Hair Relaxer Endometrial Cancer Risk Withheld From Black Women For Decades: Lawsuit

Plaintiff used Optimim, Dark & Lovely, and Precise for 40 years without receiving any indication the hair relaxers may cause endometrial cancer

A product liability lawsuit indicates L’Oreal and other cosmetic manufacturers have failed to warn consumers about the hair relaxer endometrial cancer risk for decades, leading many black women to use the products without realizing the dangers to which they were exposing themselves.

Charlotte Bowers filed the complaint (PDF) this week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, indicating that the use of popular products like Dark & Lovely, Optimum and Precise hair relaxer caused her endometrial cancer diagnosis.

The claim joins a growing number of similar hair relaxer lawsuits now being pursued by women nationwide in recent months, each involving allegations that manufacturers put their desire for profits ahead of the safety and health of women of color, by failing to disclose that endocrine disrupting chemicals in hair straighteners may increase the risk of endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, fibroids and other side effects.


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According to the lawsuit, Bowers used hair relaxer products like Dark & Lovely and Optimum for 40 years, starting when she was 22 years old, from 1982 to 2022.
During that time, she indicates that there was never any indication or warning that the products carried an endometrial cancer risk, but she was diagnosed with the condition in July 2022.

Lawsuits over the link between endometrial cancer and hair relaxers began to emerge late last year, after the publication of a study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which highlighted the substantial risk women have been exposing themselves to wen using products like Dark & Lovely, Optimum and other chemical hair relaxers.

In findings published in October 2022, researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health reviewed data on nearly 34,000 women in the United States between the ages of 35 and 74, who completed questionnaires on their use of multiple hair products, including hair dyes, straighteners, relaxers, or pressing products, and permanents or body waves. A 10 year follow-up on the incident rate of uterine cancer diagnosis was performed, and researchers reported that women who used hair relaxers at least four times per year faced a 156% increased risk of developing uterine cancer.

“A groundbreaking study recently found that women who use chemical hair straightening or relaxing products have a higher risk contracting of endometrial cancer,” Bowers’ lawsuit states. “The study found that an estimated 1.64% of women who never used chemical hair straighteners or relaxers would go on to develop endometrial cancer by the age of 70; but for frequent users, that risk more than doubles, increasing to 4.05%. These risks are more substantial among Black women, who make up the overwhelming majority of hair straightening and hair relaxing products, including as Defendants’ products.”

Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer, which begins in the uterus and typically develops slowly over time. As a result, the problems are often not discovered until the cancer is already at an advanced stage.

July 2023 Hair Relaxer Lawsuit Update

The complaint filed by Bowers will be consolidated and centralized with hundreds of other Dark & Lovely lawsuits and other claims brought against the manufacturers of widely used chemical hair straighteners, which have been consolidated as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) before U.S. District Judge Mary M. Rowland in the Northern District of Illinois.

Given common questions of fact and law raised in the lawsuits, Judge Rowland is working with the parties to establish a schedule for coordinated discovery and determining when a series of early bellwether trials may be ready to begin.

As part of the coordinated management of the litigation, it is expected that Judge Rowland will establish a bellwether process, where small groups of representative injury claims will go through case-specific discovery and be prepared for early trial dates, to help gauge how juries are likely to respond to certain evidence and testimony that will be repeated throughout the litigation.

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