Litigation that involves claims that hair relaxers cause uterine cancer and other adverse health effects is gaining traction. Lawsuits state that hair relaxers contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that may account for severe injuries in users. As more individuals file lawsuits nationwide, plaintiffs have filed a motion with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to centralize allegations that consumers developed uterine cancer, breast cancer, fibroids, and other illnesses after using hair relaxers.
Manufacturers Have Sold Hair Relaxers for Decades
The origin of hair relaxers traces all the way back to the early 1900s when Garrett Augustus Morgan accidentally stumbled upon a hair straightening cream. Since then, countless hair care companies, such as L’Oréal, SoftSheen Carson, Strength of Nature, and more, have introduced their own versions of hair relaxers. These cosmetic products aid the user in flattening and straightening their hair through a high pH level and chemicals designed to loosen the user’s natural curl pattern. The cream enters through the hair cuticle and cortex layers of the hair shaft to break apart keratin molecules that give hair its curly appearance.
Hair relaxers are particularly prevalent in the Black community, with many brands marketing to Black women. According to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, approximately 60% of the participants who reported using straighteners in the previous year were Black women.
Cancer Risks Linked to Hair Relaxers
Although manufacturers have advertised their products as safe and effective in smoothening hair, hair relaxers contain certain chemicals that interfere with the body’s normal functions. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a group of highly toxic chemicals that impact the endocrine system, the body’s hormones, nervous system, metabolism, and reproductive system. Hair relaxers contain a certain type of EDC called phthalates, which help the cream stick to and penetrate hair and skin. Another EDC found in hair straighteners is Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate, which, like phthalates, alters the endocrine system and organ function in the body.
A study released in October 2022 analyzed 33,497 U.S. women ages 35-74 for almost 11 years to determine risk factors for breast cancer and other health conditions. The research discovered that women who used hair relaxers, more than four times in the previous year, were more than twice as likely to develop uterine cancer compared to those who did not use the products. Also, the study noted that uterine cancer cases have been on the rise in the United States, particularly among Black women. Therefore, these findings prove especially relevant for Black women who have used hair relaxers.
Hair Relaxer Plaintiffs Request Centralization
On November 15, 2022, plaintiffs filed a motion to consolidate hair relaxer cancer lawsuits. The lawsuits arise out of injuries allegedly caused by prolonged exposure to phthalates and other EDCs in hair relaxers. Given common issues and questions of fact, plaintiffs motioned for the JPML to transfer hair relaxer lawsuits to the Northern District of Illinois. Lawsuits claim manufacturers knew or should have known about the hazardous effects of hair relaxers. Plaintiffs cite several injuries caused by hair relaxers, including:
- Uterine cancer
- Breast cancer
- Uterine fibroids,
- Preterm childbirth delivery
Also, the motion noted there are currently nine cases filed on behalf of thirteen plaintiffs in four different districts, and attorneys expect that those numbers will substantially increase, warranting consolidation. At the next hearing session on January 26, the JPML will hear oral arguments on whether to create the hair relaxer MDL.