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Chemical Hair Straighteners Linked To Cancer

Updated October 23, 2023.

Frequent users of chemical hair relaxers may have more than double the risk of uterine cancer according to a recent study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  According to the study, women who used chemical hair straightening or relaxer products more than four times in a 12 month period, were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer as compared to those who did not use these products. More than 33,000 women, ages 35-74, participated in a Sister Study led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (part of NIH). The study followed the women for almost 11 years with the intention of identifying risk factors for breast cancer and other health conditions. During the study, 378 uterine cancer cases were diagnosed. Researchers found that while 1.6% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70, for frequent users the risk increased to more than 4%.

Hair relaxers have also been linked to breast cancer. Two separate studies published in 2021 concluded that regular use of chemical hair relaxers increases the risk of developing breast cancer by as much as 30%. The scientific evidence on the causal link between breast cancer and hair relaxer appears to be strong enough to support product liability lawsuits. The products may also be linked to endometrial cancer and the development of uterine fibroids.

Hair relaxers work to change the hair’s texture by compromising the hair’s protein structure. Relaxers are applied to the hair down to the base of the shaft and left on for a period of time to alter the texture. As the hair grows, the treated portion of the hair grows away from the scalp and the new growth will have the original texture. In order to keep a smooth appearance, the user will need to use additional treatments to smooth the roots. Much like hair color, the relaxer needs to be touched-up every 4-8 weeks depending on growth rate. To keep the desired appearance, users apply the product regularly over a period of many years.

On October 21, 2022, the first hair straightener lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago (Mitchell v. L’Oreal, et al. – 1:22-cv-5815). The plaintiff, Jenny Mitchell, is a Missouri resident who used chemical hair relaxers since the age of 10. She was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 28 in August of 2018. Mitchell’s suit alleges the defendants knew or should have known that the chemicals in their products caused cancer and other injuries but failed to warn consumers. According to the filings in the Mitchell case, hair relaxers contain high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (“EDCs”). EDCs interfere with the endocrine system and hormone receptors. Most hair relaxers also contain phthalates or “plasticizers”; chemicals used to make certain plastics more durable. Phthalates are EDCs that are known to interfere with natural hormone production.

One phthalate chemical called Di-2- ethyl hexyl phthalate (“DEHP”) is considered a probable human carcinogen and it is known to cause significant adverse-health effects including developmental abnormalities and reproductive dysfunction and infertility.

The use of hair straightening products is common not only in the United States, but also around the world. Increased risk of cancer has been found among women from all racial and ethnic backgrounds who have used chemical hair straightening products. However, 60% of the study participants self-identified as Black women. Statistically, hair straightening products are used more frequently and at earlier ages in the Black and Hispanic communities. Therefore, women of color may be disproportionately affected.

As of this writing lawsuits have already been filed against L’Oreal and other hair straightener manufacturers. Sample products include Dark and Lovely and Just for me. Although the cases are new, Attorneys are expecting there will be many claims across the country as injured women realize their illnesses may be related to use of these products. In Mid-November, Lawyers representing a group of Plaintiffs filed a motion seeking consolidation of the claims and multi-district litigation (MDL) status.*

If you meet the following criteria, you may qualify to file a claim:

  • You used chemical hair straightening/ relaxing products
  • Since using the products, were diagnosed with ovarian, endometrial or uterine cancer
  • You were under the age of 70 at the time of diagnosis
  • You used the straightener/relaxer product during  the year prior to your diagnosis
  • You do not have a family history of uterine, breast or endometrial cancer.

If you meet any of the above criteria, please contact us for a free consultation. The personal injury attorneys at Lacy Katzen LLP have been helping people for over 70 years.

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