Hair straightener lawsuits mount following government cancer study

Nov 22, 2022

Lawyers have filed at least nine lawsuits against L’Oreal USA Inc and other makers of hair straightener products since last month’s release of a U.S. government study linking frequent use of the products to uterine cancer, according to court records.

The suits, which claim the products caused cancer or other health problems, seek damages to compensate the women for their pain and suffering and economic damages for medical bills and the cost of the products, among other things.

The National Institutes of Health study, released on Oct. 17, found that women who used the products, which contain specific chemicals to permanently straighten textured hair, several times a year were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer. Eight of the lawsuits cite the study’s findings.

Representatives for L’Oreal did not respond to requests for comment, but in a statement posted online after the first lawsuits were filed, the company said it is “confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.” Subsidiaries of L’Oreal and India-based companies Godrej Consumer Products Ltd and Dabur India Ltd are also named as defendants. Representatives of those companies did not respond to requests for comment.

The products have been marketed directly to communities of color, which face pressure to meet eurocentric beauty standards like straight hair, according to Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann of DiCello Levitt, who filed the earliest suit. Another NIH study published earlier this year found that uterine cancer rates are growing in the U.S., and are highest among Black women.

“This is a lifestyle product, where moms are putting this in their babies’ hair,” Debrosse Zimmermann said.

The first person to file a lawsuit is Jennifer Mitchell, of Waynesville, Missouri. Mitchell, who is Black, said she began using hair straighteners at the age of 10 and continued for more than 20 years. By 28, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and had to undergo a hysterectomy, according to her lawsuit, filed Oct. 21 in Chicago federal court.

Jennifer Hoekstra of Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis & Overholtz said her firm first looked into the connection between hair straightening products – also called hair relaxers – and cancer about 15 months ago, but it wasn’t until the NIH study came out that they felt the science was strong enough to file a lawsuit.

On Tuesday, several plaintiffs’ law firms filed a motion to consolidate the cases in Illinois federal court. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation has yet to make a decision on it.

Read the full article at Reuters