United States

They were diagnosed with uterine cancer and tumors. Now they’re suing the makers of chemical hair straighteners.

Hair products such as dye and chemical straighteners/relaxers contain a number of chemicals that may act as carcinogens or endocrine disruptors and thus may be important for cancer risk, White said. Straighteners in particular have been found to include chemicals such as phthalates, parabens, cyclosiloxanes and metals and may release formaldehyde when heated, she said. L’Oréal did not return a request for comment as to whether its products could or did include these ingredients. The researchers did not collect information on brands or ingredients in the hair products the women used.

Rates of uterine cancer are still relatively low, accounting for 3.4% of estimated new cancer cases this year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Rates of uterine cancer in the U.S. have been increasing, however, especially among Black women. White said the study showed Black women were disproportionately more likely to use hair straighteners. The study found that 1.64% of women who never used chemical hair straighteners or relaxers would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70, and for frequent users, that risk more than doubles, increasing to 4.05%.

In a statement, L’Oréal said it is “confident in the safety of our products and believe the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.”

“L’Oréal upholds the highest standards of safety for all its products,” the company said. “Our products are subject to a rigorous scientific evaluation of their safety by experts who also ensure that we follow strictly all regulations in every market in which we operate.”

L’Oréal also shared a statement from the Personal Care Products Council, a national trade association representing cosmetics and personal care products companies, in response to the study, stating that the study did not prove that the products or their ingredients directly caused uterine cancer. It also states that all cosmetics products and their ingredients, including hair straighteners and relaxers, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The other companies named in the lawsuits did not return requests for comment. The women are seeking compensatory damages, as well as payment for medical bills, attorneys fees and other expenses.

Rugieyatu Bhonopha, 39, of Vallejo, California, and Jenny Mitchell, 32, a Missouri resident whose plans to have children were dashed when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at 28 and underwent a hysterectomy, both have filed lawsuits. They, like the other women, said they used chemical hair straighteners because they felt societal pressure — including from employers — to wear their hair straight and to try to meet white beauty standards. This has changed over time as more women embrace their natural hair textures and wear natural hairstyles.

“I have to worry about whether or not I’m going to get it again, if it’s going to come back in a different form,” Mitchell said. “Once you have uterine cancer, you can be more susceptible to colon cancer or to breast cancer. A lot of people don’t know that.”

Bhonopha, whose lawsuit was filed Oct. 21, believes her fibroids were directly caused by her regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals found in the hair care products she used. 

“It’s a hard thing to have to come to the realization that you’re dealing with fibroids, pregnancy loss,” she said. “And you had no inkling that these products were dangerous, you didn’t know that any of these harmful products were in it. Obviously, you wouldn’t have used them if you knew.”

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is also representing Mitchell and Gordon, said the lawsuits are about bringing awareness and getting these products off of store shelves.

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