Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuit

Our lawyers are reviewing hair relaxer lawsuits in all 50 states.  Our focus is on

Our law firm is concentrating our efforts on:

  • Dark & Lovely, etc., (L’Oréal, the biggest defendant, a company worth nearly $200 billion)
  • Just for Me ( TCB Naturals/Godrej Consumer Products)
  • Cantu Shea Butter Relaxer (Cantu Beauty/PDC Wellness & Personal Care)

Our attorneys are also reviewing chemical hair straightener lawsuits involving ORS Olive Oil, Optimum Salon, and other hair perms and hair straightener products.

November 2022 Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit Update

November 21, 2022: Medical Monitoring Class Action Sought

A new hair relaxer class action lawsuit was filed last week in Michigan seeking to establish a medical monitoring program for women who have used chemical hair relaxer products for many years.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of plaintiffs who allege that they (and thousands of other women) are now at increased risk of cancer due to their use of the defendants’ hair relaxer products. Instead of money damages, this lawsuit seeks to force the defendants to pay for a program that will monitor the health of members of the plaintiff class in the hopes of intervening with early medical treatment. This medical monitoring case comes in the same week that the JPML was asked to consolidate the hair relaxer cancer cases into a new MDL class action.

This lawsuit may have merit.  Are our hair relaxer lawyers involved in these cases?  We are not.  Our focus is on women who have been harmed by hair relaxers, not people that will maybe one day be harmed.  There is a big difference.  So many women have been harmed – many more than our attorneys predicted when we first got involved.  So while a medical monitoring class action may have merit, our battle is for those women who have really suffered from these chemicals that never should have been in hair relaxers.

November 16, 2022: New Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit Sought

November 15, 2022, lawyers representing a group of plaintiffs who have filed hair relaxer cancer lawsuits filed a motion with the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) requesting consolidation of the hair relaxer lawsuits into a new, class action lawsuit.

The motion notes that there are nine hair relaxer cases involving thirteen individual plaintiffs pending in four different federal district courts. All of the cases allege that hair relaxer products caused uterine cancer.  The motion also points out that we have long known that hair relaxers cause burns that give these toxic chemicals an easy path to the body.

The motion requests that the MDL be assigned to Judge Mary Rowland in the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago). The defendants named in the motion include L’Oreal USA, Inc. and a handful of smaller, non-public companies. The defendants will most likely agree to the class action – there will be so many hair relaxer lawsuits filed in the next few months –  but will probably request an alternative venue that they view as more favorable than Chicago.

What would be a jury pool more favorable to defendants?  I’ll say it out loud.  Defendants in these kind of cases prefer jurisdictions that have fewer Black people on the jury.  The federal court in Chicago would be fair to plaintiffs and defendants.

New Hair Relaxer Lawsuit

A product liability lawsuit was filed last week against cosmetic company L’Oreal. It is the first of many hair relaxer cancer lawsuits that will be filed.  The suit alleges that chemicals in the company’s hair relaxer products caused uterine cancer. This lawsuit and others like it may pave the way for a hair relaxer class action that alleges these products cause uterine cancer.

In this post, we will look at the allegations in this in this suit, including the scientific evidence on causation.  Our attorneys also discuss the likelihood of more hair-relaxer lawsuits and what the potential per person settlement amounts for a chemical hair straightener lawsuit might be.

Hair Relaxer Products

Hair relaxers are a group of cosmetic products that are primarily used by African American women to relax, flatten and straighten their hair.

All hair, regardless of ethnic origin, shares common characteristics in its chemical makeup and molecular structure. The hair shaft, lying in the center and growing up through the follicle, emerges from the scalp as threadlike structures. These hair fibers are each composed of three distinct regions: the cuticle, and the outermost area consisting of lamellar layers of structural tissue. The cortex, the inner area comprising the bulk of the fiber, and the medulla (the innermost area lying at the center of the fiber).

High PH Systems

Hair relaxers are high-pH systems containing a strong alkali and are formulated as thick cream emulsions. Chemical hair relaxers are applied to the base of the hair and left in place for a “cooking” interval.  The bonds found in the hair are located within the keratin proteins. The most important type of bond found in the hair is the disulfide bond, also known as the cysteine bond.

Keratin is very sensitive to increases or decreases in the hydrogen ion concentration (or pH) of its environment. Although it is relatively resistant to the action of acids, keratin can be broken down by high-pH alkali solutions. This property is precisely what is exploited during relaxing.

How Hair Relaxers Work

The chemicals in hair relaxers are applied to the base of the hair shaft.  After the marination period, the hair relaxer changes the hair’s texture by compromising the hair’s protein structure. The effect of this protein damage straightens and smooths the hair.

After a period of weeks (4 – 8 weeks on average), depending on the hair’s natural growth rate, the treated portion of the hair grows away from the scalp as new growth sprouts from the roots, requiring additional relaxer treatment to smooth the roots.

These additional treatments are colloquially referred to in the community as “re-touches”, resulting in women relaxing their new growth every four to eight weeks on average, usually for decades.

The application loosens the hair’s tight curls and removes its kinkiness through a chemical reaction that breaks the disulfide bonds in the hair.  This potent mix of chemicals in the products attacks the protein structure of the hair causing it to flatten.

L’oreal Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Filed in Federal Court

On October 21, 2022, the first hair straightener lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in Chicago (Mitchell v. L’Oreal, et al. – 1:22-cv-5815). The plaintiff, Jenny Mitchell, is a Missouri resident who used chemical hair relaxers her entire life.

Several different cosmetic companies, each with its own brand of hair relaxer, are named as defendants in this hair relaxer lawsuit. The most notable of these defendants is L’Oreal. The chemical hair relaxer products manufactured by these defendants and used by the plaintiff include Dark & Lovely, Motions, Organic Root Stimulator, and Olive Oil Relaxer.

Plaintiff’s Use of Hair Relaxing Products

The hair relaxers lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff, Jenny Mitchell, first began using chemical hair relaxer products in 2000, when she was 10 years old. Mitchell would either apply at-home straightener products herself or have them applied at a salon. She did this in regular intervals of no longer than 2 months.

In August 2018, Mitchell was diagnosed with uterine cancer at the age of 28. Mitchell underwent a full hysterectomy and continues to receive regular treatment and care. She had no family history of cancer.

Causes of Action Against the Defendants

Mitchell’s suit asserts several different causes of action against the defendants. Her primary theories of liability are failure to warn and defective design. These claims are based on the underlying allegation that the defendants knew or should have known that the chemicals in their products could cause uterine cancer, but they failed to warn about this risk.  Every hair relaxer lawsuit will allege that L’Oreal, Revlon Strength of Nature, Namaste, and other hair relaxer manufacturers should have disclosed the toxic ingredients on their ingredient labels and warned women about the risk of uterine cancer and other injuries from using their products.

EDCs and Phthalates in Hair Relaxer

According to the Complaint in the Mitchell case, hair relaxer products are known to contain very high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (“EDCs”). EDCs are chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system and interfere with hormone receptors.

The other problematic chemical in hair relaxers is phthalates. Phthalates often called “plasticizers,” are a type of chemicals that are used to help make certain plastics more durable. Phthalates are commonly used in a wide variety of cosmetic products, including chemical hair relaxer. Phthalates are EDCs that are known to interfere with natural hormone production.

DEHP

The hair relaxer products manufactured by the defendants all contained phthalates, including Di-2- ethyl hexyl phthalate (“DEHP”). DEHP is a highly toxic manufactured chemical. It is not found naturally in the environment.

DEHP is considered a carcinogen. It is known to cause significant adverse-health effects including endometriosis, developmental abnormalities, reproductive dysfunction and infertility, and various cancers.

Other chemicals in hair straightening products include formaldehyde and parabens.  Which of these toxins in hair relaxers most contribute to causing cancer?  We are still figuring that out.

Why use these chemicals in hair relaxers?  It works and it is cheap.  Every Dark & Lovely lawsuit and other hair relaxer lawsuits will allege the manufacturer knew of the risks. Yet they did nothing to prevent these women from getting cancer because it was cheaper and easier to use cancer-causing chemicals.  If this is the evidence that a jury hears at trial, you will see large jury payouts that will ultimately lead to a significant class action hair relaxer settlement.

Lack of Federal Oversight

Making matters worse, the government provides little control over chemicals used for perms and hair straighteners.  Yes, the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act requires an ingredient declaration on cosmetic products.  But the FDA is not minding the store.  Compounding the problem, there is no law requiring the listing of the individual fragrance or flavors, or ingredients. So potentially cancer-causing phthalates are not listed as long as they are combined with a fragrance.  It is ridiculous and hair relaxer lawsuits might be a catalyst for a change in the law.  Until then, consumers do not know the ingredient declaration if phthalates are in the product they are using.

Uterine Cancer

There are two different types of uterine cancer: endometrial and sarcoma. Endometrial uterine cancer is much more common and more treatable. The sarcoma type of uterine cancer is less common, but it is much more aggressive and difficult to treat.

Uterine cancer is a relatively common type of cancer. Around 65,000 new cases of uterine cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S. This equates to around 3.5% of all new cancer cases annually. Around 12,500 women died from uterine cancer each year, which accounts for about 2% of cancer-related deaths.

The overall 5-year survival rate for uterine cancer is comparatively high at 81%. However, the sarcoma type of uterine cancer is much more aggressive and has a lower survival rate.

Uterine cancer has long been assumed to be caused by phthalate metabolites found in hair perms and relaxer products.

Connection Between Uterine Cancer and Hair Relaxers

The hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuit in Mitchell alleges that “uterine cancer is associated with phthalate metabolites found in hair care products.” Uterine cancer is the 4th most common type of cancer in women. The incidence rate of uterine cancer in black women is twice that of white women in the United States.

The Complaint cites a significant medical study that recently found that women who used chemical hair relaxer products have a higher risk of contracting uterine cancer. The study was published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in October 2022. The 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.

Here is the key statistic that makes you stop in your tracks:  for frequent users, that risk more than doubles, increasing to 4.05%.

Hair Relaxer and Breast Cancer

In addition to causing uterine cancer, there is a well-developed body of scientific research establishing that the use of chemical hair relaxer products or hair perms may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. Two separate studies published in 2021 concluded that regular use of chemical hair relaxers increases the risk of developing breast cancer by 30%. The scientific evidence on the causal link between breast cancer and hair relaxer appears to be strong enough to support product liability lawsuits.

Do Hair Perms Come Also Have Uterine Cancer and Other Risks?

Getting a hair perm may expose you to the same risks as you would using a hair relaxer.  Why?  Because many of the same cancer-causing toxins in hair chemicals are used during hair smoothing treatments at the salon.  So may also see hair perm lawsuits flowing from this litigation.

Is There a Hair Relaxer Class Action Lawsuit?

There is not a hair relaxer class action lawsuit in November 2022.  The study that really trigged this litigation was published last month.

So right now, our lawyers are looking at these as individual hair relaxer lawsuits, not a class action.  But given the volume of new cases our law firm has been getting, a class action for hair relaxer victims already seems inevitable.

Potential Settlement Amounts for Hair Relaxer Uterine Cancer Lawsuits

It is very premature to speculate on how much hair relaxer uterine cancer lawsuits could be worth at trial or in a settlement. The case filed by Jenny Mitchell this week is the first product liability lawsuit claiming hair relaxer caused cancer. We still don’t know whether the scientific causation evidence in these cases will hold up in court. But the scientific evidence our lawyers have reviewed looks unbelievably strong which is why you are seeing so many lawyers putting up television commercials for victims with uterine cancer or other injuries who are looking to bring a hair relaxer lawsuit.

With the caveat that it is early in the hair straightener litigation, we can still speculate on the likely settlement amounts of these cases. If we assume that the causation evidence linking chemicals in hair relaxer to uterine cancer is adequate, our lawyers believe that a strong uterine cancer case could have a potential settlement payout between $300,000 to $1,750,000. Cases involving particularly young plaintiffs (such as Jenny Mitchell) could be worth significantly more since uterine cancer typically results in permanent infertility.

Uterine Cancer Settlements and Verdicts

Below are summaries of settlements and verdicts from prior cases in which uterine cancer was the primary injury. This might give us a lens to settlement amounts and jury payouts for a hair relaxer or hair perm lawsuit.  These are not product liability lawsuits. They are medical malpractice cases in which the plaintiffs are alleging that the doctor negligently failed to diagnose uterine cancer.

  • $1,800,000 Settlement (Illinois 2020): failure to diagnose uterine cancer in a 41-year-old plaintiff from Chicago resulted in a 4-year delay in treatment allowing cancer to progress.
  • $500,000 Settlement (Washington 2018): failure to diagnose due to poor communication resulting in a 5-month delay of uterine cancer in a 71-year-old plaintiff with a prior history of cancer.
  • $600,000 Settlement (New York 2015): failure to send an ultrasound report caused a delay in the diagnosis of uterine cancer in a 35-year-old woman. Despite the young age of the plaintiff, the settlement amount is likely lower because she did not plan on having more children.
  • $430,000 Settlement (Minnesota 2014): doctor settled the case for allegedly failing to diagnose uterine cancer in a 60-year-old patient resulting in a 2-year delay and progression of cancer to stage 3C.
  • $1,750,000 Settlement (Massachusetts 2013): failure to diagnose uterine cancer in 52-year-old plaintiff resulting in the spread of cancer to lungs and progression to terminal stage.

There are different issues in these lawsuits – mostly medical malpractice – that you would see in a hair straightener lawsuit against O’Loreal or another one of these defendants.  But malpractice cases are often hard to prove. If these claims are strong, the harm is serious and the settlement amount could be very high.

Contact Us About Filing a Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuit

Our firm is currently investigating product liability cases alleging that chemicals in hair perm and hair relaxer products cause uterine cancer. If you were diagnosed with uterine cancer after years of regularly using a chemical hair straightener, contact our office today for a free consultation at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.

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