Do Chemical Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?
In October 2022, Missouri resident Jennifer Mitchell filed a product liability lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. She claimed that the chemicals in various companies’ hair-relaxing and hair-straightening products caused her to develop uterine cancer, leading to a full hysterectomy that robbed her of the ability to have children. Other women have since filed similar lawsuits, including Michelle N. Wray from Tennessee, who filed her lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in December 2022.
Read on to learn more about Ms. Mitchell’s chemical hair relaxer product liability lawsuit and the damages she wants to recover. We’ll also cover how to hire an experienced product liability lawyer to fight for your rights.
What Is a Product Liability Lawsuit?
Before we dive into the chemical hair relaxer and cancer lawsuit, you must know what a product liability lawsuit is.
A product liability lawsuit is a legal action that a consumer brings against distributors, manufacturers, and retailers of a product that injured them due to:
- Design flaws. Inherent design flaws can cause failures and disaster, leading to injuries and property damage. Examples of design flaws include:
- Chemical hair-relaxing products that cause health problems, like Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Wray’s chemical hair-relaxing product lawsuits
- Toys with strong magnets that toddlers can swallow
- Appliances with unsafe wiring that create electrical fires
- Vehicles with high centers of gravity that are prone to rollovers
- Manufacturing defects. Manufacturing oversights and mistakes can cause manufacturers to use substandard and dangerous materials, cut production processes, and fail to test the safety of products before selling and marketing them to the public. Examples include:
- Tires with curing errors that make them susceptible to blowouts
- Medications with toxic or hazardous substances
- Improperly manufactured materials or plastics in machines
- Incorrectly installed electrical circuits
- Marketing defects. This type of negligence means that products do not come with adequate safety warnings or concise, clear, and proper instructions. This can hide the risks of a product and lead customers to buy products they would ordinarily not buy. Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Wray’s chemical hair relaxer lawsuits contain design flaws as well as marketing defects.
Like other personal injury cases, product liability lawsuits can be individual or class actions. They usually begin as individual actions and become class action lawsuits once other plaintiffs with similar complaints join. Plaintiffs are people or entities who bring cases against other parties (defendants) in a court of law.
What Is the Chemical Hair Relaxer and Cancer Lawsuit About?
The first chemical hair relaxer and cancer lawsuit was filed by plaintiff Jennifer Mitchell by her undersigned counsel against the following defendants:
- Dabur USA, Inc.
- Dabur International Ltd.
- L’Oréal USA Products, Inc.
- L’Oréal USA, Inc.
- Namaste Laboratories, LLC
- Soft Sheen/Carson, Inc.
- Soft Sheen Carson, Inc.
- Strength of Nature Global, LLC
The suit arose from Ms. Mitchell’s diagnosis of uterine cancer on August 10, 2018, at the age of 28. She claims her condition was directly caused by her prolonged and regular exposure to chemicals in the defendants’ hair care products, including:
- Dark & Lovely
- Organic root stimulator
- Olive Oil Relaxer
Ms. Mitchell first started using hair straightening and relaxing products when she was 10 years old in 2000. Ms. Mitchell continued using these products until March 2022. She claims that she has always followed the directions when using the products and that there were never any indications on the products’ packaging that normal product usage could cause uterine cancer.
In the lawsuit, Ms. Mitchell argues that the following hair-relaxing and hair-straightening chemicals caused uterine cancer:
- Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The plaintiff defines EDCs as chemical mixtures or chemicals that interfere with the endocrine system’s normal functioning. According to her research, the endocrine system must function precisely to maintain hormonal balances. Unfortunately, exposure to EDCs leads to hormone variations, causing health problems like reproductive impairment, cancer, metabolic syndrome, infertility, cognitive defects, and immune disorders. Synthetic and natural EDCs are present in hair products under the guise of “perfumes” and “fragrances” and enter the body when consumers apply these products to the scalp and hair.
- Phthalates. According to the lawsuit, phthalates function as solvents and stabilizers in perfumes and fragrances. Many of the hair-relaxing products that the plaintiff used contained phthalates to help products stick to skin and hair. They also improve hair flexibility and make fragrances and colors last longer. Unfortunately, they interfere with hormone production and degradation, leading to health problems. One of the phthalates used in the plaintiff’s hair products is Di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP), which is considered to be a potential human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Additionally, the plaintiff found a way for hair product manufacturers to avoid listing phthalates as ingredients in their products: the FDA does not require manufacturers to list individual flavors or fragrances or specific ingredients in flavors or fragrances to be listed as cosmetic product ingredients.
Additionally, Ms. Mitchell alleges that:
- The products’ manufacturers never stated that using the product as instructed would lead her to develop uterine cancer;
- The defendants knew or should have known that their products were unsafe; and
- The defendants fraudulently and negligently misrepresented that the products were safe and adequately tested with the intent to deceive and defraud Ms. Mitchell and other consumers.
Lawsuits filed by other injured consumers had similar arguments. Ms. Wray’s lawsuit, however, additionally claimed that hair straightening products contained formaldehyde, which is classified as a carcinogen by the National Toxicology Program and the IARC. Her lawsuit also:
- Noted the presence of other cancer-causing chemicals, including diethanolamine and metals
- Argued that EDCs, phthalates, formaldehyde, and other chemicals caused her to develop uterine fibroids in addition to uterine cancer
Do Hair Straightening and Hair Relaxing Products Actually Increase the Risk of Developing Uterine Cancer and Fibroids?
Yes. As detailed in Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Wray’s lawsuits, many studies have linked the use of chemical hair relaxers and straighteners with increased incidence of uterine and cancer fibroids. Examples include:
- A 2022 study has shown that chemical hair straightening and relaxing products can double the risk of developing uterine cancer.1.64% of women in the study who never used these products developed uterine cancer by the age of 70, but 4.05% of women in the study who frequently used these products developed uterine cancer by 70.
- A 2021 study analyzing evidence from experimental and animal studies has revealed that parabens and phthalates may cause cancer.
- A 2017 study revealed that chemicals in hair relaxing and straightening products, such as metals, formaldehyde, and diethanolamine, are all carcinogens.
- A 2012 study has revealed a link between using chemical hair relaxing products with increased uterine fibroid risk.
- A 2017 study linked cyclosiloxanes, a chemical in many hair straightening and relaxing products, to processes that can lead to tumor growth.
- A 2004 study detected parabens, a chemical in many hair-relaxing and straightening products, in human breast tumors.
- A 2016 study linked BPA, another hair-relaxing and straightening chemical, with uterine fibroids.
- A 2020 study associated exposure to BPA with uterine problems and altered estrous cycles in rats. The plaintiff argues in the lawsuit that such problems in humans can lead to the development and progression of endometrial cancer.
What Damages Does the Plaintiff Seek To Recover?
Ms. Mitchell, like Ms. Wray and other consumers, wants to recover the following damages:
- Over $75,000 in compensatory damages for non-economic damages such as loss of enjoyment of life, emotional distress, pain and suffering, and other non-economic damages determined at trial
- Economic damages for medical expenses, lost earnings, out-of-pocket expenses, and other economic damages determined at trial
- Punitive and exemplary damages for the defendants’ fraudulent, reckless, and willful acts of misrepresentation and complete and reckless disregard for the public’s safety and welfare
- Court proceeding costs
- Prejudgment and post-judgment interest
- Reasonable plaintiff’s attorney’s fees
- Plaintiff’s proceedings costs
- Any other relief that the court deems proper and just
She wants to recover these damages based on the following legal causes of action:
Ms. Mitchell claims that the defendants acted negligently by:
- Designing, manufacturing, and marketing chemical hair straightening and relaxing products without thoroughly and adequately testing them
- Insufficiently testing their products’ safety even though they knew or should have known that the products were unsafe
- Failing to adequately and correctly warn consumers that chemical relaxing and straightening products could heighten the risk of uterine fibroids and uterine cancer
- Selling and promoting the products without making proper and sufficient tests to see if they were dangerous
- Failing to provide detailed instructions to salon workers and people like the plaintiff who apply or use the products
- Failing to tell the public about the severity and duration of the products’ side effects
- Failing to inform consumers that they needed more regular and detailed medical monitoring than average people who did not use the products
Strict Liability Due To Defective Designs and Failure to Warn
The lawsuit contends that the defendants are strictly liable to Ms. Mitchell due to their products’ defective designs and failure to warn consumers. In Illinois tort law, strict liability is a liability standard where a defendant is legally responsible for the consequences of an activity, even in the absence of criminal intent or fault.
Illinois law established the concept of strict liability in the following cases:
- Riordan v. International Armament Corp.: This case found that manufacturers of products that are more dangerous than reasonably expected are strictly liable for any injuries inflicted by the products.
- Hammond v. N. Am. Asbestos Corp.: In this case, the court established that an organization that sells an unreasonably dangerous product without warning the public about the dangers of using that product is strictly liable for any injuries caused by the product.
Breach of Implied and Express Warranties
Ms. Mitchell also asserts that the defendants expressly and impliedly warranted that their products were safe to use. Illinois law established the concepts of express and implied warranties in the following cases:
- 810 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/2-313, which states that vendors create an express warranty by creating a promise or fact affirmation to buyers about their products
- 810 Illinois Compiled Statutes 5/2-314, which states that vendors impliedly imply that their products are merchantable by selling the products. Merchantable means “fit for the ordinary purpose it is sold and used for.”
Negligent Failure To Recall
Ms. Mitchell contends that the defendants owed a duty of reasonable care to her and other consumers for designing, developing, operating, inspecting, testing, advertising, disseminating, and marketing the hair products. As such, they should have recalled, removed, or retrofitted the products after discovering that the products were harmful and had the potential to increase the risks of uterine cancer.
Ms. Mitchell argues that the defendants were responsible for honestly and accurately representing whether their products were safe. She contends that the defendants failed to honestly and accurately present their chemical hair products’ safety by claiming their products were safe when they knew or should’ve known that the representations were false.
Ms. Mitchell argues that the defendants knew or should have known that their chemical hair straightening or relaxing products were unsafe because they could cause uterine cancer or uterine fibroids. However, despite this knowledge, the plaintiff contends that the defendants falsely claimed their products were safe and concealed proof that they increased the risk of developing uterine cancer and uterine fibroids.
Hire an Experienced Product Liability Lawyer Today
If you have a product liability case like Ms. Mitchell or Ms. Wray’s, consider contacting Morris & Dewett’s experienced product liability lawyers today. Located in Louisiana and Texas, we have received an AV Rating by Martindale-Hubbell, the highest achievable rating from that company. Some of our lawyers have also been asked to be members of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum because they have secured at least one million for clients through verdicts and settlements.
Once you reach out to us, we will thoroughly analyze your case to see if you have a valid lawsuit. If you do, we will prepare and file all paperwork on and ahead of time. We will also:
- Gather and preserve evidence of your project liability injuries and losses, such as photos and videos of your injuries, torn clothing, and medical reports
- Negotiate with insurers so you can focus on healing from your injuries
- If needed, prepare for trial through focus groups, mock trials, and meeting with expert witnesses like top engineers and doctors