Law firms began their ad campaigns last October, shortly after a study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) found an association between frequent use of chemical hair relaxers and uterine cancer. Some of their ads include highlights of the NIH study’s findings after they show Black women applying hair products. “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,” said Che-Jung Chang, Ph.D., an author on the NIH study. Coincidentally, a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, which NIH posted in 2019 , found that uterine cancer rose rapidly among women ages 30 to 79 from 2000 to 2015, especially among Black women.
On the flip side, L’Oreal and Revlon told Reuters that their products are subject to rigorous safety reviews. The latter told Reuters that, “We do not believe the science supports a link between chemical hair straighteners or relaxers and cancer,” and L’Oreal said it is ‘committed to offering the best products ‘for all skin and hair types, all genders, all identities, all cultures, all ages’ and that its hair relaxers have a ‘rich heritage and history’ originating with Black inventors and entrepreneurs.” And a lawyer for the cosmetic company Namaste emailed Reuters that, “We do not believe the plaintiffs have shown, or will be able to show, that the use of Namaste hair relaxer products caused the injuries that they allege in their complaints.”
Hair Relaxer Lawsuits
Since the first hair relaxer lawsuit was filed on behalf of Jenny Mitchell, a Missouri woman, just days after the NIH study was made public, over 7,000 similar lawsuits have been consolidated in a Chicago federal court as part of a multidistrict litigation proceeding (MDL), which is a procedure that more efficiently manages lawsuits filed in multiple jurisdictions. A docket report (PDF) dated October 16, lists almost 6,000 complaints centralized in the federal hair relaxer MDL but attorneys predict that the number of cases filed will to continue to rise over the next few years, and tens of thousands of women may seek financial compensation.
Mitchell, age 28, was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent a hysterectomy, ending her dreams of having children. “I was devastated,” she told the Washington Post, and blames the hair products that she had been using since she was in grade school. Mitchell alleges that the chemical hair straighteners – from five companies including L’Oreal’ -- she had been applying to her scalp for decades caused her cancer, which she said does not run in her family.