The allegations in the complaint suggest that this case may be the first of many to come.
L’Oréal Faces Lawsuit Over Hair Straightening Products
The plaintiff is a Missouri woman who received a diagnosis of uterine cancer in 2018. Her cancer led to a full hysterectomy. The plaintiff claims that she has no family history of cancer, including uterine cancer. However, she was a regular user of L’Oréal’s hair straightening products.
The lawsuit claims that the plaintiff’s uterine cancer was “directly and proximately caused” by “regular and prolonged exposure to phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals” present in the L’Oréal hair straightening products the plaintiff used.
Phthalates, also known as “plasticizers,” are included in hair straightening products to create a softer feel. Yet, phthalates have been categorized as “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs) due to their effects on hormone production and circulation within the human body.
The lawsuit also claims that L’Oréal knew about the link as early as 2015. Yet, the company persisted in including the chemical in its hair straightening products. Despite knowing that “phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals” increased the risk of uterine cancer, the lawsuit alleges, L’Oréal ran a “marketing scheme” full of “branding and slogans that reinforce straight hair as the standard.”
Allegations of negligence and fraud appear in the complaint. The complaint also claims that L’Oréal violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act and the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
Links Between Hair Straightening Chemicals and Cancer
A study led by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) followed 33,497 women in the US between ages 35 and 74.
Over 11 years, 378 of the women in the study developed uterine cancer. This group contained a disproportionate number of women who used chemical hair straighteners at least four times a year. The researchers determined that about 1.67% of women who never used hair straighteners developed uterine cancer. For women who used hair straighteners frequently, however, the number jumped to 4.05%.
Physicians diagnosed approximately 65,950 new cases of uterine cancer in the United States in 2022. Yet the rate of uterine cancer has risen in recent years. The rate of uterine cancer among Black women has risen more rapidly than the rate among other racial or ethnic groups and faster than the rate overall.
About 60% of hair-straightener users in the study self-identified as Black women. According to researchers, Black women may be more susceptible to uterine cancer from hair-straightening chemicals because they are more likely to begin using these products at a younger age and to use them more frequently than women in other groups. For example, the plaintiff, in this case, says she began using hair relaxers around age 8. The plaintiff received her uterine cancer diagnosis approximately 20 years later.
The Missouri woman’s lawsuit cites the NIEHS study in its complaint. The lawsuit notes that the information linking hair straightening chemicals and uterine cancer has been publicly available for several years. Other sources have noted that the chemicals in hair straightening products can easily be absorbed through the scalp, especially at sites of chemical burns or abrasions that these products may also cause.
What to Expect From the L’Oréal Litigation
The case, filed in Illinois, seeks certification as a class action on behalf of women who developed uterine cancer after relying on L’Oréal’s hair straightening products. The complaint lists several L’Oréal products alleged to contain cancer-causing chemicals.
Hair straighteners are a commonly-used product, particularly among Black women who constitute approximately 11.4% of the US population. As more women who use hair straighteners and developed uterine cancer or other forms of cancer come forward, this case is likely to become only the first of many similar lawsuits.
The causal link between the chemicals used in hair relaxers and cancer is still under investigation. L’Oréal released a statement in which the company stated that “the recent lawsuits filed against us have no legal merit.” The company emphasized its efforts to evaluate all its products for safety and adherence to applicable regulations. The evidence and expert witnesses relied upon to prove legal causation remains to be seen.