“This is a public health issue,” said Levin Papantonio Rafferty (LPR) Attorney and Shareholder Mike Papantonio, referring to new scientific data that links the chemicals in hair relaxer products to uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids, and endometriosis.
“The math is startling,” Papantonio continued. “Ninety percent of Black women have used hair relaxers, and many of these women adopted these products into their beauty regime as young girls. The risk of exposure to the products’ toxic chemicals increased when multiple products were used, which is common. None of these girls or women knew of the health risks.”
“Fast forward to today, and the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] reports that uterine cancer, which is considered a rare type of cancer, is the most common gynecologic cancer in the country,” Papantonio said.
The rate of new uterine cases continues to climb at a startling rate, with a heavy concentration of new cases among Black women. Already, the U.S. sees 66,000 new cases of this “rare” cancer every year, according to the CDC.
“Women who receive these diagnoses need to know that the hair products they’ve been using since childhood could be at the literal root of their sickness,” Papantonio stressed.
The Science Behind This Public Health Issue
The most recent hair relaxers study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health and released on October 17, 2022, revealed that women who used chemical hair straighteners suffered a higher rate of uterine cancer compared to individuals who did not use these products. The study involved 33,497 U.S. women ages 35-74. The women were followed on average for nearly 11 years. During this period, 378 uterine cancer cases were diagnosed. Women who used hair straightening products more than four times in the year prior to enrollment were twice as likely to develop uterine cancer compared with the women who did not use the products.
The culprits for these outcomes are the endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) used in chemical hair relaxer products. EDCs are substances that interfere with the normal function of the human endocrine system. A normally functioning endocrine system helps regulate the body’s healthy development and function. According to the Endocrine Society, by disrupting a variety of hormones, EDCs throw off the body’s natural hormonal production and degradation. This can cause a wide variety of health problems, including cancer.
Phthalates are one type of EDC used in several haircare manufacturers’ hair straightening and relaxing products. Uterine cancer is one of many medical conditions that have been linked to these chemicals.
Black Women Are Particularly at Risk
Che-Jung Chang, Ph.D, an author of the NIH study, explained in a statement that Black women suffer a greater risk of developing adverse health effects from using chemical hair straightener products.
“Because Black women use hair straightening or relaxer products more frequently and tend to initiate use at earlier ages than other races and ethnicities, these findings may be even more relevant for them,” Chang said.
According to Papantonio, the reason for such prolonged, regular use of these products among Black girls and women should spark outrage.
“The social pressures to conform to Eurocentric standards of beauty hail from the days when Black slaves were encouraged to do so in order to receive better treatment,” Papantonio said. “It was wrong then, it’s wrong today, and it’s infinitely wrong for cosmetic companies to perpetuate these manufactured beauty standards so they can make a buck.
“Add to this the fact that these companies knew or should have known about the health risks of their products, and the whole scenario becomes nothing short of shameful,” Papantonio added.
Civil Litigation Aims to Recover Damages for Victims of These Defective Products
On November 15, 2022, a group of plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer the growing number of hair relaxer lawsuits to a single court. The resulting multidistrict litigation (MDL No. 3060) would streamline the judicial process and ensure similar outcomes across individual lawsuits.
The lawsuits allege that cosmetic companies knew their products were harmful since 2015, but the companies failed to warn consumers of the health risks from regular, prolonged use of the products.
The Levin Papantonio Rafferty law firm is representing individuals who developed uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine fibroids requiring surgical intervention, and endometriosis requiring intervention after using chemical hair straighteners and relaxer products. Individuals can receive a free consultation by calling (800) 277-1193.