A Missouri woman alleges in a lawsuit that her 2018 uterine cancer diagnosis was “directly and proximately” caused by her regular and prolonged exposure to certain chemicals found in L’Oréal, Strength of Nature, Soft Sheen and Dabur hair-straightening and -relaxing products.
The 77-page lawsuit, which is not a proposed class action, was filed in Illinois federal court a little more than a week after the National Cancer Institute on October 17 released a study that found the use of hair-straightening products containing endocrine-disrupting chemicals was associated with a higher risk of uterine cancer—reportedly the first epidemiologic evidence of an association between the use of the products and uterine cancer.
The filing asserts that it is the responsibility of the defendants—L’Oréal USA, Strength of Nature Global, Soft Sheen/Carson, Dabur, and Namaste Laboratories—to assess the safety and efficacy of their cosmetic products, and to warn consumers anytime a health hazard may be associated with a particular item. Here, the lawsuit says, there exists a preponderance of scientific information on the long-term use of hair relaxers, straighteners and dyes that contain certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which should have alerted the companies that their products could be harmful, particularly to women of color.
The suit charges that the defendants’ products—including their Motions, Dark & Lovely, Olive Oil Relaxer and Organic Root Stimulator products—were sold to the public in “an unreasonably dangerous and defective condition” in that they were not labeled with adequate warnings or instructions regarding the increased risk of cancer.
“Had Plaintiff received a warning that the use of the Products would significantly increase her risk of developing uterine cancer, she would not have used them,” the lawsuit asserts, claiming the woman was “injured catastrophically, and was caused severe pain, suffering, infertility” and disability, among other damages.
According to the case, the plaintiff first began using the defendants’ products around 2000, at the age of 10, and used them regularly, keeping them in her hair for the time allotted in the instructions, until March of this year. The woman was diagnosed with uterine cancer in August 2018, at 28 years old, and underwent a full hysterectomy the following month, the lawsuit states. Per the complaint, the plaintiff has no family history of cancer or uterine cancer.
“There was never any indication, on the Products’ packaging or otherwise, that this normal use could and would cause her to develop uterine cancer,” the lawsuit reads.
The suit says that according to some studies, up to 90 percent of Black and Brown women have used hair relaxers and straighteners. Per the case, these products contain hormonally active and carcinogenic compounds, such as phthalates, known to cause endocrine disruption, meaning they interfere with the system that regulates the body’s biological processes. According to the lawsuit, endocrine-disrupting ingredients are not required to be listed separately on product labels and are often broadly lumped into the “fragrance” or “perfume” categories. The use of relaxers tends to begin during childhood years, the suit states, and adolescence is “likely a period of enhanced susceptibility to debilitating conditions resulting from exposure to these chemicals,” the lawsuit reads.
The filing states that the National Cancer Institute’s study found that “an estimated 1.64% of women who never used chemical hair straighteners or relaxers would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70.” For frequent users, the suit says, “that risk more than doubles, increasing to 4.05%.”
The suit says these risks are “more substantial” among Black women, who make up “the overwhelming majority” of those who use hair-straightening and hair-relaxing products, including the defendants’ products.
Similarly, studies have shown a positive correlation between an increased risk of breast cancer and adolescent use of products that modify hair texture—specifically straighteners, perms and dye—in Black women in the U.S., the lawsuit adds.
Other adverse health outcomes linked to endocrine disruptors include pre-term childbirth, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids, the suit states.
The complaint can be found below.
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