Findings from a study carried out in 2022 by US National Institutes of Health (NIH) researchers found a connection between using hair straightening chemicals and uterine and ovarian cancer. According to various studies, hair relaxing products contain carcinogenic components that interfere with female reproductive hormones, putting one at a higher risk of cancer. These products also increase the risk of breast cancer, fibroids, and endometriosis.
The publication of this study resulted in class action lawsuits against hair product manufacturers by women suffering from uterine/ovarian cancers, fibroids, and endometriosis. The hair relaxer mass torts lawyers from Stephens & Stephens can help you get compensation for the harm done to you.
The Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit
Following the publication of the sister study in October 2022, a wave of hair relaxer product liability lawsuits arose against manufacturers in federal courts across the country. The plaintiffs in these cases are long-term hair relaxer users diagnosed with uterine cancer, endometriosis, and fibroids. Companies named in this lawsuit are being accused of negligence in design and failure to warn their consumers of the adverse effects of their products. Most of the cases filed are for uterine cancer. The plaintiffs allege the companies were aware that their products contained dangerous chemicals but marketed and sold them regardless.
The defendants, who are lead hair relaxer manufacturers, including
- L’Oreal, which manufactures Dark & Lovely and other brands
- SoftSheen Carson
- Strength of Nature
- Luster Smooth Touch
January 2024 Hair relaxer lawsuit updates
The Black Women’s Health Study published in December 2023 involving 44,798 black women diagnosed with uterine cancer between 1997 and 2019 indicates a strong link between hair relaxers and uterine cancer for women who used hair relaxers more than five times a year for 15 years.
As of January 2024, there were over 8,000 hair relaxer cases in the MDL. The proposed deadline for submitting the bellwether trial list is 1st February 2024. The initial bellwether trial for hair relaxer lawsuits is scheduled for November 3, 2025, and the second trial February 2, 2026. The bellwether includes cases of ovarian, endometrial, and uterine cancers. Other proposed deadlines include:
- The selection of initial bellwether discovery cases for July 15, 2024
- Completion of core discovery for November 15, 2024
- Plaintiffs expert reports for March 2025
- Defendant expert reports – April 2025
- Plaintiff to disclose rebuttal expert reports – May 2025
- Expert witness depositions July 2025
In November 2022, the plaintiffs filed a motion with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) to consolidate their lawsuits into a new class action MDL. The defendants, in their filed response, strongly opposed this consolidation.
In February 2023, the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation ordered the hair relaxer lawsuits to be consolidated in Chicago federal court presided by US District Judge Mary Rowland. According to this order, the consolidation would help streamline discovery efforts and other pretrial issues.
Earlier, L’Oreal had reinstated its confidence in the safety of its products, dismissing the cases as having no legal merit.
In May 2023, Revlon Group Holdings, which is a defendant in the hair relaxer lawsuit said it exited bankruptcy with $1.5 billion in debt and $236 million liquidity. It plans to raise $670 million by selling new equity shares.
Revlon had filed for bankruptcy before the plaintiffs began filing hair relaxer lawsuits. The bankruptcy stay has protected the company from lawsuits, but it might still have to take up liability. Consequently, the hair relaxers MDL plaintiff’s steering committee (PSC) provided Judge Rowland with an update on the bankruptcy claim. It also filed a claim in the bankruptcy proceedings for all the potential Revlon plaintiffs to be factored in the company’s bankruptcy plan for compensation.
Towards the end of March, the MDL in the Northern District of Illinois Chicago ordered for direct filing of a hair lawsuit in the class action. The court’s decision allowing plaintiffs to file their lawsuits directly in the hair relaxer class action MDL has witnessed an increase in the cases filed over March 2023. This meant that plaintiffs did not have to file their claims in their home states and await the courts to transfer them. Also, these lawsuits must use specific titles stating where they would have otherwise been filed. Once pretrial proceedings commence, a bellwether is determined, and there is no global settlement, the individual claims will be returned to their courts of origin.
As of April 2023, new cases were filed against hair relaxer manufacturers, with over 200 pending cases nationwide. Most of the lawsuits are being consolidated in the MDL.
Also, in November 2022, a new type of class action was filed in Michigan federal court seeking cosmetic companies to be forced to pay for a medical monitoring program for women at risk of harm by chemical hair straighteners. This lawsuit seeks regular medical checks and tests for potential health problems for women using hair relaxers without symptoms.
In May 2023, Judge Mary Rowland issued an order clarifying some issues regarding the direct filing of cases to the hair relaxer MDL. This order directs new cases to be filed separately in the Northern District of Illinois and each case gets its special number. Also, indicate on the cover sheet the connection of the case to the MDL, mention Judge Mary Rowland, and the master docket number 23 CV 0818. Finally, attorneys filing these cases should make sure they use the format and requirements provided in the Direct Filing Order and Case Management Order No. 2.
Hair Relaxer Class Action Status Conferences hearings will be held at 1300hrs (CT) on May 31, June 7, August 23, October 4, and November 17, 2023, at 219 South Dearborn Street in Chicago, in Courtroom 1225.
The court is working towards the development of a master compliant that is expected to give rise to a short form complaint for more efficient filig of claims. A master complaint includes all allegationsand evidence related to the cases.
Those eligible should meet the following conditions:
- Women who have used a hair relaxer for seven to ten years, three or more times a year.
- Also, diagnosed with cancer of the uterus, ovaries, endometriosis, or fibroids before the age of 70. experts believe there is a stronger link between the use of hair relaxers and uterine cancer, type one endometrial cancer and non-serous ovarian cancer.
A case scenario (Mitchell v. L’Oreal, et al.) filed in federal court in Chicago
The plaintiff, Jenny Mitchell, a Missouri resident, started using hair relaxers at age 10. She used the product every six to eight weeks for 18 years, and in 2018, she was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 28. The plaintiff alleges that the manufacturer knew of the product’s chemicals’ potential cancer risk and should have warned users.
How do I join the hair relaxer class action lawsuit?
If you suspect your use of hair relaxer product could have contributed to any of these illnesses, reach out to us, and our experienced attorneys will review your case, provide you with options and guide you on the next course of action.
Why do you need an attorney for the hair relaxer lawsuit?
Our lawyers will discuss the details of your case and ask questions regarding your use of hair relaxers and their adverse effects on your health to determine if you are eligible for a claim.
You also need help from a legal professional to draft and file a complaint to the appropriate court. This formal document outlines your allegations against the hair relaxer manufacturer and how they acted in negligence, contributing to your health problems.
An attorney will also help you gather evidence important for your case. Strong evidence is critical in winning a product liability lawsuit. For the hair relaxer lawsuit, you need to strongly demonstrate that the hair relaxer was the cause of your health condition. And also, highlight that the company was negligent, causing your injury.
Some of the critical hair relaxer lawsuit evidence includes:
- Documents related to the use of specific hair relaxers, such as receipts
- Medical records of your illness include test results, treatment plans, diagnosis, and doctor’s notes.
- Packaging of products you might have used
- Expert testimonials from medical professionals to provide information on the link between hair relaxing products and cancer, endometriosis, or fibroids
- Any relevant images that could help as evidence
What is a hair relaxer?
Hair relaxers or straighteners are chemical hair products often used by black women to straighten and flatten their hair. These products penetrate the cuticle and cortex layers loosening the natural hair pattern. Hair relaxers contain sodium, lithium, and potassium metal ions, which combine with oxygen and hydrogen forming their hydroxides. That are sodium hydroxide, lithium hydroxide, and potassium hydroxide. These hydroxides make up the active ingredients of hair straighteners.
Sodium hydroxide relaxers, or lye relaxers, are the most common and widely preferred because they break hair bonds quickly. No-lye relaxers contain guanidine carbonate and calcium hydroxide as the main ingredients. There are also “thio” relaxers containing thioglycolic acid salts as active ingredients. During application, hair relaxers can cause burns and lesions on the scalp causing the components to enter the body system.
Most hair straightening products also contain other hormonally active compounds known as phthalates. All popular fragrances tested in 2002 were found to contain phthalates. These are sometimes listed as perfume or fragrance but are harmful carcinogenic compounds. Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin or inhalation. In the human body, they have estrogen effects.
Details of the hair relaxer uterine cancer study
The uterine cancer-hair products study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), under the National Institutes of Health, was published on October 17, 2022, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. This research sought to establish the link between hair products and uterine cancer. It involved 33,497 participants aged 35 to 74 years from the sister study, aimed at establishing the risk factors for breast cancer, among other health conditions.
In this study, the women were monitored for 11 years, during which 378 cases of uterine cancer were diagnosed. It was discovered that women who used hair straightening products at least four times the previous year were more than twice likely to develop uterine cancer. There was no connection between uterine cancer and other hair products such as hair dyes, perms, highlights, and bleach.
According to this study, 1.64% of women without a history of using hair relaxers develop uterine cancer by age 70. Hair straightening users’ risk of developing uterine cancer is 4.05%, more than two times higher than non-users.
Uterine cancer, the most common female reproductive system type of cancer, accounts for 3% of cancer cases diagnosed in the US and is on the rise among black women. It is important to note that 60% of women who used hair relaxers in this study were black. The increased use of hair straightening products among black women puts them at a higher risk of uterine cancer. Researchers also attributed this increased risk to the more frequent use of hair products from early ages among black girls compared to other ethnicities.
Prior studies have shown the link between the use of hair relaxers and permanent dye and female hormone-related cancer, including breast and ovarian cancer.
Some uterine cancer-causing chemicals in hair straightening products include parabens, bisphenol A, metals, and formaldehyde. Also, open skin from burns and lesions caused by these chemicals on the scalp increases its absorption in the body. This increases their risk for cancer originating from hair relaxers compared to other personal care products.
Hair relaxers and breast cancer
Evidence from Black Women’s Health Study published on May 20, 2021, suggests that heavy use of lye-based hair straightening products may be linked to a higher risk of estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer among black women. However, as reported in this study, there appears to be no connection between breast cancer and hair relaxers.
This Boston University study began in 1995, involving 59,000 black women for over 25 years. Researchers send questionnaires to all the women every two years, gathering data on their health, new diagnoses, and contributing lifestyle factors.
Another team of epidemiologists at Oxford University used the same data from the Black Women’s Health Study. It concluded that black women who used lye-based hair relaxers at least seven times a year for fifteen years were at a 30% increased risk of estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. As evident in both studies, the risk of breast cancer increases with the frequency of lye-based hair relaxers. The study also indicated that 20% of the participants were heavy users of lye-based relaxers.
Hair Relaxers and aggressive breast cancer in black women
The risk of developing breast cancer in a woman’s lifetime is the same across all races. However, black women are often diagnosed at younger ages and with more aggressive types of breast cancer, such as triple-negative. Also, the death rates of black women from breast cancer are higher than those of other races.
About 10 to 12 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses are triple-negative. Triple-negative is estrogen-receptor-negative and progesterone-receptor-negative, HER2-negative, and more aggressive disease. This type of breast cancer is not caused by estrogen and progesterone hormones and thus cannot be treated with hormonal therapies targeting HER2 receptors.
Hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer and hormones in hair products
Studies from the Black Women’s Health Study show an increased risk of developing hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer (ER+ breast cancer) for heavy users of hair relaxers. This type of cancer develops and grows from excess estrogen. Black women frequently use hair relaxers and conditioners, which often contain hormones and hormone disrupters such as estrogen and other chemicals that mimic hormones. These hormones affect the functioning of hormones in the body by blocking or mimicking them, setting off the hormonal balance. Researchers believe the hormones in lye hair products could contribute to the increased risk of developing breast cancer. No study has linked the use of non-lye hair products with breast cancer.
The link between hair relaxers and endometriosis
The endometrium is a special tissue that lines up the uterus. The tissue sheds monthly, a process known as the menstrual cycle. In cases of endometriosis, endometrial tissue begins to grow outside the uterus and on other parts of the reproductive system, such as the fallopian tubes and ovaries. This abnormal growth doesn’t shed monthly. Instead, it keeps growing, causing inflammation, scarring, and pain. Depending on the severity of the condition, it can be treated through surgery and medical therapies.
The chemical in hair relaxers also interferes with estrogen production and functioning, leading to endometriosis and infertility in women. Endocrine disrupters and phthalates contained in hair relaxers interfere with the user’s endocrine system, resulting in hormone imbalances in women.
Also, studies carried out for over ten years have shown that phthalates such as DEHP in hair relaxers increase the risk of endometriosis. Blood tests of women with endometriosis have shown higher DEHP concentrations than those without the condition. This compound increases the activity and volume of the endometrial stromal cells, which is a risk factor and endometriosis precondition.
A study published in 2013 involving 500 women from various states showed that DEHP’s metabolite MEHP was the only phthalate consistently linked with endometriosis.
Endometriosis’s primary symptom is pain around the pelvic region and excessive bleeding, often similar to menstruation but more severe. The condition can also lead to infertility, with 25% to 50% of women with endometriosis having fertility problems. The risk of infertility for women with endometriosis is 20 times that of women without this condition. In such cases, the tissues would have to be removed surgically for the woman to conceive.
Hair straightening chemicals and fibroids
Uterine fibroids, or uterine leiomyomata, are benign growths in the uterus. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology indicates that women who regularly used hair-relaxing chemicals had a significantly increased risk of developing uterine fibroids. According to this study, 80% of black women and 70% of white women develop fibroids by age 50. Some fibroids can cause symptoms such as excessive bleeding, frequent urination, pain, miscarriages, and fertility problems.
What is the expected settlement value for hair relaxer lawsuits?
Assuming that the hair relaxer lawsuits are successful in court, we speculate settlement values of $100,000 to $1,500,000, depending on the ages of the plaintiff and the nature of the illness. These estimations are based on the history of other similar product liability payouts in the country.