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A Black woman stands in an elevator at work surrounded by white coworkers.
Sinclair Daniel plays Nella in ‘The Other Black Girl’, a horror-satire about the dangers of Black women’s hair care products — something this week’s podcast guest knows a lot about. (Wilfred Harwood/Hulu)

Detangling the roots and health risks of hair relaxers

In this reflective and personal episode of Don’t Call Me Resilient, Prof. Cheryl Thompson of Toronto Metropolitan University and author of Beauty in a Box untangles the wending history of hair relaxers for Black women — and the health risks now linked to them.

For decades, Black women have been using hair relaxers to help them “fit into” global mainstream workplaces and the European standards of beauty that continue to dominate them. More recently, research has linked these relaxers to cancer and reproductive health issues — and a spate of lawsuits across the United States, and at least one in Canada, have been brought by Black women against the makers of these relaxants.

The ad shows a Black woman in a red suit jacket, holding a phone: 'Was it her resume or Raveen.'
A vintage magazine ad for the ‘Raveen hair relaxer system,’ circa 1990.

Prof. Thompson and I get into it: including her own relationship to using relaxers as a Black woman, the lawsuits and the wending history and relationship between these relaxants and Black women. We also — for obvious reasons — dip into The Other Black Girl, the novel that is also now a horror-satire streaming series about mind-controlling hair products.

Read more in The Conversation

Read more: Black Canadian women artists detangle the roots of Black beauty

Read more: Kinky, curly hair: a tool of resistance across the African diaspora

Read more: Jada Pinkett Smith and Black women's hair: History of disrespect leads to the CROWN Act

Read more: What's in a word? How to confront 150 years of racial stereotypes: Don't Call Me Resilient


A vintage magazine ad for Ultra Sheen, a hair product made by the Black-owned Johnson Products to cater to Black consumers, circa 1963.

Use of Straighteners and Other Hair Products and Incident Uterine Cancer (Journal of the National Cancer Institute)

“She was diagnosed with cancer at 28. Her lawsuit blames hair relaxers” (Washington Post)

Beauty in a Box: Detangling the Roots of Canada’s Black Beauty Culture by Cheryl Thompson

“Black Brazilians are ditching hair straighteners and white standards of beauty” (Washington Post)

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The trailer for ‘The Other Black Girl’ (Hulu/Disney)

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