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Hair Straightener Lawsuits Growing

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In the wake of a study last October that found a link between chemical hair straightening products and certain cancers, an increasing number of Black women are filing lawsuits against L’Oréal and other manufacturers.

Santa Clara, CASoon after a study published by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in October 2022 found that Black women who frequently used chemical hair straightening products were at higher risk for uterine cancer compared to women who did not report using hair relaxers, dozens of lawsuits were filed (mainly by Black women) against L'Oreal USA and several other companies (see below), claiming their chemical hair straighteners cause cancer and other health problems. Plaintiffs also claim that the companies knew, or should have known, that the use of the dangerous chemicals in the products would increase the risk of cancer; yet they marketed and sold them anyway, without providing a warning label.

NIH Studies

Medical research has shown the adverse side effects that endocrine- disrupting chemicals in hair relaxer can have on the body. The chemicals interfere with the normal activity of the endocrine system, and hair relaxers have been linked to the development of various cancers, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and abnormalities in reproductive organs, and other injuries.

The researchers who published their recent findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported that about 60 percent of women in the study who reported using chemical straightening products were self-identified Black women, and adverse health effects may be greater for Black women due to more use. Che-Jung Chang, Ph.D., an author of the study, said “Because Black women use hair straightening or relaxer products more frequently and tend to initiate use at earlier ages than other races and ethnicities, these findings may be even more relevant for them.” (The study defined frequent use as the use of straightening products more than four times per year.)

This isn’t the first study showing that hair relaxers and straighteners can increase the risk of hormone-related cancers in women. The same research team in December 2019 suggested that breast cancer risk increased with more frequent use of these chemical hair products.

Hair Straightener Lawsuits

Since a media blitz, including most major news stations and Good Morning America reporting that long-term exposure to hair straighteners and perm chemicals may be the cause of uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, uterine fibroids and other injuries, thousands of women are expected to file federal lawsuits against hair relaxer manufacturers.

A hair relaxer lawsuit MDL (multi district litigation) has been set up by the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, with claims being centralized in the Northern District of Illinois, where U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland will preside over coordinated discovery and pretrial proceedings throughout 2013. Bellwether trials are expected to be set up to help determine how juries will respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

Plaintiffs include women who regularly used chemical hair relaxer or hair straightener, and were diagnosed with any of the following injuries:
  • Uterine Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Endometrial Cancer
  • Uterine Sarcoma
  • Uterine Fibroids
Defendants include the following makers of various different hair perms and chemical straighteners:
  • Dark and Lovely Lawsuits
  • Just for Me Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
  • Optimum Care Relaxer Lawsuits
  • Soft and Beautiful Hair Perm Lawsuits
  • Motions Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
  • TCB Naturals Relaxer Creme Lawsuits
  • ORS Olive Oil (Organic Root Stimulator) Lawsuits
  • Dream Kids Olive Miracle Lawsuits
  • Other Relaxer and Hair Perm Products
Erika Williams from Detroit filed a complaint in February in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, claiming she developed uterine/endometrial cancer as a direct result of her regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals found in several popular hair relaxer products. Williams says she began using hair relaxers when she was just 11 years old in 1995. She regularly applied the hair straightening chemicals to her scalp, or had hair perm applied at a salon, always following the instructions provided by manufacturers.

Williams names several defendants, including L’Oreal USA and its Soft-Sheen Carson subsidiary, as well as Godrej Sun Holdings, Strength of Nature, LLC, Dabur International, Namaste Laboratories, Beauty Bell Enterprises and its House of Chatham, LLC subsidiary.

Irene Sanderson, an Indiana woman, filed a lawsuit March 8, alleging straightening perm chemicals in ORS Olive Oil, Avlon Affirm and other hair straightening products caused endometrial cancer. Sanderson argues that, although the products were marketed as safe, the manufacturers failed to disclose that the hair perms expose women to toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), including phthalates, which are known to increase the risk of endometrial cancer, uterine cancer and other injuries.

Plaintiff Rhonda Terell was diagnosed with cancer on Christmas Eve in 2019. She told ABC News that she began using relaxers when she was 9 years old and continued using them into her mid-thirties. She said hair relaxers were "just part of being an African American girl."

And this from The New Yorker magazine:

There has been speculation, recently, that the high frequency of fibroid diagnoses among Black women might be owing to Black women’s use of hair straighteners, which have also been connected to diagnoses of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancer. When I heard this news, I freaked out a little bit. I’ve been having my hair—thick, coarse, long, and somewhat unruly—straightened since I was eleven. All that time and money spent chasing after some softer, straighter version of myself—and for what? It felt uniquely unfair, a situation in which Black women’s attempts to achieve a measure of acceptable American femininity might backfire on us in an intimately female way.


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