According to the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, 60% of Black women opt to relax their hair.
While relaxers have always been a part of Black hair culture, the side effects or consequences are rarely discussed. The chemical hair-altering products have been linked to numerous health issues including early puberty, and recently, cancer. A study from the National Cancer Institute found that deaths caused by uterine cancer have increased within the last year, and Black women are sadly high in that number. While uterine cancer is typically caused by high levels of estrogen, it was also discovered that chemical hair straighteners can be a trigger as well.
As someone who previously had relaxers, I can understand why we as Black women choose them. The ease of maintenance, acceptance from co-workers (including Black ones) and the option to wear certain hairstyles are some factors that are considered in the choice to opt in to creamy crack. But now, the risk is greater than the reward.
Whenever I brush my hair, I lift up the back and look at the nape of my neck. Aside from the average hyperpigmentation, you would never know that it was once burned and scarred by relaxers. When I made the decision to go natural three years ago, I knew the journey ahead would be long and hard, but I knew it was worth it. I was prepared to deal with long wash days and hours of detangling, as opposed to subjecting myself to more burns in my scalp and never having my hair reach its full potential.
In the early 2000s, oftentimes, there wasn't a choice to wear our natural hair. If you showed up to a job interview with an afro or locs, you were likely turned down. If you wore your hair in cornrows or braids, you were considered "unkempt." Simply put, America did not accept our hair and relaxers allowed us to fit in with the Eurocentric standards that are praised so highly. Beauty companies preyed on that desire, advertising Black women with sleek, silky hair on the relaxer boxes, promising a pain-free, hassle-free experience—except that hassle-free life would later turn out to adversely affect our health.
Teresa Spencer recently filed a lawsuit against Motions and Olive Oil hair relaxers. Spencer used the brands' products for years and was diagnosed with uterine fibroids, which are believed to have developed from her use of relaxers. She had to have a myomectomy operation last year to remove the fibroids..
As Black women, we continuously and willingly put our health at risk in exchange for easy maintenance, workplace acceptance or to walk around with a "slayed" look. While relaxers technically can be deemed as safe when used in moderation, the excessive need and desire for silky, bone-straight strands simply does not compare to the possible road ahead. So Black women, is it worth it?