Phthalates in hair relaxers and endometriosis, a dangerous connection

By Michael Bartlett

Posted on January 18th, 2023

As chemical substances widely used in cosmetics, phthalates may cause endometriosis by altering various biological markers. They are also endocrine-disrupting chemicals, meaning they can increase the estrogen level in the body, which is associated with high endometriosis risk.

Over 6 million women across the United States have endometriosis, a painful disease in which tissue resembling the lining of the uterus grows outside of it. Recently, several medical studies have linked the use of hair strengthening products containing phthalates with high endometriosis risk. In chemical hair relaxers, phthalates are mostly used as plasticizers, substances whose purpose is to make the formula softer and decrease viscosity. According to many health organizations, they are endocrine-disrupting chemicals belonging to the same class as bisphenol A, another harmful chemical lurking in hair strengthening products.

Phthalates mimic or interfere with the endocrine system, which is responsible for overseeing hormones. Because phthalates are endocrine disruptors, they can tinker with the body's hormones, possibly leading to hormonal imbalances such as increasing the estrogen level, which is associated with high endometriosis risk. They cause the early onset of breast development, which suggests that they act like estrogen. Furthermore, "phthalate exposure can also cause ovulation problems and is associated with endometriosis-which is stimulated by estrogen," says Kim Langdon, MD.

According to a study from the medical journal Healthcare, the impact of phthalates varies from gene expression to physiological changes. High molecular weight phthalates exposure was found to cause methylation status of imprinted genes, which could be directly related to estrogen response. At the intracellular level, phthalates can interfere with:

  • nuclear receptors
  • membrane receptors
  • intracellular signaling pathways
  • reproduction gene expressions

While Europe has banned the use of the phthalates DiPeP, DnPeP, PIPP, and DMEP in consumer products, in our country, these chemicals are still present in cosmetics such as hair relaxers, endangering women's health. A study from Fertility and Sterility found that phthalates may be involved in the development and severity of endometriosis. Exposure to di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate - DEHP - is likely to cause endometriosis by increasing the growth of the cells that are linked to the disease. This phthalate might be a carcinogen and was also found to be the cause of reproductive problems and infertility.

According to a study from Reproductive Medicine and Biology, sexually mature female rats exposed to DEHP exhibited a decrease in serum progesterone and delayed ovulation. Exposure to this phthalate impacts endometrial cells in the following ways:

  • cell invasion
  • oxidative stress
  • cell viability
  • cell proliferation

Two different studies found higher concentrations of di-n-butyl phthalate, butyl benzyl phthalate, and di-n-octyl phthalate in women with endometriosis than in those in the control group. Consequently, many phthalates that might lurk in hair relaxers can increase endometriosis risk, not only DHEP. Finally, a study from the journal Environmental Research found that most participants with endometriosis had significant levels of phthalate metabolites in their bodies. The researchers noted a strong association between the urinary concentration of mono-(2-ethyl-5-hexyl) phthalate, the metabolite of DEHP, and endometriosis risk.

How phthalates end up in women's bodies when they use hair relaxers

Because hair relaxers contain numerous chemicals that can easily damage the scalp by causing skin irritation, lesions, and burns, phthalates can infiltrate these wounds and end up in the bloodstream of women who use these products. Moreover, in some cases, exposure can occur from breathing airborne particles of phthalates that were released when using a chemical hair relaxer.

Among the five phthalates tested by researchers, DEPH showed the highest skin absorption. Roughly 2% of a dermal dose is absorbed in humans. Therefore, skin absorption remains the main exposure route when it comes to these dangerous chemicals. Other phthalates that can penetrate the skin to a certain extent include:

  • diethyl phthalate
  • dibutyl phthalate
  • diisononyl phthalate
  • diethylhexyl phthalate

To avoid phthalates in hair relaxers, you should immediately cease using these products and find safer, non-toxic alternatives such as heat styling, oil treatments, silicone creams, or keratin treatments. If you want to lower your endometriosis risk even further, we advise you to avoid phthalates in the following ways:

  • choose fragrance-free products whenever possible
  • steer clear of products that list phthalates in their ingredients
  • avoid plastic wrap and plastic food containers
  • skip fast food, as cheeseburgers and other products are high in phthalates
  • avoid reheating food or drinks in plastic containers
  • buy a glass or stainless steel water bottle since plastic bottles contain phthalates
  • store food in plastic containers that have the 2, 4, or 5 recycling codes on them
  • replace plastic-wrapped foods with fresh foods as often as possible
  • avoid cleaning products that list "fragrance" or "perfume" as ingredients
  • skip synthetic air fresheners and freshen your home with flowers or essential oils

If you use hair relaxers and struggle with endometriosis, we strongly encourage you to give our attorneys a call, as you might be entitled to financial compensation from the manufacturers. Our resourceful legal team will help you determine whether you are eligible to file a toxic hair relaxer claim quickly and efficiently, with minimal involvement on your part.

Our law firm offers quality legal services to women struggling with endometriosis due to toxic hair relaxers

Using chemical hair relaxers has a strong association with endometriosis because of the phthalates and other toxic substances these products contain. If you received a diagnosis of endometriosis and have been regularly using hair strengthening products, do not hesitate to give our attorneys a call, as they have been pursuing compensation for people affected by toxic exposure and defective products for over 30 years. We are ready to help you find out whether you qualify to file a toxic hair relaxer claim.

The only documents you will have to send in are your medical records and evidence of your use of hair relaxers in the form of receipts or hair salon bills. After a thorough and careful review of your case, our skilled attorneys will let you know if you are entitled to financial compensation from the companies whose products you used. Eligible people will promptly have their claims filed, and we will go to great lengths to obtain the most favorable outcome for your case, regardless of how complex it might be.