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Last updated: November 15, 2023

FDA Proposes Ban On Hair Relaxers Containing Formaldehyde

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Study Showing Increase in Cancer Risk Prompts Ban Of Toxins In Hair Relaxers

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a ban on using formaldehyde (a colorless, industrial-produced flammable chemical) as an ingredient in hair relaxers. This proposed rule came into play as researchers at the National Institute of Health released a study showing the increased risk of hormone-related cancer in women who have used chemicals in their hair. 


Our first question, and likely yours, was, “How was this ever allowed”? Although formaldehyde may not pose as a main ingredient in some products, formaldehyde-releasing chemicals such as methylene glycol (a main ingredient in chemically-treated hair services) are ALSO part of this ban. 


What Does The Proposed Rule Say?

From the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the proposal states:


“This proposed rule would ban formaldehyde (FA) and other FA-releasing chemicals (e.g., methylene glycol) as an ingredient in hair smoothing or hair straightening products marketed in the United States. These chemicals are used in certain cosmetic products that are applied to human hair as part of a combination of chemical and heating tool treatment intended to smooth or straighten the hair. Use of hair smoothing products containing FA and FA-releasing chemicals is linked to short-term adverse health effects, such as sensitization reactions and breathing problems, and long-term adverse health effects, including an increased risk of certain cancers.”


Why Is Formaldehyde Dangerous?

Formaldehyde is a flammable, cancer-causing, colorless gas commonly found in mortuaries, medical laboratories, glues, resins, building materials such as plywood and more. 


Due to its chemical makeup, formaldehyde can cause instant reactions from the body such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat. AKA—your client’s eyes burning or subtle coughing may be a reaction to the chemical. Long-term effects of formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing chemicals can cause chemical burns to the lungs, throat swelling and rare cancers of the paranasal sinuses, nasal cavity and nasopharynx as well as Myeloid Leukemia. 


NBC News reports, “Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas that’s used in a wide variety of household products, including medicines and cosmetics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s highly toxic, and repeated exposure can irritate the eyes, skin, lungs and throat. It is also linked to certain cancers, including myeloid leukemia, a cancer that occurs in the blood and bone marrow, according to the National Cancer Institute.”


What Is The Next Step? What Should Stylists Do?

A target date for this ban is set for April 2024, so until then, there is no legislative measure in place to keep stylists and clients safe from toxic chemicals in relaxers, keratin treatments, smoothing products and more. In fact, current law does not require the FDA to approve cosmetic products before going to market AT ALL—only color additives.


Educate yourself. Do a deep dive into researching the products on your shelves and backbar, even if you think they’re safe. It is imperative that all stylists are aware and cautious of the products, chemicals, ingredient lists and processing measures taking place in everyday services. 


For more information on FDA bans and regulations, visit