Toxic Hair Relaxers and Uterine Cancer

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Posted on Wednesday, July 12th, 2023 at 9:34 pm    

Cancers linked to hair relaxers

Recent studies have found that dangerous chemicals in several hair relaxer products, or perms, increase the risk of significant health problems. These conditions include uterine and ovarian cancer.

Wallace Miller and other law firms across the country are filing chemical hair straightener lawsuits against the manufacturers of these hair relaxers.

If you think you or a loved one may have been impacted by the toxic chemicals in hair relaxers, contact Wallace Miller for a free and confidential consultation. You can reach us at (312) 261-6193 or complete our online questionnaire to find out in minutes if you are eligible for a new hair relaxer lawsuit.

2022 study of chemical hair relaxers and potential cancer risk

In October 2022, a study published by the National Institutes of Health in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute looked specifically at the connection between using certain hair products and the risk of uterine cancer.

Researchers examined data from 33,000 patients aged 35 and 70 over 10 years. They found that frequent users of hair relaxers (people who had used hair relaxers four or more times in the previous year) had an increased risk of developing uterine cancer. In fact, their risk of developing cancer was more than twice that of patients who did not use hair straighteners.

The study also examined other hair products (including permanent hair dye, bleach, and highlights) and found no significant associations between their use and the incidence of uterine cancer.

Earlier studies had demonstrated a link between hair relaxers and increased risk of fibroids, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer, as well as lower levels of androgens, estrogens, and progestins and earlier first periods. This study, however, was the first to show a strong link between relaxers and uterine cancer.

We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%,” said Dr. Alexandra White, lead author of the study and head of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and Cancer Epidemiology group. “This doubling rate is concerning.

White noted that uterine cancer is still a relatively rare type of cancer. However, the association is significant given the higher death rates from uterine cancer in Black women. Uterine cancer accounts for about 3% of all new cancer cases but is the most common gynecologic cancer. In 2022, there were more than 65,000 estimated new cases.

Plaintiffs across the country bring hair relaxer lawsuits against manufacturers of chemical hair straightening products

Since the release of the National Institutes of Health study in 2022, more than 100 plaintiffs have filed hair relaxer lawsuits. Chicago-based Jenny Mitchell was one of the first to file a hair relaxer lawsuit against the defendants, and her story is familiar to many who have filed hair relaxer cases since then.

According to her uterine cancer lawsuit, she developed the disease at age 32 and underwent a full hysterectomy. Now unable to have children, she is seeking justice from the manufacturers of the hair relaxers she used.

As of February 2023, more than 50 hair relaxer cancer lawsuits have been filed nationwide. These cases were pending in 19 districts, including New York, Ohio, Illinois, Georgia, Missouri, and California. The active hair relaxer cancer lawsuits were consolidated that month in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois. US District Judge Mary Rowland will oversee the proceedings.

Who are the defendants in the hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuit?

The company with the largest alleged involvement in the hair relaxer lawsuits is L’Oréal. Some of their products and those manufactured by subsidiaries like SoftSheen-Carson have been named in the hair relaxer lawsuits, including XTenso, Optimum Care, and Dark & Lovely.

Other manufacturers involved in the case include Revlon (with its products Revlon Professional Conditioning Crème Relaxer and Crème of Nature) and Strength of Nature (with Motions and Soft & Beautiful).

In their suits, the plaintiffs allege that the defendants knew the chemical hair relaxers were harmful but that they continued to market them anyway. The cases also claim that the manufacturers deliberately marketed the harmful products to Black women.

Despite the findings of recent studies, L’Oréal has stood by its hair relaxer products so far. In a statement to NBC Chicago, they stated, “We are confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”

The history of chemical hair relaxers

The first chemical hair straightening products were developed by renowned Black inventor Garret Morgan, who also invented the gas mask and an improved traffic light, in 1913. During experiments on sewing machines, he noticed that a chemical solution intended to prevent scorching by the high-speed needles seemed to have straightened the fibers that came in contact with it. After testing the solution on animals and his hair, he established the G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company and began marketing his Hair Refiner Cream.

A February 1933 advertisement for G.A. Morgan’s Hair Refiner Cream. Photograph by the Pittsburgh Courier.

More mass-market hair relaxing products were developed in the second half of the 20th century, including by Dark & Lovely (now owned by L’Oréal) in 1971. These chemical hair relaxers included lyes like sodium hydroxide, which caused damage to hair and scalp.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, companies, including Carson Products, Johnson Products, and Soft Sheen Products, developed new chemical hair relaxer products that utilized other compounds, including calcium hydroxide and guanidine carbonate, rather than lye. Marketed as “no-lye” relaxers, these products were generally less irritating to the scalp but could still result in chemical burns. Customers noticed damage to their hair, thinning, and hair loss with prolonged exposure to the products.

These “gentle” products continue to be aggressively marketed to African American women by companies including Revlon and L’Oréal. Specialty products like Just For Me are targeted specifically at children and advertised as safe and gentle on hair.

Photograph by Pixabay.

How do hair relaxers work?

Each hair strand contains three layers: the core medulla, the cortex, and the protective outer cuticle. The cortex contains most of the hair strand’s mass and the protein bonds that determine its texture.

Hair relaxers break down the disulfide bonds in the cortex, loosening curls and straightening on contact. This effect is permanent on the hair treated, but new growth will maintain the original texture. As a result, many women use hair relaxers regularly to maintain a consistent hairstyle.

The history of hair relaxers and hair discrimination

Historically, Black women have faced extensive scrutiny and discrimination regarding their hair. To succeed in majority-white spaces, many women feel pressure to wear their hair in a style that fits European beauty standards of what “professional” looks like. These styles often require the use of damaging chemical hair relaxer products.

The marketing of hair relaxer products reflects this pressure. Many top-selling chemical hair relaxer brands exclusively feature African-American women on their packaging and advertisements, reinforcing the stigma against natural hair. And the marketing has been widely successful. More than half of Black participants in a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported using their first chemical hair straighteners before age 10 (compared with 1-17% among other groups).

One of the researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Chandra Jackson, also noted that products targeted at Black women often use more harmful chemicals than those marketed to other groups.

“Based on the body of the literature in this area, we know that hair products marketed directly to Black children and women have been shown to contain multiple chemicals associated with disrupting hormones, and these products marketed to Black women have also been shown to have harsher chemical formulations,” Jackson said.

Recent legislation has addressed discrimination due to the texture and style of one’s hair. In February 2023, Minnesota joined a growing number of states that protect against hair discrimination via the CROWN Act. However, many people of color still face social pressures and bigotry for not meeting Eurocentric beauty standards.

In 2020, the global Black hair care market was estimated at $2.5 billion, with relaxers alone accounting for $718 million of that revenue. Prominent chemical hair straightener brands include L’Oréal, Revlon, Godrej Consumer Products, Namaste Labs, IHS Chemicals, and Eastman Chemical.

Common chemical hair relaxer products manufactured and sold in the US

The US is one of the largest markets for hair relaxers, along with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Popular brands sold in the country include Motions, Soft & Beautiful, Crème of Nature, Dark & Lovely, Mizani, ORS, and Optimum Care.

The largest beauty company in the world, L’Oréal, dominates the cosmetics industry. Carson Products and SoftSheen were both large beauty companies owned by African Americans before L’Oréal acquired them in the late 1990s. Under L’Oréal’s management, they continue to sell many chemical hair relaxer products on the market.

Chemical hair straighteners can cause cancer

Although no-lye hair straightening products are marketed as gentle and safe, the chemicals included in the products, including endocrine-disrupting chemicals like DEHP, have been linked to increased risk for several serious health conditions. These include uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine fibroids.

What are endocrine-disrupting chemicals?

The endocrine system manages the body’s hormones through a network of glands and organs. This network helps coordinate various bodily processes, including metabolism, energy, reproduction, development, and responses to stress and mood.

According to research published in Endocrine Reviews, some substances, known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), have been found to “interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action or elimination of natural hormones in the body that are responsible for development, behavior, fertility, and maintenance of homeostasis.”

In other words, EDCs damage hormone regulation and reproductive processes. These disruptions have been linked to health problems, including an increased risk of breast cancer, tumors, birth defects, and developmental disorders. There is broad scientific consensus that EDCs are dangerous, and they have been banned from use in pesticides in the European Union since 2009.

However, many cosmetics products still include EDCs without disclosing them on their labels. In the US, a loophole in the law—intended to protect trade secrets—allows manufacturers to use the term “fragrance” to refer to a mixture of chemicals. The actual identities of these chemicals in products like hair relaxers often do not appear anywhere on the packaging.

As a result, many US cosmetics include EDCs. Chemical hair relaxers, in particular, have been found to contain high concentrations of these agents. Labeled as fragrance or perfume, they can be inhaled when used or absorbed through the skin, especially when chemical hair relaxers cause burns on the scalp.

What is DEHP?

DEHP, or Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate, is a toxic chemical and endocrine disruptor used in 1949 to make plastics more flexible. DEHP is often added in hair products because it creates a gel texture while preserving the products’ scent.

DEHP has been linked with several serious endocrine-related conditions, including uterine and ovarian cancer, breast cancer, abnormal fetal development, uterine fibroids, and infertility.

The Environmental Protection Agency has classified DEHP as a “probable human carcinogen,” as it breaks down quickly in the body and creates harmful metabolites. Countries including Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, the European Union, and the state of California have banned DEHP and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in hair relaxers from cosmetic use. However, manufacturers of chemical hair relaxers in the US continue to use the chemical in their products.

What is uterine cancer?

Uterine cancer is the most common type of gynecologic cancer (any cancer that starts in the female reproductive organs) in the US. In this disease, cancer cells form in the tissue of the uterus. While there are several types of uterine cancer, the two most common are:

Endometrial cancer

The most common subset, it occurs when malignant cells grow in the glands of the endometrium. It varies in severity but is often identified early, increasing the survival rate of diagnosed individuals. Overall, the survival rate is 81%, but for those for whom the cancer is localized to the uterine lining, the survival rate is 95%.

Uterine sarcoma

This disease is much less common and makes up less than 10% of all uterine cancer cases. However, it is often more aggressive than other types of gynecologic cancer. In uterine sarcoma, malignant cells form in the muscles or other tissues of the uterus.

Other less common types of uterine cancer include uterine papillary serous carcinoma, uterine clear cell carcinoma, and uterine carcinosarcoma.

Is uterine cancer the same as endometrial cancer?

Endometrial cancer is a subset of uterine cancer. The endometrium is a mucous layer on the inside of the uterus. It thickens in anticipation of a possible pregnancy and stays in place to help support the placenta if it receives a fertilized egg. If there is no implantation, the endometrium is shed via menstruation.

As the endometrium is part of the uterus, endometrial cancer is one type of uterine cancer. In this disease, malignant (cancer) cells form in the endometrial lining.

Is uterine cancer the same as ovarian or cervical cancer?

Cancers are named after the organ or body part in which they originate. While uterine, ovarian, and cervical cancers are all gynecologic cancers, they are diseases affecting different parts of the reproductive organs.

Uterine cancer starts in the uterus, or womb, the hollow organ where a fetus develops. Conversely, ovarian cancer forms in the ovaries, a pair of glands where eggs form, and hormones are produced. Finally, cervical cancer begins in the cervix, the lower end of the uterus that connects to the vagina. All of these cancers may spread to other body parts if the disease goes untreated.

A diagram of the uterus and nearby organs. Photograph courtesy of the National Cancer Institute.

The use of hair relaxer products has been linked to several gynecologic cancers. However, research has not yet demonstrated an association between hair relaxer use and cervical cancer. As a result, most hair relaxer cancer lawsuits at this time are focused on cases of uterine or ovarian cancer.

Common symptoms of uterine cancer

The following symptoms may indicate gynecologic cancer:

  • Vaginal bleeding or spotting between periods or post-menopause. This is the most common symptom of uterine cancer—about 90% of those diagnosed experience this symptom.
  • Lower abdominal pain or cramping in the pelvis.
  • Bloody or watery discharge.
  • Pain during urination or sexual intercourse.
  • Constipation or difficulty urinating.
  • Unintentional weight loss.

If you have any of these symptoms, the best thing to do is to speak to your doctor. Several other conditions can also cause these symptoms, and your doctor will help you determine the cause and, if necessary, develop a medical treatment plan.

How do you treat uterine cancer?

Treating cancer with surgery

The first treatment for uterine cancer is typically a hysterectomy, a surgery in which all or part of the uterus is removed to prevent the spread of malignant cells. There are three main types of hysterectomies:

  1. Partial hysterectomy: Only the upper part of the uterus is removed, and the cervix is left intact.
  2. Total hysterectomy: The entire uterus, including the cervix, is removed.
  3. Radical hysterectomy: The uterus and cervix are removed, as well as tissue on the sides of the cervix and the upper part of the vagina. Depending on the risk for ovarian cancer, the surgeon may also remove the ovaries and/or the fallopian tubes.

Four types of hysterectomies. BruceBlaus, CC BY-SA via Wikimedia Commons.

After a hysterectomy, regardless of type, pregnancy is no longer possible. Patients will go through early menopause (if they have not gone through menopause already).

The inability to have children after a hysterectomy is difficult for many patients. It is important that the decision to treat uterine cancer via surgery is made in consultation with the patient and doctor. The patient can weigh the risks between other cancer treatments and the consequences of surgery.

Non-surgical treatments

Surgery may be the only treatment needed for people with grade 1 or 2 cancer or whose cancer was diagnosed early. However, several other treatment options may be used in addition to or instead of surgery, including radiation therapy and medical therapies like chemotherapy.

In radiation therapy, high-energy X-rays or other particles destroy cancer cells. This tactic is often, but not always, used after a hysterectomy to ensure no malignant cells remain.

Medical therapies include chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. The best known of these treatments is chemotherapy, which is most common after a hysterectomy or in cases where the cancer returns after treatments. Hormone therapy can be used in tandem with surgery or radiation but can also be useful for patients who cannot undergo other therapies.

Who is most commonly diagnosed with uterine cancer?

Uterine cancer is most common in people over 50 years of age, with the average age of diagnosis at 60 years old. Several other factors, including age, genetics, and medical history, are also associated with higher risk.

While uterine cancer is slightly more common in white women than in women of other races, Black women are more than twice as likely to die of the disease. They are often diagnosed with rarer, more aggressive forms and often at later stages.

Researchers have theorized that inequalities in health care and lack of awareness among providers may be the reason for this disparity. Now, it seems the toxic chemicals in hair relaxers may also play a role.

Research from the National Institutes of Health has indicated a connection between prolonged exposure to hair relaxers and risk of uterine cancer. Individuals who use hair straightening products are more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer than those who do not use these products.

What causes the link between chemical hair relaxers and uterine cancer?

One of the key risk factors for uterine cancer is a hormonal imbalance of estrogen and progesterone and exposure to excess estrogen. Both of these factors depend on the regulation of the endocrine system.

When patients are exposed to EDCs through products like hair relaxers, this negatively impacts the endocrine system and makes it less able to regulate hormones. As a result, the likelihood of uterine cancer increases.

Is there a recall of chemical hair straighteners?

In L’Oréal’s online Code of Ethics, the company states, “When there is a debate about the safety or environmental impact of an ingredient, we monitor this closely and work with our stakeholders to investigate further. If there is a proven or strongly suspected risk, we will stop using it, whatever the cost.”

However, the chemical hair straighteners listed in the hair relaxer lawsuit are still on the market, and their manufacturers, including L’Oréal and its subsidiaries, continue to advertise the hair relaxer products as of May 2023.

The plaintiffs in the hair relaxer cancer lawsuit are not calling for a recall. Instead, they argued that the manufacturers had a duty to warn their customers that the products could cause significant adverse health effects.

Under US law, consumers are entitled to information about the potential risks of a product before they choose to use it. They may still decide that using the product is worth it, but they should be aware of the consequences. If they would have made a different choice about using a product like hair relaxers had they been fully informed, they should be compensated for the physical, emotional, and financial damages caused by that product.

The hair relaxer lawsuits aim to secure those damages for the plaintiffs involved. Through the litigation, Wallace Miller is fighting to hold large companies accountable and obtain compensation for the manufacturer’s negligence victims.

Is there a class action lawsuit for chemical hair straighteners?

Hundreds of new hair relaxer lawsuits have been filed against the defendants over the last three years. However, these cases are filed as mass torts and consolidated under a multi-district litigation (MDL) instead of a hair relaxer class action lawsuit.

Class actions and MDLs are similar in that they are designed to provide an efficient way for many plaintiffs to sue the same defendants simultaneously. But for cases to be consolidated into a class action, they must meet strict requirements, including a common issue or injury among all plaintiffs.

Every plaintiff’s case will differ for personal injury litigations, such as the hair relaxer lawsuits. While the hair relaxer manufacturers alleged to have caused the harm are the same, the medical history, diagnosis, and treatment will differ for each individual.

This means that each mass tort case is an individual litigation. To make the process more efficient for courts, defendants, and plaintiffs, these cases have been grouped into a hair relaxer MDL.

class action lawsuit vs mass tort lawsuit; class action v mass tort; difference between a class action and a mass tort lawsuit

Suppose a global hair relaxer settlement is reached. In that case, each individual hair relaxer lawsuit filed will be divided into tiers to determine the settlement awards based on the severity of the injury. This allows the process to move more quickly and means that each plaintiff in the hair relaxer litigation will receive compensation for their individual circumstances.

Do you qualify to file a chemical hair straightener lawsuit?

Over 100 hair relaxer lawsuits have been filed as of May 2023, and that number is only expected to grow. Many plaintiffs are bringing new hair relaxer lawsuits as part of the ongoing MDL.

You may be entitled to file a hair relaxer lawsuit if you or a loved one:

  • Have a history of regular hair relaxer use (at least four times a year);
  • Have used common hair straightening chemicals named in the litigation, including those by L’Oréal and Revlon; and
  • Have had a diagnosis of uterine or ovarian cancer.

Wallace Miller has a proven track record in these types of cases. We’re prepared to act urgently as we put our legal expertise to work on your behalf.

Contact our office at (312) 261-6193 or use our online questionnaire for a confidential and free consultation. Find out whether you are eligible for the hair relaxer cancer lawsuit in just a few minutes.

Gathering evidence for hair relaxer cancer lawsuits

Evidence is crucial in a successful lawsuit and settlement when we bring a plaintiff’s case against a defendant. When you discuss your potential litigation with us, we will ask about your history of chemical hair relaxer usage, surgeries or treatments, and medical history.

This information helps us evaluate whether we can represent you against the defendants in the toxic hair relaxer cancer lawsuit. If we decide to take on your case, we will request additional confirmation of medical records and your history of chemical straightener usage.

In these cases, plaintiffs rarely need to travel or interact with the courts. Ultimately, it is up to your hair relaxer lawyers to use the evidence you provide to argue your case effectively.

How long should I expect the hair relaxer cancer lawsuit to take?

Mass tort litigations are complicated, and the hair relaxer lawsuits are no different. We are still very early in the overall litigation process, so it is difficult to predict the exact timeline going forward.

However, cases like these take three to five years from initial filings to resolution. If you bring a hair relaxer lawsuit, your lawyer will contact you to update you on the case’s progress.

Wallace Miller is still taking on clients for hair relaxer lawsuits. However, the litigation is developing quickly. The sooner we can discuss your case with you and determine whether you are eligible for the hair straightener lawsuits, the better.

How much do lawyers for hair relaxer lawsuits cost?

Filing a hair relaxer lawsuit with Wallace Miller is free unless we win your case. Our firm relies entirely on the settlement amounts of successful cases to pay our operation fees, so our clients have no out-of-pocket costs.

Get to know Wallace Miller: Fighting for our clients in the hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuit

The hair relaxer lawyers at Wallace Miller are looking into uterine and ovarian cancer cases. If you have been diagnosed with these conditions and used a hair straightener product at least four times a year for several years, you may be eligible for our chemical hair straightener lawsuit.

Left to right: Nicholas P. Kelly, Edward A. Wallace, Molly Condon Wells, Mark R. Miller, Jessica Wieczorkiewicz, Timothy E. Jackson.

If you want to discuss your potential case with us, call our office at 312-261-6193 for a confidential and free consultation. You can also fill out our online questionnaire to evaluate your case in just a few minutes.

Left to right: Nicholas P. Kelly, Edward A. Wallace, Molly Condon Wells, Mark R. Miller, Jessica Wieczorkiewicz, Timothy E. Jackson.When you’re looking for someone to represent you, we know you have many choices. What sets us at Wallace Miller apart is our success track record, ability to handle complex and high-stakes litigation, and commitment to our clients.

We only take on cases that the firm believes in and that we believe we can win. The hair relaxer lawsuit is one of those cases.

Our practice focuses on protecting the rights of victims of negligence and fraud in cases like this. We are often appointed by courts at the state and federal levels to lead national litigation, and our attorneys have obtained ground-breaking verdicts in various cases across the country.

Most importantly, however, we are committed to getting justice for each and every one of the clients we represent.

Learn more about our firm and our team at our website.

Recent hair relaxer cancer lawsuit updates

Since the first hair relaxer lawsuit was filed in October 2022, hundreds of plaintiffs have joined the litigation. As of May 2023, more than 124 plaintiffs are participating in federal hair relaxer lawsuits in the Northern District of Illinois.

The case is currently in the pretrial discovery phase, meaning the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ attorneys are working together to gather case information. After the discovery phase, Judge Rowland will oversee discussions on how best to proceed with the cases and set up a bellwether process. The hair relaxer lawyers will select a few cases that will be tried in the Northern District of Illinois to understand how the overall litigation may proceed.

Contact our office at (312) 261-6193 or use our online questionnaire for a confidential and free consultation and find out whether you can file a new hair relaxer lawsuit in just a few minutes.

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