19 October 2022

Stay curly

Chemical hair straightening has been linked to the development of uterine cancer

Sergey Vasiliev, Naked Science

There are many ways to straighten curls, but the most lasting effect is given by "chemistry". Hair consists of protein strands of keratin, and their shape is determined by disulfide bonds that arise between amino acids (cysteine) that are part of neighboring strands. Some substances break these disulfide bridges, allowing you to give the hair the desired shape — for example, straightening them when combing or stretching — until the bonds are formed again, fixing the hair in a new position.

For this purpose, rather aggressive compounds with strong alkaline or hygroscopic properties can be used. To save hair and skin, hairdressers and stylists turn to less dangerous formulas, however, they, apparently, are not in vain for the body. There is evidence indicating that many of these drugs are capable of disrupting the endocrine system. And in 2019, researchers showed that some components of hair dyes increase the risk of breast cancer.

The new study was conducted by scientists from the American National Institute of Health and the Environment (NIEHS), whose article was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (Chang et al., Use of Straighters and Other Hair Products and Incident Uterine Cancer). Alexandra White and her colleagues have been monitoring the health of almost 34,000 U.S. women aged 35 to 74 for more than a decade. During this period, 378 participants were diagnosed with uterine cancer.

Women who resorted to chemical hair straightening at least once during the year, the likelihood of developing the disease was higher than those who had never undergone such a procedure. The risk ratio (HR) was 1.8, which corresponds to a 64 percent increase. And for women who straightened their hair with chemical methods often, four or more times a year, the risk was 71 percent higher (HR=2.55).

Of course, in the United States of America, representatives of the African-American population resort to such a procedure more often than others. However, the authors took this factor into account in statistical data processing and excluded its influence. In addition, in their work, scientists assessed the impact of other popular products, including hair dyes and permanent perm preparations. Their use did not show any correlation with the risk of developing uterine cancer.

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