According to a Boston University study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, chemical hair relaxers many black women use to straighten their hair may be linked to the development of fibroids, clusters of muscles that form in the uterus that can be so painful, some women have their female organs removed to have a normal life.
Black women are three times more likely than white women to develop fibroids.
“Symptomatic fibroids are the most common cause of hysterectomies,” said Dr. Annie Williams, an OBGYN based in Norfolk. “There are unfortunately circumstances in young women of child bearing age where the fibroids are so large and so symptomatic that total removal of the uterus is the course.”
The study’s research reveals black women who had relaxers over a long period of time were at greater risk for fibroids.
“Of course it concerns me because I do relaxers everyday,” said Shulette Ricks, a Virginia Beach hairdresser who was recently diagnosed with fibroids. “I was having a pain, and I really didn`t know what it was coming from.”
The study’s authors say relaxers contain chemicals like sodium hydroxide, a chemical that can eat through the skin and, if inhaled, can ruin your lungs. The study theorizes that as chemicals like phthalates get into abrasions and areas of irritation of the scalp, it may exercise some hormone like activity.
Dr. Williams said the study’s findings are startling, but research shows black women are genetically predisposed to fibroids.
“There`s actually a specified chromosome that identifies and codes for the development of fibroids,” said Williams, who added not all women who have the gene develop fibroids. “So that`s the real question. What is it that causes the expression of this gene to where fibroids become so symptomatic.”
While those behind study believe relaxers could be a risk factor, Williams says diet is a factor, too.
“Women of other cultures who come to America begin to get fibroids when they didn`t exist in their own countries,” she said.
As for Shulette, she’s anxious to see more research on relaxers. If scientists can show a direct cause and effect, she says she’ll be changing her tune.
“It would make me think again about getting it, because I don`t want to give myself fibroids.”
The authors of the study say there needs to be more research before they can say relaxers are directly related to fibroids. The Food and Drug Administration does not approve relaxers before they hit the market.