You may have heard that several hair relaxer cancer lawsuits have been filed claiming that chemical hair relaxers cause cancer. In this post, we explain how chemical hair straighteners may cause reproductive cancers, including uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, and ovarian cancer. We also explain the status of the litigation and hair straightener lawsuits nationwide.
The racially-charged history of Hair Relaxers
The process of permanent hair relaxing has racially problematic roots. Dating back to the 1700s in Louisiana, Black women were banned from wearing their hair uncovered in public. Later, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Black and Latina women faced intense marketing and advertising pressure to conform to European standards of beauty. At the time of this writing, most American States do not prohibit discrimination on the basis of hair-style, though there are current efforts underway to pass a federal law, the CROWN Act, to ban such discrimination nationally at the federal level. (Tennessee, where we are headquartered, has adopted the CROWN Act.) In addition, chemical hair straightening manufacturers have targeted young children with their advertisements and products.
How Do Hair Relaxers Cause Cancer?
Chemical hair relaxers contain chemicals that disrupt the human body. These are called endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. These EDCs “trick” the body into thinking they are human hormones, like estrogen, and can bind to estrogen-receptive cells in the human body. Because there are many such estrogen-receptive cells in female reproductive organs, the EDCs in chemical hair relaxers bind to the estrogen-receptive cells (ERs) in the uterus and ovaries. The EDCs “can dysregulate hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis potentially either inducing reproductive disorders or cancer,” according to one study Another study specifically linking hair straighteners to uterine cancer concludes: “we observed novel findings of a higher incident uterine cancer rate for women who self-reported either ever or frequent hair straightener use in the 12 months prior to the baseline, relative to those who did not.”
How Long Does it Take the Cancer to Develop from Hair Straighteners?
The increased risk of uterine and other reproductive cancers is associated with usage of chemical hair straighteners at least four times in a year. Additionally, the latency period for EDC-related cancers should be roughly 2-5 years after first use of the product. Several factors affect the development of cancer, so it is important to rule out other causes, such as genetics, lifestyle, or other environmental causes.
What is the status of the chemical hair straightening lawsuits?
At the time of this writing, the litigation is currently before the Joint Panel on Multi-district Litigation, or JPML. It is expected that the litigation will be centralized in the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago area. A hearing is currently scheduled in January 2023, so check back for more updates.
Which specific products are affected?
It is still early in this litigation, but “some of the products that have surfaced in these legal actions include Dark & Lovely, Olive Oil Relaxer, Motions, and Organic Root Stimulator.”
How do I know if I can bring a hair relaxer cancer lawsuit?
It’s important to know the current criteria for chemical hair straightener cancer lawsuits.
For now, the criteria is:
- Use of a chemical hair straightener at least 4 times a year;
- For the last 2 to 5 years; and
- Diagnosis of uterine, endometrial, or ovarian cancer.
If you or a loved one think you may have a case for a chemical hair straightener lawsuit, contact our products liability attorneys today.