using hair straightening products in a poorly ventilated area could result in a risk of formaldehyde inhalation. In the warning, the agency acknowledges that it began receiving “inquiries from consumers and salon professionals” about the safety of formaldehyde in products as early as 20 years ago.
Melanie Benesh, vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, an environmental advocacy organization, described the FDA’s consideration of a formaldehyde ban as a “welcome, but long overdue” move. .
Benesh pointed out that the Environmental Working Group released a report as early as 2011 on the widespread use of formaldehyde in hair care brands and in salons across the United States.
“The FDA has been aware of this problem for a long time,” Benesh told “Good Morning America,” adding, “There’s no reason why the FDA shouldn’t have acted sooner on what is a real public health problem, particularly for salon employees.”
The FDA did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment in response to Benesh’s assertion that the agency should have acted sooner.
Benesh added that salon workers are at increased risk of adverse health effects due to their prolonged exposure to types of hair treatments containing chemicals, including keratin treatments and Brazilian blowouts.
“Consumers will be exposed if they receive one of these treatments or if you are in the salon while someone else is receiving the same type of treatment,” she said. “But hair salon workers are more likely to perform multiple treatments per day or multiple treatments per week and over the course of a year, and so these repeated exposures can really pose an increased risk.”
California and Maryland recently passed legislation banning the use of formaldehyde in hair straightening products. Both laws are expected to come into force in January 2025.
Benesh noted that there are hair straightening and straightening products currently on the market that do not use formaldehyde. She said her advice to consumers and salon workers is not to wait for regulatory action, but rather to refrain from using hair products containing formaldehyde themselves.
“There is no reason to wait until the law takes effect or a proposed rule to take effect to switch to safer products, or simply no longer offer these services if you cannot find a quality treatment. hair straightening or straightening that suits you. I don’t use formaldehyde,” Benesh said. “It’s not worth the risk. It’s not worth your stylists or your consumers potentially getting cancer just to have straight hair.”