L’Oreal Hair Relaxer Lawsuits | July 2023 Update

Lawyer, Matt Dolman
L’Oreal Hair Relaxer Attorney, Matt Dolman

A recent scientific study by the National Institute of Health established a causal relationship between the consistent use of chemical hair relaxers and increased uterine cancer risk. The study seems to indicate that the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in hair relaxers can seep into the scalp, cause hormone imbalance, and increase the risk of hormone-sensitive cancers. 

L’Oreal, one of the biggest hair care product manufacturers in the world, has several products such as SoftSheen-Carson Optimum and Dark & Lovely that contain dangerous EDCs which can increase the risk of developing uterine cancer. L’Oreal has been named a defendant in several hair relaxer lawsuits for failing to warn consumers about the hazardous chemicals in their hair relaxer products that could cause hormone-sensitive cancers.

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Study Connects Consistent Hair Relaxer Use to Increased Uterine Cancer Risk 

The basis for many hair relaxer lawsuits is a National Institute of Health (NIH) study released in October 2022. The NIH study assessed data from the Sister Study, a separate study conducted by an NIH subsidiary, that sought to find a connection between hair care product use and harmful health conditions. Each year for eleven years, women aged between 35 and 74 would answer a questionnaire regarding their hair care product use and health conditions.

The National Institute of Health study used the data of 33,497 women involved in the Sister Study, finding that using hair relaxers at least four times a year could increase the risk of uterine cancer. There were 378 cases of uterine cancer reported during the eleven-year study. 

According to Alexandra White, Ph.D., the lead author of this new study, consistent hair straightener use could double a woman’s risk of a uterine cancer diagnosis. “We estimated that 1.64% of women who never used hair straighteners would go on to develop uterine cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk goes up to 4.05%.”

Hair Relaxers Contain Harmful Chemicals That Can Cause Cancer

Hair relaxers, such as the products manufactured by L’Oreal, contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). When they enter the body through scalp absorption after applying chemical hair straighteners, they can affect the functioning of the endocrine system. This system controls the body’s production of hormones, meaning EDCs can affect the body's hormone levels. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in hair relaxers can trick the body into thinking they are hormones, block the functionality of hormones in the body, or change the body’s sensitivity to hormones.

The following are some of the EDCs contained in hair relaxers:

  • Phthalates
  • Parabens 
  • Bisphenol A
  • Formaldehyde
  • Metals
  • Cyclosiloxanes
  • Diethanolamine
  • Triclosan
  • Sodium hydroxide

EDCs in Hair Relaxers Can Cause Adverse Health Conditions

Exposure to EDCs through the consistent use of hair relaxers can cause adverse health conditions, such as uterine cancer, uterine fibroids, and ovarian cancer. These chemicals have a carcinogenic effect, meaning constant exposure can cause cancer.

Animal and human testing has found that formaldehyde can increase a person’s cancer risk after exposure. Parabens, a preservative in chemical hair relaxers, are currently being investigated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for possibly being carcinogenic. The consistent use of chemical hair relaxers can increase the body’s level of metals, which can cause cancer by mutating healthy cells.

Uterine Cancer Caused by Hair Relaxer Use

The most common type of hormone-sensitive cancer caused by chemical hair relaxer use is uterine cancer. This type of cancer involves the cells in the uterus mutating and becoming cancerous. 

There are two main forms of uterine cancer: endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma. The difference between them comes down to where cancer develops in the uterus. Endometrial cancer occurs when cancer develops in the inner lining of the uterus (endometrium), whereas uterine sarcoma occurs when cancer develops in the muscle wall of the uterus (myometrium). Uterine cancer is a life-altering type of cancer that can cause symptoms such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, thin white or clear vaginal discharge, and pelvic and abdominal pain.

Hair Relaxer Use Can Cause Uterine Fibroids

Another health condition caused by consistent hair relaxer usage is uterine fibroids, which are muscular tumors that can appear in the uterus. An American Journal of Epidemiology published a study in 2012 that drew a connection between the use of hair relaxers and the development of uterine fibroids.

These tumors are not cancerous, but they can still cause tremendous pain. They can grow to the size of a watermelon and cause significant symptoms like bloating, lower back pain, heavy bleeding, and constipation. 

To prevent uterine fibroids from reoccurring and causing more pain, most women have to get a hysterectomy, which is a surgical procedure that removes part or all of the uterus. Although this procedure may be necessary, it can result in a woman no longer being able to become pregnant. It may also require the removal of the ovaries, which can cause a woman to prematurely enter the menopause phase.

Ovarian Cancer Caused by Hair Relaxer Use

The EDCs in chemical hair relaxers can also cause ovarian cancer, which is cancer that begins in the reproductive system in one of the two ovaries. They are located on either side of the uterus and are responsible for creating and storing eggs. Ovarian cancer from chemical hair straightener use can occur due to EDC exposure or uterine cancer spreading to the ovaries.

Ovarian cancer has a lack of obvious symptoms and warning signs, meaning the health condition can become severe before someone knows they have it. Treatment of a severe case of ovarian cancer could require surgery to remove an ovary or ovaries, as well as chemotherapy.

Are Black Women at an Increased Risk of Uterine Cancer from Hair Relaxer Use?

Black women made up the bulk of the women involved in the NIH study who reported using chemical hair relaxers. Despite only making up 7.4% of the women in the study, 59.9% of chemical hair relaxer users were black women. Due to the prevalence of chemical hair relaxer usage, black women are at an increased risk of suffering hormone-sensitive cancer. 

Black women make up the primary demographic of hair relaxer users because the product gives them the ability to adhere to eurocentric beauty standards. According to a 2020 Michigan State study, 80% of black women altered their hair to adhere to beauty standards because they felt it would reduce the risk of discrimination. Despite how it could help socially and with their career, the increased usage of hair relaxers from an early age can expose black women to a greater risk of hormone-sensitive cancers.

L’Oreal is a Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Defendant

Women have filed hair relaxer lawsuits to hold manufacturers accountable for failing to warn consumers of the possible carcinogenic effect of using hair relaxers consistently. The most notable manufacturer of hair relaxers named in hair relaxer lawsuits is L’Oreal, the biggest cosmetic company in the world.

The two products that L’Oreal manufactures that have been named in hair relaxer lawsuits are SoftSheen-Carson Optimum and Dark & Lovely. SoftSheen-Carson is a subsidiary of L’Oreal, and their Optimum brand of hair relaxers has been named in hair relaxer lawsuits. Dark & Lovely has been a leading brand of hair relaxers since L’Oreal purchased it back in 1998. Women who have used these products and experienced hormone-sensitive cancers have filed hair relaxer lawsuits to hold L’Oreal accountable for failing to warn of the carcinogenic effects of the hair relaxers.

The First Hair Relaxer Lawsuit With L’Oreal as a Defendant

The first lawsuit filed with L’Oreal as a hair relaxer defendant occurred in October 2022, just days after the release of the National Institute of Health study. The plaintiff, 28-year-old Jenny Mitchell, alleged that her 2018 uterine cancer diagnosis was caused by the regular use of L’Oreal products since 2000. She had prolonged exposure to phthalates and other EDCs that caused uterine cancer.

Jenny Mitchell’s uterine cancer diagnosis forced her to undergo a hysterectomy, which ended her chances of becoming pregnant. She seeks unspecified monetary damages and payment for medical monitoring. Since Jenny Mitchell’s initial lawsuit, L’Oreal has been named as the defendant in over 40 hair relaxer lawsuits.

Did L’Oreal Know Their Hair Relaxer Products Contained Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals?

Part of Jenny Mitchell’s lawsuit alleged that L’Oreal knew of the harmful effects posed by chemicals such as phthalates contained in their hair relaxers as early as 2015. However, existing FDA regulations did not require them to obtain approval before releasing the products to market, and they were not required to disclose this information to the public. Despite not needing to disclose the information, the fact that they knew their products contained dangerous chemicals allows them to be held accountable in hair relaxer lawsuits.

Hair Relaxer Lawsuits Fall Under Product Liability Law

The hair relaxer lawsuits filed with L’Oreal as a defendant fall under product liability law, which is meant to hold manufacturers accountable for defective or dangerous products. There are three types of product liability claims: ones that involve design defects, manufacturing defects, and a failure by the manufacturer to disclose the dangers involved with a product. L’Oreal can be held accountable in a product liability lawsuit for failing to want consumers about the dangerous EDCs contained in their hair relaxers.

Status of Hair Relaxer Lawsuit MDL

You can file a hair relaxer lawsuit with L’Oreal to pursue compensation for damages if you regularly used L’Oreal hair relaxers and were diagnosed with hormone-sensitive cancer. Many plaintiffs in hair relaxer lawsuits have filed a motion with the Judicial Panel of Multi-District Litigation (JPML) to consolidate hair relaxer lawsuits into one multi-district litigation (MDL). This would allow for all hair relaxer lawsuits to be litigated in front of one judge, promoting consistency in discovery and increasing the chances of a global settlement.

Plaintiffs would greatly benefit from hair relaxer lawsuits consolidating because it would allow them to pool resources while still being able to recover compensation for their specific damages. The JPML heard oral arguments for hair relaxer consolidation on January 26th and will now deliberate about whether to create a hair relaxer lawsuit MDL.

Damages in a L’Oreal Hair Relaxer Lawsuit

The consistent use of L’Oreal hair relaxer products can cause economic and non-economic damages you could pursue compensation for in a hair relaxer lawsuit. Following a cancer diagnosis after hair relaxer use, you will likely have steep medical costs that you need to pay for, including hospitalization, surgery, and medication costs. Depending on the severity of your health condition, you may be unable to work to generate income. You could pursue compensation for these economic damages in a hair relaxer lawsuit.

A cancer diagnosis after the consistent use of hair relaxers can also have a significant psychological impact on a person. They will now have new worries about their health, possible necessary surgeries, and how their life will change. Depression and anxiety can set in, with their quality of life worsened by the effects of cancer. A product liability lawyer can help to calculate the value of hair relaxer damages by speaking to medical experts and considering current and future damages.

The following are some of the hair relaxer damages caused by L’Oreal hair relaxer products:

  • Medical expenses
  • Medication
  • Surgery
  • Hospital stays
  • Lab tests
  • Imaging
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Job-related losses
  • Lost wages
  • Reduced earning capacity
  • Missed promotions
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of quality of life
  • Wrongful death
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of services and support
  • Loss of parental guidance
  • Funeral and burial costs

How Can a Product Liability Lawyer Help With Your L’Oreal Hair Relaxer Lawsuit?

Hiring a product liability lawyer is vital to your L’Oreal hair relaxer lawsuit. L’Oreal will have vast resources and well-connected lawyers that can make pursuing compensation difficult, so it’s essential to have someone in your corner with experience to help with the hair relaxer lawsuit process.

  • Calculate your current and future hair relaxer damages
  • Explain your rights
  • Draft and send a demand letter to L’Oreal
  • Collect evidence to prove L’Oreal’s liability
  • Speak to expert witnesses
  • Keep you up-to-date on the potential hair relaxer MDL
  • Negotiate a settlement with the at-fault party’s insurer
  • Represent you in court

Product liability lawyers can provide you with essential experience in helping victims hold manufacturers accountable for their negligence. L'Oreal owed you a duty of care they breached through their failure to provide proper labeling, causing you to suffer hormone-sensitive cancer through exposure to carcinogenic chemicals. Product liability lawyers can use their abilities and resources to put you in the best position to recover fair compensation for your hair relaxer damages.

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