'Creamy Crack' — Why Relaxers Are Still Being Pushed on Black Women

Linda Villarosa goes to the root of the harm of hair relaxers in The New York Times Magazine. (Photo: Naila Ruechel for The New York Times)


Looking back on their childhood experiences with hair relaxers, Black women scientists “still recall the harsh smell and the sensation of their scalps being aflame,” writes health journalist Linda Villarosa in The New York Times Magazine.

“I go all the way back to: I was right,” Dr. Tamarra James-Todd told her in an interview at the  T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University. “That stuff that was burning on my head — it wasn’t safe.”

Dr. James-Todd, an associate professor of environmental reproductive epidemiology, is among a growing number of Black women scientists at the forefront of greatly expanded research on the effects of chemicals in relaxers and other hair products on our health.

Black women, were two and a half times as likely to develop uterine cancer as those who did not use the products.”

— 2022 Sister Study of 34,000 Black women

Here are just a few takeaways from “The Disturbing Truth About Hair Relaxers,” Villarosa’s in-depth article in The New York Times Magazine, where she covers race, inequality and public health as a contributing writer. Villarosa was also a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her landmark book, “Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation.”

5 Toxic Takeaways on Hair Relaxers

  1. 'Creamy Crack' — Why Relaxers Are Still Being Pushed on Black Women

    Photo: Aniya Greene HUNewsService.com

    “Products most often used by Black women remain vastly underregulated and, until recently, insufficiently studied.”

  2. “A robust body of scientific evidence has now shown that straighteners and other hair products marketed to Black girls and women have been linked to endocrine-disrupting substances associated with the early onset of menstruation and many of the reproductive-health issues that follow, from uterine fibroids, preterm birth and infertility to breast, ovarian and uterine cancer.”
  3. Many toxic ingredients aren’t included on the packaging for hair relaxers. Meanwhile, questions remain on the FDA’s proposed ban on formaldehyde.
  4. Attorney Ben Crump is representing nearly 9,000 plaintiffs in Hair Relaxer Marketing, Sales Practices and Products Liability Litigation, “a class-action multidistrict litigation, or MDL, a federal legal procedure designed to speed the processing of complex cases.”
  5. Going natural has more than cut relaxer sales in half over the last decade or so, but they still hit $30 million in 2021.

Click here to read more of Villarosa’s yearlong investigation.