Posted by : Ed Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed nationwide over claims that hair relaxers cause cancer and other health concerns. Plaintiffs allege that companies knew their products contained dangerous substances yet marketed and sold them anyway.
In an order from the US Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JMPL), the suits will be consolidated in Chicago federal court before Judge Mary Rowland to streamline the efforts and other pretrial case issues. This means that all federal hair relaxer lawsuits will go to a single federal courthouse.
The defendants include Dabur International Ltd., Godrej Consumer Products, L’Oréal, Namaste Laboratories LLC, and several smaller, non-public companies.
An October 2022 study published by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that women who often used hair relaxers or chemical straighteners were at a higher risk of uterine cancer. Black women may be more affected due to the long-term use of these chemicals.
Study leader Alexandra White from the US National Institute of Environmental Health Safety said in a statement, “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%.”
In the United States, uterine cancer is the most common type of gynecological cancer. After this, ovarian cancer is the second most common type, accounting for almost 20% of gynecological cancers. There have been cases where an individual developed uterine or ovarian cancer and died due to unbearable suffering – often called wrongful death hair relaxer suits.
The Story So Far …
Mass tort powerhouse Diandra Debrosse Zimmermann of DiCello Levitt has filed the first-ever lawsuit on behalf of a 32-year-old Missouri resident Jenny Mitchell, alleging chemical hair straightening products have caused her uterine cancer.
Personal injury attorney Ben Crump from Ben Crump Law, PLLC, and others have also joined the suit that was filed after the NIH study was published.
Diandra Debrosse estimates that thousands of women (of color) could end up suing the companies.
The complainants allege that exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) like phthalates present in hair relaxers caused women to develop ovarian cancer. These EDCs interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system, harm hormonal production, mutate cell DNA, and cause various other health problems.
It is also believed that many unknown ingredients, such as dyes and fragrances hiding in the face of “trade secrets,” can also harm the consumer.
In addition, the way this cosmetic product is intended for Black and Brown communities, it becomes more like an “African-American woman” or “woman of color” issue.
Many such women begin using hair relaxers from a very early age, which makes it even more concerning since the long-term impact of the relaxer on, say, a 6, 8, or 10-year-old can be devastating.
Initiating the conversation about relaxers is of utmost importance. It isn’t just adults who may be suffering. The product is also harming the bodies of young women.
There can be tragic outcomes since little girls and women have to give into this persistent societal pressure to keep up with the beauty standards. Experts mention how there will be generational use of hair relaxers to style hair and fit into reality.
Currently, the criteria for associated lawsuits is “four or more uses of a chemical hair relaxer over a period of 12 months.” This pivotal study makes the basis for the requirements and states the harmful impact of these products, particularly on women of African-American descent.
A body of work has revealed the negative consequences of the toxic chemicals constituting these hair relaxers. The October 2022 study was the last piece to the puzzle required to complete the larger picture.
How Do Hair Relaxers Work?
Hair relaxers, also called chemical hair straighteners, are chemical-based creams or lotions that help straighten tight curls. The texture eventually returns to normal in about 6 to 12 weeks, depending on the hair growth.
However, these relaxers are believed to contain highly corrosive substances like sodium hydroxide that penetrate the cuticle and cortex layers leaving the hair brittle and prone to serious damage. It can cause permanent damage to the hair shaft and skin on the scalp.
The product is applied to the base of the hair shaft, where it works to alter the protein structure of the hair and smoothens the hair. Once new hair growth begins, more product is applied, calling it “retouching.”
So, on average, women have been persistently using hair relaxers to retouch every 6 to 12 weeks and flatten their curls. The product has a high-PH value, which helps break down the keratin proteins found in hair, relaxing the hair.
Since these are formulated as thick emulsions for tight curls common in African American women, they’re the most vulnerable to damage. However, all hair sharing the said characteristics and molecular structure can benefit from relaxers (with mild use). But the many chemicals that make up the product can also be highly damaging, as we’ve seen in recent lawsuits.
The Timeline of Hair Relaxer and Uterine Cancer Cases
October 2022: The first-ever hair relaxer case was filed at the end of October ‘22. Since then, multiple other personal injury lawsuits have been brought nationwide, stating hair relaxer causes cancer.
November 2022: Many other class action cases have also been filed with JPML. All cases claim a hair relaxer and ovarian cancer connection, further stating that the toxic chemicals cause lesions and burns and thus have easy access into the body. A group of attorneys requested to consolidate the hair relaxer lawsuits into a new class action MDL.
Another case was filed in Michigan seeking medical monitoring program for women who’ve been ardent users of this product over the years. The plaintiffs, in this case, seek no monetary damages but for health monitoring measures to be put in place so as to allow for early medical intervention.
Many personal injury and product liability attorneys are first fighting for those directly suffering due to relaxers and not those who may be at risk one day. While a medical monitoring class action would be worthwhile, that’s another level battle.
So far, L’Oréal is the only big name on the list of defendants. Experts expect many other deep-pocket defendants like Proctor & Gamble and Unilever to be involved in the upcoming hair relaxer cancer litigations.
December 2022: We have seen hair relaxer and ovarian cancer cases so far. In December 2022, we saw the first case involving injuries. The plaintiff claimed she developed uterine fibroids at the age of 22. She’d been using hair relaxers since she was 6. She underwent a critical fibroids removal surgery and developed uterine fibroids again after eight years.
The next day, on December 9, L’Oréal filed a response arguing that the consolidation of cases in Illinois is inappropriate and that the most suitable forum would be the Southern District of New York, where the company is headquartered.
Another case was filed by an Ohio resident alleging that she’s been using the product since she was 15 (in 1973). The suit names L’Oréal, Strength of Nature LLC, and Godrej Consumer Products Ltd., and the plaintiff claims to have developed uterine cancer at the age of 52 in 2010.
Just before Christmas, another uterine cancer lawsuit came to the fore against L’Oréal (that makes Dark & Lovely and Optimum), Strength of Nature (that manufactures Motions and Just For Me), and Namaste Laboratories LLC (that produces the ORS line of hair relaxers).
January 2023: The litigations were continuously growing, with several suits filed in different federal courts. It was estimated that thousands of cases would be filed until the JPML class action hearing announced its judgment on consolidating hair relaxer cases.
Since the New Year, many cases have been filed in different federal district courts, including:
- The Eastern District of Michigan
- The Eastern District of Louisiana
- The Western District of Missouri
- The Northern District of Ohio
- The Central District of California
February 2023: Sometime in Feb, the JMPL was expected to consolidate the cases, hopefully in a class action lawsuit in Chicago. Meanwhile, another dozen of cases were brought about in the:
- District of Maryland
- Southern District of Illinois
- Western District of Washington
- Western District of Missouri
- Central District of California
In other news, even EPA came forward with plans to regulate the use of phthalates, particularly DINP, that allegedly cause ovarian cancer.
Another big announcement – on February 6 – MDL Panel agreed to have a hair relaxer class action lawsuit with Illinois being the appropriate venue.
An order has been issued, and the new MDL starts with around 60 pending cases. The mass tort has been assigned to Judge Mary Rowland, who was a former Magistrate Judge during the Trump administration.
As of February 27, cases have constantly been pouring in. They will all be transferred to the new hair relaxer MDL for further action.
We’ve been consistently watching the updates unfolding in the hair relaxer lawsuits. As more knowledge surfaces, we’ll likely see more cases in the coming months.
The Bottom Line
Hair relaxers cause cancer. These contain hormonally active compounds, which are mandated to be listed individually but are often classified under the fragrance category.
Plaintiffs in the hair relaxer lawsuits allege that companies knew what they were dealing with and what they were putting their consumers through. Thus, they’re now liable for general negligence, failure to warn, and strict liability.
Many studies have linked phthalates and increased cancer risk, proving that defendants have been aware of the association. With recent research, it is evident that lye-based chemical hair straightener causes cancer of the following types:
- Uterine Cancer (Endometrial carcinoma)
- Endometriosis or endometrial cancer
- Breast Cancer
- Uterine Fibroids and Tumors
Personal injury and product liability lawyers are talking up cases where women have been impacted by chemical hair relaxers, whether applied at home or by a professional, and account for frequent uses with no family history of the above types of cancer.
Join the Hair Relaxer Lawsuits – Expand Your Practice with ZeroRisk Cases
New studies reveal that hair relaxers and ovarian cancer have a major link. Many lawsuits are emerging to seek years of physical and psychological damage. The toxic chemicals in this cosmetic product aren’t just causing physical harm but are also responsible for wrongful deaths. We expect ovarian or uterine cancer cases and hair relaxer wrongful death claims to be in the top settlement tier.
The hair relaxer litigation is still at the initial stage. Also, there’s no settlement paid yet. But we can expect substantial developments in the future.
- Medical expenses
- Loss of income
- Loss of companionship
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Pain and suffering
- Wrongful death
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Descendant’s pain and suffering before death
- Family’s grief due to the untimely death of a loved one
Attorneys can learn more about hair relaxer litigation and other mass torts at ZeroRisk Cases®.
If you’re also looking to join the wagon and expand your practice, we can help you get started. Call 833-937-6747 to connect with one of our representatives and gain more qualified business. You can also fill out this form, and we’ll get back to you shortly.
Hair relaxers have been around for decades. Women from all around the world have been using them since their adolescent years and suffering unknowingly. While we connect you to them, you can help them connect to the freedom, future, and compensation they deserve!
Ed Lott, Ph.D., M.B.A.
President and Managing Partner
Call 833-ZERORISK (833-937-6747) ext 5
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