Phthlates in Hair Relaxers

Phthalates are a group of chemical compounds that were developed in the early 20th century and have been used in a variety of industrial and consumer applications.

Most people have never heard of phthalates. But women who have suffered injuries from hair relaxers are now learning about this chemical that they never knew they had been exposed to until now.

History of Phthalates

Phthalates have a long history of use dating back to the early 20th century. The first phthalate, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), was synthesized in 1913 by the French chemist Camille Dreyfus. The discovery of DBP was a significant development in the plastics industry, as it helped to make PVC more flexible and durable.

During the 1920s and 1930s, other phthalates, such as diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dimethyl phthalate (DMP), were synthesized and used in a variety of applications. DEP was commonly used as a solvent for perfumes and fragrances, while DMP was used as a plasticizer for cellulose acetate.

In the 1950s and 1960s, phthalates became widely used in a variety of consumer products, including vinyl flooring, shower curtains, and toys. The use of phthalates in these products was driven by their ability to make plastics more flexible and durable.


In the 1970s, concerns began to arise about the potential health effects of phthalates. Studies showed that phthalates were capable of causing reproductive and developmental abnormalities in laboratory animals. As a result, the use of some phthalates, such as DBP and DEHP, was restricted in certain applications.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the use of phthalates in consumer products became a more significant public health issue. Researchers began to investigate the potential health effects of phthalates on humans, particularly children, who were exposed to phthalates through toys and other products.

Studies showed that phthalates were capable of disrupting the endocrine system, which regulates hormone production and can affect reproductive and developmental health. As a result, several countries, including the European Union and the United States, have restricted the use of certain phthalates in consumer products.

Today, phthalates are still used in a variety of applications, including plastics, fragrances, and personal care products. However, the use of certain phthalates, such as DEHP, DBP, and BBP, is restricted in many countries due to health concerns.

However, they are known endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that interfere with natural hormone production and degradation and have negative long-term impacts on human health.

Phthalates Are EDCs

Phthalates are classified as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which means they interfere with the body’s hormonal balance and can disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a complex network of glands, hormones, and receptors that regulate almost every cell, organ, and process within the body. Hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and androgen control critical biological processes, and even a slight variation in hormone levels can lead to significant adverse health effects.

Phthalates are known to mimic the effects of estrogen in the body, which can contribute to disease risk because exposure to estrogen, endogenously and exogenously, is associated with endometrial (uterine) cancer, and a woman’s lifetime risk of developing the disease increases with greater duration and cumulative exposure. EDCs can act directly on hormone receptors as mimics or antagonists or on proteins that control hormone delivery, disrupting the endocrine system and interfering with the body’s hormonal homeostasis in various ways.

Studies have shown that phthalate exposure can lead to numerous adverse human health outcomes, including endometriosis, impaired sperm quality, abnormalities in reproductive organs, various cancers, altered nervous system and immune function, respiratory problems, metabolic issues, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular problems, growth, neurological and learning disabilities.

Hair relaxers contain phthalates, including Di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP).

What is DEHP?

DEPH is a synthetic chemical that belongs to the phthalate family and is commonly used as a plasticizer to soften PVC plastics. It is also used in a variety of consumer products such as adhesives, inks, medical tubing, and vinyl flooring.

No one argues that DEHP is not highly toxic. It has been linked to a range of adverse health effects, such as endometriosis, reproductive dysfunction, developmental abnormalities, various cancers, and metabolic syndrome in humans and their future offspring. Humans are exposed to DEHP through various means, including ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact, including intrauterine life. DEHP does not bind covalently to its parent material, which makes it prone to leaching into the environment, increasing human exposure. Studies exploring this issue have thus far classified EDCs as estrogens, phthalates, and parabens.

Labeling and Regulation of Phthalates

The FDA requires an ingredient declaration on cosmetic products sold at the retail level to consumers under the authority of the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act (FPLA).  Yet incredibly,  regulations do not require a listing of individual fragrances or flavors or their specific ingredients. As a result, women buying hair relaxers were not able to determine from the ingredient declaration on the label if phthalates were present in a fragrance used in the hair products.

Phthalates in Hair Relaxer Linked to Cancer

Hair relaxer is a cosmetic product (primarily used by African American women) that flattens out curly hair. Popular brands of hair relaxers include Dark & Lovely, Just For Me, and Motions. Like almost all cosmetics, hair relaxer and hair straightener products contain phthalates. Phthalates in hair relaxers are absorbed through the skin during the application process and

In 2022, data from a major long-term study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) showed that women who regularly used hair relaxer products (4 times per year or more) had a 150% increased risk of developing uterine cancer. Data from the same NIH study (called the “Sister Study“) also found that regular use of hair relaxers can increase the risk of ovarian cancer by 50%.

Both uterine cancer and ovarian cancer are known to be hormone-sensitive cancers because they use the female hormone estrogen to fuel their growth. The link between hair relaxer use and these female hormone cancers is therefore believed to be related to the presence of phthalates in these products.

This new evidence has prompted a wave of hair relaxer cancer lawsuits across the country. The hair relaxer lawsuits were recently consolidated into a new class action MDL in the Northern District of Illinois.

Contact Us About a Hair Relaxer Cancer Lawsuit

Our lawyers are currently seeking victims for hair relaxer suits alleging that chemicals in hair relaxer products caused uterine cancer. If you have a potential claim, our attorneys want to help you.  If you were diagnosed with uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, or another reproductive injury after regularly using chemical hair relaxers, contact our law firm today for a free consultation at 800-553-8082 or get a free case evaluation online.

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